What then is the present ecclesial status of this early Church female martyr, the veneration of whom in the past has been the object of several papal documents and numerous hagiographical testimonies? In seeking to examine this question, we will briefly examine the historical origins of devotion; papal and ecclesiastical decrees regarding the devotion; hagiographical testimonies; the archeological controversy; and recent Church documents relative to the devotion.
Historical Origins of the Devotion
On May 24, 1802, an excavator in the Catacombs of Priscilla struck a tile and, as previously instructed by Msgr. Ponzetti, Custodian of the Holy Relics, immediately ceased the excavation. 3 Fr. Filippo Ludovici, Vatican overseer of the excavation was informed, and on the following day, May 25, 1802, Fr. Ludovici, accompanied by several observers, descended into the catacomb, and witnessed the full uncovering of the loculus,4 whereby with the removal of soil, three brick funeral tiles were revealed which bore an epitaph painted in red. A vial was found broken in the process of unsealing the loculus, with a dust of blackish color indicating blood clinging to glass fragments, and with the lower portion of the vial still intact and firmly embedded in the cement.5 An engraved palm branch, the other typical sign which designates the tomb of a martyr along with the blood vial, was observed on the second tile.6
The painted inscription on the three funeral tiles appeared as follows: tile one - LUMENA; tile two - PAXTE; tile three - CUM FI.7 The loculus was documented by Msgr. Ponzetti, Custodian of the Holy Relics, as bearing “FILUMENA,” an interpretation of the epitaph consistent with both the ancient custom of beginning inscriptions from the second tile and the logical etymological context. The result is a full reading of the epitaph as “PAX TECUM FILUMENA.8
The name of “Filumena” is officially granted to the sacred remains examined on May 25, 1802, as recorded in the document issued by Ponzetti as Custodian of the Sacred Relics which released the remains of this Christian martyr to the Diocese of Nola on June 8, 1805:
8 Iunii 1805
Dono dedi Ven. Ecclesiae Archipresbyterali terrae Mugnano Dioecesis Nolanae corpus Sanctae Christi Martyris
Nominis proprii sic picti in tribus Tabulis laterariis cinabro
LUMENA PAXTE CUM FI
n pulverem et in fragmina redactum per me infrascriptum Custodem extractum cum vasculo vitreo fracto ex Coemeterio Priscillae Via Salaria Nova die 25 maii 1802, quod collocavi in capsula lignea charta colorata cooperta et consignavi Illmo Dominico Caesari pro Illmo et Rmo D. Bartholomaeo de Caesare Epo Potentino.
HYACINTHUS PONZETTI, Custos.9
Fr. Francesco de Lucia, priest from the Church of Our Lady of Grace at Mugnano del Cardinale in the Diocese of Nola, received the assistance of Msgr. Bartolomeo de Caesare, Bishop-elect of Nola in obtaining permission from the Holy See to transfer the sacred remains of the Christian martyr, Filumena to his Mugnano parish for the purpose of fostering spiritual renewal amidst his faithful. The remains of Filumena departed from Rome on July 1, 1805 and arrived at Mugnano on August 10, 1805 where they have remained since the transferal.10
The exceptional quantity of miracles which resulted from the petitioning of the martyr invoked as “Philomena,” initially by the southern Italian faithful, and then shortly thereafter by peoples of various countries, has been officially documented in various ecclesiastical recordings. Both the extensive documentation from the Saint Philomena.
Shrine at Our Lady of Grace Church in Mugnano,11 and the documentation for the beatification and canonization processes of John Vianney at Ars, record the remarkable quantity of miracles attributed to the intercession of Saint Philomena, which included the miraculous cure of Vianney himself.12