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. The loculus was closed with three terra cotta tiles, on which was the following inscription: lumena paxte cumfi. It was and is generally accepted that the tiles were in a wrong order and that the inscription originally read, with the leftmost tile placed on the right: pax tecum Filumena.
Filomena was the daughter of a king in Greece who, with his wife, had converted to Christianity. 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. The two anchors, three arrows, the palm and the lily flower on the tiles found in the tomb were interpreted as symbols of her martyrdom.