Saint Philomena is venerated as a Virgin Martyr saint of the Roman Catholic Church, said to have been a young Greek princess martyred in the 4th century. Her veneration began in the early 19th century after the archaeological discovery in the Catacombs of Priscilla of the bones of a young woman, which were interpreted as those of a martyr. Nothing else was known about her, but an inscription found at the tomb was taken to indicate that her name was (in the Latin of the inscription) Filumena, in English Philomena. The remains were removed to Mugnano del Cardinale in 1805 and became the focus of widespread devotion, with several miracles credited to the intercession of the saint, including the healing of Pauline Jaricot in 1835, which received wide publicity. Saint Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney attributed to her intercession the extraordinary cures that others attributed to himself. Accounts of her life and martyrdom circulated on the basis of visions of a Neapolitan nun.
Her liturgical celebration was never included in the General Roman Calendar for universal use, but, beginning in 1837, it was approved for some places. The 1920 typical edition of the Roman Missal included a mention of her, under 11 August, in the section headed Missae pro aliquibus locis (Masses for some places), with an indication that the Mass to be used in those places was one from the common of a Virgin Martyr, without any collect proper to the saint. On 14 February 1961, the Holy See ordered that the name of Saint Philomena be removed from all liturgical calendars that mentioned her. Accordingly, the 1962 Roman Missal, the edition whose continued use as an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite is authorized by the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, also has no mention of her.
The belief that such vials were signs of the grave of a martyr was still held in 1863, when a 10 December decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites confirmed a decree of 10 April 1668. But this view has been rejected in practice since the investigations of Giovanni Battista De Rossi (1822-1894).
In 1805, Canon Francesco De Lucia requested relics for a new altar, and on 8 June obtained the remains discovered in May 1802 (reduced to dust and fragments) for his church in Mugnano del Cardinale , where they arrived on 11 August, after being taken from Rome to Naples on 1 July.
In 1827, Pope Leo XII gave to the church in Mugnano del Cardinale the three inscribed terra cotta slabs that had been taken from the tomb.
The spread of devotion to her in France as well as in Italy was helped when Saint John Vianney built a shrine in her honour and referred to her often, attributing to her the miracles that others attributed to himself. Another help was the cure of the near-dying Pauline Jaricot, founder of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, at Philomena's shrine on 10 August 1835
Another miracle accepted as proved in the same year was the multiplication of the bone dust of the saint, which provided for hundreds of reliquaries without the original amount experiencing any decrease in quantity.
According to Sister Maria Luisa di Gesù, Saint Philomena told her she was the daughter of a king in Greece who, with his wife, had converted to Christianity. At the age of about 13 she took a vow of consecrated virginity. When the Emperor Diocletian threatened to make war on her father, he went with his family to Rome to ask for peace. The Emperor fell in love with the young Philomena and, when she refused to be his wife, he subjected her to a series of torments: scourging, from whose effects two angels cured her; drowning with an anchor attached to her, but two angels cut the rope and raised her to the river bank; being shot with arrows, but on the first occasion her wounds were healed, on the second the arrows turned aside, and on the third, they returned and killed six of the archers, and several of the others became Christians. Finally the Emperor had her decapitated, which occurred on a Friday at three in the afternoon, as with the death of Jesus. The two anchors, three arrows, the palm and the ivy leaf on the tiles found in the tomb were interpreted as symbols of her martyrdom.
In these visions she also revealed that her birthday was 10 January, that her martyrdom occurred on 10 August (the date also of the arrival of her relics in Mugnano del Cardinale), and that her name "Filumena" meant "daughter of light" (it is usually taken to be derived from a Greek word meaning "beloved"),
Philomena was never included in the Roman Martyrology, the official list of saints recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, still less to the General Roman Calendar, which only includes a small proportion of those who are officially recognized as saints.
In the 1920 typical edition of the Roman Missal Philomena is mentioned, under 11 August (with an indication that the Mass for her was to be taken entirely from the common) in the section headed "Masses for some places", i.e. only those places for which it had been specially authorized.
It was discovered that the phial initially believed to have contained blood, had been filled with perfume. It was also found that the inscription on the three tiles that had provided the Latin name "Filumena" ("Philomena" in English) belonged to the middle or second half of the second century, while the body that had been found was of the fourth century, when the persecutions of Christians had ended. Not only the name but also the leaf, the two anchors and the palm that decorated the three tiles, and which had been believed to indicate that Filumena was a martyr (though the necessary connection between these symbols and martyrdom has been denied), had no relation to the person whose remains were found. Archaeological investigation showed that the disarrangement of the tiles was something fourth-century sextons regularly did when re-using materials already engraved, with the aim of indicating that it was not the same person who was now buried in the place.
The website of the shrine in Mugnano del Cardinale continues to argue against these conclusions. See in particular Present Ecclesial Status of Devotion to St. Philomena, by Dr. Mark I. Miravalle.
For many, the 1961 withdrawal of Pope Gregory XVI's 1837 authorization of liturgical veneration of Saint Philomena in a limited number of places merely means that the situation has returned to that existing before 1837, when in many places there was fervent devotion to the supposed saint, accompanied only by vague speculation about the circumstances of her life and death or by belief in the revelations of the Neapolitan nun.