Eng (FIL-uh-MEE-nah); It (FEE-lo-MAY-nah); Fre (fee-loh-MEN)
The name is of debated meaning, though most definitely of Greek origin. It first came to the spotlight in the 19th-century when an excavation of a tomb in Rome on the Via Salerna revealed the remains of an early Christian martyr.
Some sources believe it is composed of the Greek elements, philo, meaning, “lover” and menos, meaning ,”strength.”
Others believe that it may be derived from the Greek word, philomene, meaning, “loved.” While others contend that it is a mixture of the Greek, philo (lover) and of the Latin, lumen, meaning, “light.”
When the tomb of St. Philomena was first discovered, the name was spelled Philumina, hence the reason why it is sometimes believed to mean “lover of light,” vs “lover of strength” or “loved.”
The story behind the saint is both interesting and controversial. In 1802 a tomb was discovered bearing the remains of a thirteen year old girl, her name, and symbols on the tomb indicating that she died a martyr.
There was virtually nothing known of her story. The saint’s relics were catalogued and put in storage in the Vatican archives till, in 1805, a priest from Mugnano Sicily ran into the relics while visiting the archives. He was suddenly struck with a weird sensation when he encountered the bones and requested that he take the bones back to his parish in Mugnano to enshrine them. After taking the relics back to his village, reports of miraculous cures of cancer and other diseases became attributed to the bones of the saint.
A young French woman who was stricken with a horrible cancer, by the name of Venerable Pauline Jaricot, in a desperate last attempt, made a pilgramage to the saint’s shrine. After visiting the bones of the saint, Jaricot was miraculously cured and lived to an old age.
The controversy comes in here: a nun by the name of Sister Maria Luisa di Gesù, claimed she had a dream concerning the saint’s life.
According to her dream, Philomena was a girl of Greek nobility. Her parents took her on a business trip to Rome and while there, they were invited to one of the Emperor Diocletian’s lavish parties. There the young girl caught the attention of the greedy old emperor. Diocletian was known for his persecutions of the Christians and when he asked for Philomena’s hand in marriage, the girl refused, stating that she was a Christian and would not marry such a horrible man.
Philomena was sentenced to death and the nun claimed that in her dream she saw the saint with an anchor tied around her neck and before being thrown into the Tiber.
According to some sources, the saint was removed from the Calender after Vatican II, which lead to a huge misunderstanding that the Church no longer recognized her veneration. The Church still recognizes her cult as a saint, it was confirmed however, that the Church could never prove if she ever really existed. For more information of this strange tale, you can read the story here: http://www.philomena.us/.
I will not go into many more details of the story of the illusive saint, but I would like to point out that on the above website, there is an animated gallery of some really cool renditions of the saint. She is the only saint whose life is unknown yet who was canonized based on the numerous miracles attributed to her bones.
On some calenders, her feast is celebrated on July 5th, while others, September 9th.
The name is very popular in Southern Italy and Sicily where the name is rendered as Filumena. In France, her cause was imported, thanks to the devotion of St. John Vianney and there she was known as Philomène (FEE-loh-MEHN). In the 50s, the name was somewhat popular in Ireland.
As of 2010, Philomène was the 449th most popular female name in France.
Other forms of the name include:
- Philomena (English)
- Philomène (French)
- Philoumène (French)
- Filoména (Hungarian/Slovakian)
- Filena (Italian)
- Filomena (Italian/Polish/Portuguese/Spanish)
- Filumena (Latin/Neopolitan)
A masculine Italian form is, Filomeno.
Ha! Philomena is a family name on my mom's side. In fact, her youngest sister was in line to be named Philomena. The most recent bearer of the name went by the nickname Fanny. While my mom and two of her sibs all got family names, somehow my grandparents hesitated and decided to buck tradition. Philomena became Linda Marie instead.
I've always kind of loved the name, though Philomene appeals more.
Philomena used to be in my top 10. I still love her, just not sure if I'd actually use her. I also slightly prefer Philomene.