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Who is St. Petronille?

Our Patroness

Who was St. Petronille?

Our parish bears the Anglicized name of the early Roman St. Petronille. The dates and circumstances of her life and death are scarce and, where they are available, they are often in conflict. Modern scholarship places her death during the mid to late third century.

There seems to be no doubt that St. Petronilla was a virgin whose death was related to her vow of chastity. She was a Roman noblewoman of the family of Domitilla. Her death followed, by circumstances not entirely clear, her refusal to marry Count Flaccus. One account has it that following this refusal, for which the nobleman threatened to have her killed, St. Petronilla spent three days in prayer and fasting. She died in her bed after having received Holy Communion. Other histories allude to her persecution and death as a result of her refusal. The prevailing view is that she died for her faith. A painting of a saint receiving a deceased woman named Veneranda into Heaven, done in the second half of the fourth century, bearing the saint's name- "Petronilla Mart."-would seem to support this view.

The aforementioned painting (which is reproduced on an exterior wall by the Mary Chapel) is located at the church of St. Petronilla located on the Via Ardeatina. The church was built into the catacombs of Domitilla, a noted Roman family. At one time the remains of St. Petronilla were entombed in that church. Her remains were later transferred to a building near St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, which eventually became the Chapel of St. Petronilla. Following her adoption as the patron saint of France in the sixteenth century, her remains were removed to an altar (which is still dedicated to her) in the upper end of the right side of of St. Peter's.

St. Petronilla's image appears rather often in English late medieval stained glass and on painted screens. She is often associated with the concept of hospitality and depicted as a young girl, with a book and a palm or keys-presumably the keys of St. Peter.

Her feast day is May 31