St Petronille healing oil
The St Petronille healing oil is dedicated to young virgin martyr of the early Church.
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.
St Petronille’s relics
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.
Tradition of oils
The tradition of anointing with sacred oil is very old indeed. It is used in sacraments and also as a devotional practice. The sick person applies the oil and blesses themselves. As they do so, they are asked to pray to whomever the oil is dedicated to. The Irish blessings oils do not have miraculous power. It is God who has the power to heal. Applying the oil while praying are important ways for us to express our faith in God’s power. Moreover, by doing so we place our trust in God.