Joshua Leo and Ruby Jones tell the story of a young woman from North Africa. Her name was Perpetua. She lived almost 2,000 years ago. But people still talk about her life today.
Hello, I’m Joshua Leo.
And I’m Ruby Jones. Welcome to Spotlight. This programme uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.
Today’s Spotlight programme tells the story of a young woman from North Africa. Her name was Perpetua. She lived almost 2,000 years ago. But people still talk about her life today. In Perpetua’s time, part of North Africa belonged to the Roman Empire. Local people had to obey Roman laws and follow Roman ways of behaviour. This was true in every area of life - including religion.
At that time, the Roman empire’s leader, the emperor, was Septimius Severus. Severus was also from North Africa. In fact, he was the only African emperor in Rome’s history! He fought many other candidates to become emperor. He was a strong, fierce ruler.
All citizens had to worship the emperor. This showed that they were loyal to the empire. The empire spread over many different countries. The people of these places already had their own religious traditions. But usually they were willing to worship the emperor as well. The emperor considered this to be a powerful way to keep the empire united.
Septimius Severus knew the importance of a peaceful empire. And he was concerned that different religions could divide the empire. So in the year 202, he created a new religious rule. This law banned people from following the Jewish or the Christian religion. At that time, the growth of the Christian religion was new. And its beliefs were influencing many people in Roman society. Christians believe that there is only one true God. They believe that they should not worship any other being. And they believe that they will be with God in heaven after death. So the Christians in the Roman empire refused to perform any acts of worship for the emperor. The emperor believed that they threatened his power - that he had to destroy them.
Perpetua was a Christian. She and some of her friends refused to take part in ceremonies of emperor worship. So, the Roman authorities threw them into prison. But Perpetua’s family were not Christians. And they could not understand her behaviour - especially as she had a young baby to care for. While she was in prison, Perpetua wrote a diary - a record of what happened to her. This is part of the diary that Perpetua wrote:
“My friends and I were still under arrest. My father came to see me. I know he loves me. And he was trying to persuade me to change my mind. ‘Father,’ I said, ‘do you see this water container here?’
‘Yes, I do’, he said.
‘Could it be called by any other name than what it is?’
‘No,’ he said.
‘Well, so too I cannot be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.’
The word ‘Christian’ made my father very angry. He moved towards me as if he would tear my eyes out. But he said no more to me. Then, he left.”
“A few days later we heard some news. We were going to appear before the Roman governor. My father also arrived from the city, full of worry. He came again to see me. He had the same idea of persuading me to change my mind.
‘Daughter,’ he said, ‘Have mercy on me... Think of your brothers, think of your mother... think of your child. He will not be able to live once you are gone. Do not be so proud! You will destroy all of us!’
I felt sad for my father. I tried to make him feel better, saying: ‘It will all happen as God wants. You may be sure that we are not on our own. But we are all in his power.’
My father then left me - great sadness filled his heart.”
Perpetua and her friends then had to appear before the local authorities to be judged. She wrote:
“Hilarianus the governor said to me: ‘Have mercy on your father; have mercy on your baby son. Offer the sacrifice to the emperor.’
‘I will not’, I answered.
‘Are you a Christian?’ said Hilarianus.
‘Yes, I am.’ I answered.
Then Hilarianus declared sentence on all of us. He condemned us to death. We would have to face wild animals in the public theatre. We returned to prison. We were honoured to suffer for our faith.”
In the days that followed, Perpetua and her friends prepared for death. They did not fear losing their lives. Instead, they welcomed the chance to be with their beloved God. Perpetua had some dreams while she was in prison. In them, God showed her that she and her friends would suffer. But they would die bravely. And they would encourage many Christians with their acts of faith. Perpetua did not write in her diary on the day of her death. But someone else wrote about what happened. This witness described how the friends dealt with their final day on earth with great courage:
“The day of their victory came. They marched with joy from the prison to the public theatre - as if they were going to heaven. Soldiers brought them into the central area of the theatre.”
There, the two women and four men faced different wild animals. The crowd cheered loudly as the animals attacked. But Perpetua and her friends were filled with God’s strength. They were injured. But they all survived the attacks. In the end, the governor ordered the soldiers to kill the young people with a sword - right in front of the crowds. The witness wrote:
“And so the friends got up and went to where the soldiers were. They gave each other a kiss of peace. Perpetua’s friends received the sword blow in silence. Perpetua, however, experienced more pain. The soldier’s sword hit her on the bone. And she shouted out. Then she took the shaking hand of the young soldier and guided his sword to her neck.”
And so on the seventh of March 203, the young friends went to their deaths, but they knew that they would meet their God in heaven. Today, there is still a memorial at the public theatre where they died. It speaks of the sacrifice of Perpetua, Felicitas, Revocatus, Saturninus, Secundulus, Saturus and Rusticus. The story of their faith and courage lives on.
The writer and producer of today’s programme was Ruby Jones. All quotations were adapted for this programme. You can hear more Spotlight programmes on our website at www.radioenglish.net. Today’s programme is called, “Perpetua: A Woman of Faith.”
If you have comments or questions about our Spotlight programmes you can reach us by e-mail. Our address is email@example.com. Thank you for joining us today, goodbye.