Today, May 12, we celebrate the feast day and martyrdom of Saint Flavia Domatilla (1st century). This brave woman was martyred by Emperor Domitian during the beginnings of Christian persecution and execution throughout the Roman empire. Her bravery in proclaiming the Gospel reminds us today, centuries later, of the importance of living the Word courageously and publicly.
Flavia Domatilla was a Roman noble lay woman, related to some of the most powerful families and rulers in the empire. She was the grand-daughter of Emperor Vespasian and the niece of Emperors Titus and Domitian, the latter of whom was in power during her lifetime. Flavia further was married to Titus Flavius Clemens, a Roman consul, and nephew of Vespasian.
Flavia was the leader of her household. She and her husband converted to Christianity, as did the members of her household. Given his station and role, it was not long before her husband was discovered, and publicly executed. Upon the martyrdom of her holy husband, Flavia was banished to the island of Pandataria in the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is reported, although records are unreliable, that she returned from her exile, proclaiming the faith, and was burnt to death for refusing to sacrifice to the pagan gods along with two foster sisters who had remained behind. It is more likely, however, that she lived a brief life in exile, mourning her husband, and dying from exposure to the elements. Hers is considered a slow martyrdom for the faith.
Roman literature recounts Saint Domitilla’s fate, as Dio reports:
Domitian slew, along with many others, Flavius Clemens the consul, although he was a cousin and married to Flavia Domitilla, who was also a relative of the emperor's. The charge brought against them both was that of atheism (αθεοτση), a charge on which many others who drifted into Jewish ways were condemned. Some of these were put to death, and the rest were at least deprived of their property. Domitilla was merely banished to Pandateria (Ventotene).
It should be noted that in this case, “atheism” implies Christianity.
Flavia’s niece, also called Domitilla, was also exiled to the island of Terracina, with the members of her household, Saints Nereus andAchilleus who had previously served Emperor Trajan. They, too, were martyred for their faith.
The facts of Saint Flavia’s life are unclear, although what remains central is the role of her faith in her eventual demise, and that of her husband and family. We pray today for all those who continue to suffer for the faith, experience persecution, and die for their beliefs. May their courage be inspiration to each of us.
Prayer for Fortitude
Dear Jesus, lay your Wounded Hand upon my weary head,
And teach me to have courage in the paths that I must tread.
Bless me, and bless those whom I love, and give us grace to see
These crosses bravely borne by us will keep us close to thee.
And if at times a shadow falls in unexpected ways,
Put your gentle hand in mine and guide me through the days.
So bless my people, one and all, with Thy protecting grace,
And impart to them Thy wisdom ere they meet Thee face to face. Amen.