Phony Saints–Philomena

There never was a St. Philomena.

The old Catholic Encyclopedia explains how this fictional figure came into Catholic consciousness:

On 25 May, 1802, during the quest for the graves of Roman martyrs in the Catacomb of Priscilla, a tomb was discovered and opened; as it contained a glass vessel it was assumed to be the grave of a martyr. The view, then erroneously entertained in Rome, that the presence of such vessels (supposed to have contained the martyr’s blood) in a grave was a symbol of martyrdom, has been rejected in practice since the investigations of De Rossi (cf. Leclercq in “Dict. d.archéol. chrét. et de liturg.”, s.v. Ampoules de sang). The remains found in the above-mentioned tomb were shown to be those of a young maiden, and, as the name Filumena was discovered on the earthenware slabs closing the grave, it was assumed that they were those of a virgin martyr named Philumena. On 8 June, 1805, the relics were translated to the church of Mungano, Diocese of Nola (near Naples), and enshrined under one of its altars. In 1827 Leo XII presented the church with the three earthenware tiles, with the inscription, which may be seen in the church even today. On the basis of alleged revelations to a nun in Naples, and of an entirely fanciful and indefensible explanation of the allegorical paintings, which were found on the slabs beside the inscription, a canon of the church in Mugnano, named Di Lucia, composed a purely fictitious and romantic account of the supposed martyrdom of St. Philomena, who is not mentioned in any of the ancient sources. In consequence of the wonderful favours received in answer to prayer before the relics of the saint at Mugnano, devotion to them spread rapidly, and, after instituting investigations into the question, Gregory XVI appointed a special feast to be held on 9 September, “in honorem s. Philumenae virginis et martyris” (cf. the lessons of this feast in the Roman Breviary).

An archaeological error was followed by “alleged revelations to a nun.” Already by 1913, as demonstrated by this encyclopedia article, the truth was out and the cult dissipated.

But it didn’t disappear. This fictional saint has grown in popularity in recent years, despite the evidence. One Catholic blogger dismisses the Catholic Encyclopedia article as “appalling,” and an example of “rationalistic prejudice.” Mark Miravalle (who has promoted a petition drive for the pope to declare another Marian dogma, that she is Mediatrix of All Graces and Co-Redemptrix) has fought the skeptics on the grounds that the popes and saints who promoted her during that hundred year period can’t have been wrong.

But they were. She didn’t exist–and that’s not my determination, but the determination of a source loved by conservative Catholics.

11 thoughts on “Phony Saints–Philomena

  1. Some claim that Juan Diego did not exist and that proper proof was never provided before he was canonised.

  2. Some claim that Jesus of Nazareth did not exist. So what? I fail to see the relevance of the fact that St. Philomena did not exist to anything. When the liturgical calendar was reformed after the Second Vatican Council it was “scrubbed” so as to eliminate non-existent saints, like St. Christopher. Despite the fact that St. Christopher’s existence has been officially rejected, a lot of Catholics wear his medal. So what?

  3. Relevance. Hmmm … how ’bout to Truth?

    Christopher and Philomena and Juan Diego are a few examples of this kind of fictional saint. So is St. Josaphat, whose legend even the old Catholic Encyclopedia admits to be nothing more than a Christianization of the story of Siddartha Gautama.

  4. Indeed. I thought that went without saying.

    But let’s put it this way: the oldest written references to Jesus, the epistles of Paul, date to about 20 years after the crucifixion. Contrast this with the fact that there are NO historical references to Philomena or Christopher, indeed, no one even heard of Philomena until 1802, and her “legend” comes from “alleged revelations” after that. And there are no references to Juan Diego by his contemporaries, the earliest reference to him being over a century later (whereas contemporaneous accounts refer to the image as having been painted, and giving the name of the painter).

    So, indeed, there is a big difference. Thank you, Fr. Liam. 🙂

  5. well I also meant it in the sense of our entire faith and salvation based on on one and not the other!!!!

  6. By the way, some folks claim there’s a difference between those saints formally canonized and those not. Thus they posit a difference between Juan Diego on the one hand and Philomena and Christopher on the other. But Philomena was “raised to the altars” by a specific act of Pope Gregory XVI. This isn’t the case of an ancient feast–her cult was created out of whole cloth in the 19th century. She was promoted by several successive popes and by St. Jean Vianney, as her defenders note. So Philomena, a “saint” unknown before the 19th century, is clearly is the same situation as any modern saint. A pope chose to elevate her on the basis of alleged revelations and faulty archaeology.

  7. If I may be so bold, I think the point that Bill is making is that when the infallible hierarch encourages you to pray and devote yourself to someone who demonstrably doesn’t exist, that hierarch’s infallibility comes into question.

    Juan Diego poses a problem as well. If Juan Diego didn’t exist, then the Virgin of Guadalupe is just a myth, and JP2’s consecration of the entirety of the American Continents to her and the cult which is so vigorously promoted in Latin America, which includes the most extreme veneration of the painting, are ever so much leading people astray. I don’t know in what contexts telling people to pray to someone who doesn’t exist and prostrate before spurious relics is ever justifiable.

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