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Sunday, 3 April 2016


The first Christian witness to be killed for his testimony was Saint Stephen (c34) (whose name means "crown"). Those who suffer martyrdom are said to have been "crowned." Accused of blasphemy, at his trial Stephen made a long speech denouncing the Jewish authorities who were sitting in judgment on him and was then stoned to death. His martyrdom was witnessed by Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee who would later himself become Saint Paul, a follower of Jesus.

After the great fire of Rome in 67 AD the emperor Nero was intent on persecuting the Christians who were blamed for the blaze. Often he put on a public show in his own gardens, in which the Christians were killed by being covered in skins of wild animals and being torn to death by dogs, or by crucifixion. Some of the early martyrs were covered in pitch, slung up on poles and set alight. These "on fire" Christians in the dark were like torches in the night. Instead of screaming for mercy and recanting, the early believers go to their death with dignity, singing hymns.

Nero's Torches

Among the Christians murdered by Nero was Saint Paul who was beheaded and Saint Peter who was crucified upside down. People begun to feel sorry for the members of this sect, realizing they were being massacred to satisfy Nero's mania rather than the public good.

Polycarp was the respected bishop of Smyrna and a disciple of the apostle John. In 156, having fled from the city at the entreaty of his congregation to avoid persecution, he was tracked down to his hiding place. He was taken back to Smyrna and urged by the officer in charge to sprinkle a pinch of incense and repeat "Caesar is Lord" to show his loyalty to the Roman authorities. The aged bishop stood firm knowing there can only be one Lord-Jesus Christ and was taken to the stadium where the proconsul offered to release him if he swore by the genius of Caesar. Polycarp replied: "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?" He was burnt at the stake.

In 250 there was a campaign, under the emperor Decius, to make Christians sacrifice to the gods and the “Genius of the Emperor”. Those who did were issued with a certificate known as a “libellus.” A number of prominent Christians refused to make a sacrifice and were killed in the process, including Pope Fabian himself.

St. Valentine, a holy priest in Rome in the days of Emperor Claudius II, was executed on February 14, 278.

St George (d c303) is the English patron saint . Little is known about him apart from the fact he was a soldier in the Roman army who was martyred for his Christian beliefs at Lydda in Palestine at the beginning of the 4th century.

After giving shelter to a fugitive Christian priest, the Roman soldier Alban was converted to Christianity and baptized. Following the publication of the Roman Emperor Diocletian's "Edict against the Christians" on February 24, 303, Roman soldiers searched the priest's house. Alban, who had exchanged clothing with the priest, was arrested in his stead. On testifying to his Christianity to a military tribunal Saint Alban became the first Christian martyr in Britain, when he was beheaded on a hill above Verulamium (near St Albans). Alban is listed in the Church of England calendar for June 22nd and he continues to be venerated in the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox Communions.

The martyrdom of St Alban, from a 13th-century manuscript, now in the Trinity College Library, Dublin
Diocletian carried out some systematic intense persecution against the Church, which climaxed in early 304 when all Christians were required to make sacrifice to the empire on the pain of death. The Roman emperor thought he was so successful in obliterating Christianity from the face of the earth that he actually had a special medal struck, which was inscribed with these words: "The Christian religion is destroyed and the worship of the [Roman] gods restored." However, instead of becoming weaker during this time of persecution, the church actually grew stronger.

Roman Herculian guard Adrian of Nicomedia, who was head of the praetorium was martyred on March 4, 306. He.had converted to Christianity after being impressed with the faith of Christians that he had been torturing,

The Protestant martyr, Anneken Jans, on the eve of her execution in Rotterdam, Netherlands, in 1539 left a written statement to be given to her infant son when he was old enough to understand. It read: "Where you hear of a poor, simple, cast off little flock, which is despised and rejected by the world, join them; for where you hear of the cross, there is Christ."

Two hundred and eighty Protestant Christians were martyred for their faith by public burning between 1553 and 1558 by the Roman Catholic Queen Mary I in England.

 In 1563 John Foxe, the Protestant preacher and writer, published The Actes and Monuments of These Latter and Perillous Dayes, which became known as The Book of Martyrs. It was a rather gory account of the lives of Protestant martyrs and their forerunners and such was its scope it was reckoned to the largest publishing project undertaken in England to that time.

The first men to be killed for their faith in America were three English and Irish Lutheran servants to the Spanish in Mexico City in 1574. They had run into trouble with the Inquisition, which had been set up in Mexico three years previously and were burnt on the plaza three days after Christmas. Around sixty-five other Protestant heretics were sentenced to receive over 100 lashes each plus 10 years hard labor as galley slaves. People from all over the country attended the public announcement of their sentences and the burning at the stake of the three Lutherans is an elaborate public spectacle.

In Elizabethan England, the Roman Catholic religion was outlawed and many lost their lives because of their faith. These included Edmund Campion (1540-1581), an English Jesuit, who was recalled from Prague, where he had been professor of rhetoric, for a Jesuit mission to England. There he circulated his Decem rationes (Ten Reasons) against Anglicanism, and was arrested, tortured, tried on a charge of conspiracy, and hanged in London on December 1, 1581.. He was the first Jesuit martyr in England.

Edmund Campion. By Unknown - National Portrait Gallery, London, Wikipedia Commons

The 30 year old Margaret Clitherow, the wife of a York butcher who'd converted to Catholicism was imprisoned and then crushed to death with a weighted board on March 25, 1586. Her 'crime' was hiding Catholic priests and attempting to smuggle them out of the city.

Two Catholic priests, Nicholas Garlick and Robert Ludlam were arrested at Padley Manor House in Derby whilst offering Mass. Together with a fellow priest, Richard Simpson, they were hanged  on July 24, 1588. They became known as the Padley martyrs.

In 1611 the English radical Anabaptist, Edward Wightman presented a petition to King James I, annotating his views. It was Wightman's public rejection of Trinitarianism, which spelled his end.  He claimed that the doctrine of the Trinity was a total fabrication, stating that Christ was only a man "and a mere Creature and not both God and man in one person." On April 11, 1612 Wightman was the last Briton to be burnt at the stake for his religious beliefs.

In 1654 the English Roman Catholic priest John Southworth was tried at the Old Bailey under Elizabethan anti-priest legislation . He pleaded guilty to exercising the priesthood and was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, London . On June 28, 1654, John Southworth became the last English Catholic priest to be hanged drawn and quartered for his faith.

St John Southworth

The Franciscan, John Wall, was executed for his faith on August 22, 1679. He was a much respected local figure and the crowd's reaction showed that their sympathies were entirely with him. Wall was the last Roman Catholic to die for his faith in England. Three hundred Roman Catholics were martyred by the Church authorities in England in total in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The largest massacre ever of Protestant missionaries took place in China in 1900. During the Boxer Rebellion, 188 Protestant adults and children were martyred.

Between 1915–16 up to 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or deported by the Turks. These events are traditionally commemorated yearly on April 24th, the Armenian Martyr Day, or the Day of the Armenian Genocide.

In the twentieth century, there were an estimated 1.8 million Christian martyrs in Africa.

Nowhere in the Qu'ran does it say that Islam martyrs get 72 virgins in heaven.

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