Today is the feast day of Saint Rufina and Saint Secunda. Orate pro nobis.
By Dom Prosper Guerenger
The honours of this day whereon the Church sings the praises of true fraternity, are shared by two valiant sisters. A century had passed over the empire, and the Antonines were no more. Valerian, who at first seemed, like them, desirous of obtaining a character for moderation, soon began to follow them along the path of blood. In order to strike a decisive blow, he issued a decree whereby all the principal ecclesiastics were condemned to death without distinction, and every Christian of rank was bound under the heaviest penalties to abjure his faith. It is to this edict that Rufina and Secunda owed the honour of crossing their palms with those of Sixtus and Lawrence, Cyprian and Hippolytus. They belonged to the noble family of the Turcii Asterii, whose history has been brought to light by modern discovery. According to the prescriptions of Valerian, which condemned Christian women to no more than confiscation and exile, they ought to have escaped death; but to the crime of fidelity to God they added that of holy virginity, and so the roses of martyrdom were twined into their lily-wreaths. Their sacred relics lie in St. John Lateran’s, close to the baptistery of Constantine; and the second Cardinalitial See, that of Porto, couples with this title the name of St. Rufina, thus claiming the protection of the blessed martyrs.
SS. Rufina and Secunda, Virgins
Rufina and Secunda were sisters and Roman virgins. Their parents had betrothed them to Armentarius and Verinus, but they refused to marry, saying that they had consecrated their virginity to Jesus Christ. They were, therefore, apprehended during the reign of the Emperors Valerian and Gallienus. When Junius, the prefect, saw he could not shake their resolution either by promises or by threats, he first ordered Rufina to be beaten with rods. While she was being scourged, Secunda thus addressed the judge: “Why do you treat my sister thus honorably, but me dishonorably? Order us both to be scourged, since we both “confess Christ to be God.”
Enraged by these words, the judge ordered them both to be cast into a dark and foetid dungeon; immediately a bright light and a most sweet odour filled the prison. They were then shut up in a bath, the floor of which was made redhot; but from this also they emerged unhurt. Next they were thrown into the Tiber with stones tied to their necks, but an Angel saved them from the water, and they were finally beheaded ten miles out of the city on the Aurelian Way. Their bodies were buried by a matron named Plautilla, on her estate, and were afterwards translated into Rome, where they now repose in the Basilica of Constantine near the baptistery. (2)
Their place of burial was at the ninth milestone of the Via Cornelia, as is stated in the Berne manuscript of the “Martyrologium Hieronymianum” (ed. De Rossi-Duchesne, 89). These martyrs are also recorded in the Itineraries of the seventh century as on the road just mentioned (De Rossi, “Roma sotterranea”, I, 18283). Pope Damasus erected a church over the grave of the saints. The town on this spot named after St. Rufina became the see of one of the suburbicarian dioceses that was later united with Porto (cf. Allard, “Histoire des Persécutions”:, III, 96). (1)
Image: Crop of Martyrdom of Saints Secunda (Seconda) and Rufina, artist: Pier Francesco Mazzucchelli, circa: between 1620 and 1625 (3)