FEAST OF SAINT PRISCA, VIRGIN AND MARTYR
FEAST DAY – 18th JANUARY
Saint Prisca was a young Roman girl, who was brutally tortured and executed because of her Christian faith. The dates of her birth and death are unknown. She is revered as a saint and a martyr by the Catholic Church and in the Anglican Communion. Especially in England, she is honored as a child martyr. Legend says that Saint Prisca was of noble family. Also known as St. Priscilla, St. Prisca was a child martyr of the early Roman Church. Scholars do not believe she is the Priscilla (Prisca) of the New Testament couple, Priscilla and Aquila, who were friends of the Apostle Paul.
Her parents had managed to keep their secret, and were not suspected of being Christians. But Prisca scorned any precaution and was unafraid to profess to every one what she believed and Whose Cross she followed. She soon became known as a firm little Christian maiden, but there were people in the city, cruel and wicked enough to hate even a child-Christian and to wish her evil. Prisca was seized by guards and brought before Emperor Claudius, who did not persecute Christians with the same fervor as other emperors. Yet, Christians practiced their faith secretly.
The Emperor, looked at the little maid in surprise to find her so young, and thought that he could easily make this little Christian change her mind. He bade his men take her to the temple of Apollo and make her offer incense to the pagan god. So they carried her to the top of the Palatine, one of the seven hills on which Rome was built. She was thirteen, when she was charged and forced to make a sacrifice to the god Apollo. When she refused because of her Christian faith, she was beaten and sent to prison.
When she was released from prison, she still held steadfastly to her faith in Jesus Christ. This time her punishment included flogging, the pouring of boiling tallow upon her, and a second term of imprisonment. She was at last thrown to a lion in the amphitheater, but it quietly lay down at her feet. The Italian poet Martha Marchina (1600 -1646) describes this moment of Prisca’s martyrdom in poems, in her book Musa Posthuma where the lion’s humane nature is contrasted against human savagery.
She was starved for three days in a slaves’ prison house, and then tortured upon the rack. Pieces of flesh were next torn from her body with iron hooks, and she was thrown on a burning pile. She miraculously remained alive, but was beheaded at the tenth milestone on the Via Ostiensis—the road from Rome to Ostia. When she died, a great eagle appeared in the sky, hovering over Saint Prisca’s body far up in the air.
And when any of the Romans ventured near her, the eagle swooped down upon them with dreadful cries and flapping of his wings. And his round gray eyes looked so fierce and his claws so long and sharp, that no one dared to touch her for fear of the bird. Saint Prisca had found another protector in cruel Rome. This is why many of the old pictures of Saint Prisca’s martyrdom show a great eagle hovering over her.
The creature guarded her body night and day, driving every one away, until the Christians, who had been waiting for the chance to venture out, came secretly one night and carried her away. They buried her where the Romans could not find her, in their little secret cemetery in Saint Priscilla’s catacombs, where now stands a church of St. Prisca and where previously stood a very early title church, the Titulus Priscoe, mentioned in the fifth century and likely built in the fourth. January 18 is her feast day.
Heavenly Father, you endowed the firm followers of Christ with superlative strength of their faith as Christians, unafraid and loyal, even unto terrible torture, persecution and death. Saint Prisca, the little virgin martyr was one of the ranks of saints who glorified your Name, sacrificially, at the cost of her life.
Help us gain your merits through her intercession, as we give this little saint the honor given to Christ’s fervent disciples, in Jesus’ Name. Amen
Saint Prisca, pray for us to remain unshaken in the face of trials, in Christ our Lord. Amen