Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Flavia Domitilla, Virgin and Martyr

[painting of Saint Domitilla]Article

She was niece to the consul and martyr Saint Flavius Clemens, being the daughter of his sister as Eusebius testifies; consequently she was little niece of the Emperor Domitian, who, having put to death her illustrious uncle, banished her for her faith into Pontia. There she lived with her holy eunuchs, Nereus and Achilleus, in exercises of devotion, they all dwelling in separate cells which remained standing three hundred years after. Saint Jerome tells us, that Saint Paula, going from Rome to Jerusalem took this island in her way, visited them with respect and devotion, and by the sight of them was animated with fervour. That father calls her banishment a long martyrdom. Nerva and Trajan were, perhaps, unwilling to restore the relations of Domitian with the other exiles whom they recalled. The acts of Saints Nereus and Achilleus say that she returned to Terracina and was there burnt under Trajan, because she refused to sacrifice to idols. Her relics are kept together with those of Saints Nereus and Achilleus; who, though her servants here on earth, enjoy an equal honour and condition with her in glory.

This royal virgin found true happiness and joy in suffering for virtue, whilst worldly pomp and honours are only masks which often cover the basest slavery, and much inward bitterness. Sinners who seem the most fortunate in the eyes of the world, feel in their own breasts frequent returns of fear, anxiety, and remorse. They are only enemies to solitude and retirement, and to all serious and calm reflection, because they cannot bear to look into themselves, and tremble at the very sight of their own frightful wounds. To turn their eyes from themselves, they study to drown their faculties in a hurry of dissipation, business, or diversion. Nay, though nauseated and tired with a dull and tasteless repetition of follies, they choose to repeat them still, for fear of being left alone, at liberty to think of themselves. But what becomes of them when sickness, disasters, or a wakeful hour forces them to take a view of their own miserable state, and the dangers which hang over them? Their gaudy show of happiness is merely exterior, and only imposes upon others: but their pangs and agonies are interior: these they themselves feel. The servant of God, who in his sweet love enjoys an inward peace and comfort which the whole world cannot rob him of, carries his paradise within his own breast, whatever storms hover about him.

Note – The elder Flavia Domitilla was niece to the Emperor Domitian, and daughter of his sister Domitilla. This sister he had given in marriage to his cousin-german Saint Flavius Clemens, son to a brother of Vespasian. After his martyrdom, she was impeached for her faith; and, because she refused to marry another husband, banished to the isle Pandataria, now Saint Mary’s near Puzzuolo. She probably returned to Rome, or at least to the continent, after the death of Domitian. She had by Saint Clemens two sons, Vespasian and Domitian, whom that emperor destined to be his successors, and appointed the celebrated rhetorician Quintillian to be their preceptor. This virtuous lady was aunt to Saint Domitilla, Virgin Martyr.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Flavia Domitilla, Virgin and Martyr”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 12 May 2013. Web. 21 October 2014. <>