Archive for the Roman Martyrs Category

Another nasty way to go

Posted in Christian, Christianity, Church, Martyr, Martyrs Mirror, Religion, Roman Martyrs with tags , , , , , on November 3, 2010 by fuzzysoul

After the accounts of the ancient martyrs at the beginning of the Martyrs Mirror, the book settles into a pretty steady rhythm of burning, beheading, drowning and hanging. Standard horrible stuff.

But the Romans, now there was a bloodthirsty bunch who could get creative. Whether they were baking, burying or crucifying their victims, the ancients made sure to keep it spectacular.

Take the fate of Phocas, first bishop of the Church of Pontas in Sinope who refused to sacrifice to the god Neptune, for instance. Phocas met his end in 118 C.E. when the Emperor Trajan ordered him to be boiled alive in a lime kiln. Dang.

The Wikipedia entry for Saint Phocas, incidentally, tells a completely different story. In this tale, Phocas is a gardener who provides hospitality to soldiers who are looking for him. The soldiers do not know it is him for whom they are searching, so they take him up on the offer. As they sleep, Phocas digs his own grave and the confesses to the soldiers in the morning. The soldiers offer to let him off the hook. Phocas, however, insists that they behead him.

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Halloween Horror: Buried Alive

Posted in Anabaptism, Anabaptist, Catholic Martyrs, Christian, Christianity, Church, History, Martyr, Martyrs Mirror, Patriarchs, Religion, Roman Martyrs with tags , , , , on October 31, 2010 by fuzzysoul

In honor of Halloween, here’s perhaps the most horrific (and strange) execution I’ve found in the Martyrs Mirror. The victim was a woman named Anneken Skywalker Van Den Hove. She had been in prison for two and a half years after being betrayed “as it was said” by her own pastor. According to the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, Van Den Hove was a 48-year-old unmarried servant to two women who recanted when all three were hauled up by the authorities. GAMEO also states that she was the last Anabaptist martyred in Brussels.

Anyway, dear Anneken met her fate in 1597:

Hence the justice of the court, and also a few Jesuits, went out with her about eight o’clock, half a mile without the city of Brussels, where a pit or grave was made, while in the meantime she fearlessly undressed herself, and was thus put alive into the pit, and the lower limbs having first been covered with earth, the Jesuits who were present asked her whether she would not yet turn and recant? She said, “No,” but that she was glad that the time of her departure was so near fulfilled. When the Jesuits then laid before her, that she had to expect not only this burying alive of the body into the earth, but also the eternal pain of the fire in her soul, in hell, she answered that she had peace in her conscience, being well assured that she died saved, and had to expect the eternal, imperishable life, full of joy and gladness in heaven, with God and all His saints.

In the meantime they continued to throw earth and (as has been stated to us) thick sods of heath ground upon her body, up to her throat; but notwithstanding all their asking, threatening, or promising to release her and take her out of the pit, if she would recant, it was all in vain, and she would not hearken to it.

Hence they at last threw much additional earth and sods upon her face and whole body, and stamped with their feet upon it, in order that she should die the sooner.

Update: In going back through my notes to find material for posts I had not had time to write before, I found an entry I had noted when I started this project 20 months ago … and then forgot. Apparently, Anneken was not the first person to be buried alive in the Mirror. That honor goes to Vitalus in 99 C.E., who was buried alive in Ravenna, Italy by the same Roman judge he once served. Vitalus’ wife was then beaten to death.

Umberto Eco and the Fraticelli

Posted in Anabaptism, Anabaptist, Catholic, Catholic Martyrs, Christian, Christianity, Church, History, Martyr, Martyrs Mirror, Religion, Roman Martyrs, Theology with tags , , , , , , on February 19, 2010 by fuzzysoul

A while back, I made a note about the Fraticelli in a cursory post about the cursory mention of the sect in the Martyrs Mirror. I was surprised to see the “Little Brothers” resurface in a book I just finished by Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose.

I was introduced to Eco through his second novel, Foucault’s Pendulum, released eight years after Rose and written in a much more mature (if still verbose) style. While Pendulum was set in modern day Italy and concerned with numerology and secret societies, Rose is set in an early 14th Century monastery and focuses on the precious nature of knowledge in the lifting dark age of medieval Europe. And it’s, of course, preoccupied with heresy, particularly of the sort preached by the Fraticelli and the proto-Anabaptist Waldensians.

Eco, a medieval scholar and first-rate brain, weaves the history of the Fraticelli and other heretical groups into the fictional plot of Rose, and it’s difficult to tell where historical sources end and his imagination takes over. Three of the book’s minor characters were historical figures, but the monastery in the book is completely fictional, as are the events depicted.

The book’s main character, William of Baskerville, makes mention of one St. Lawrence, who while he was being grilled alive, told his Roman executioners, “Eat, for it is well done.” Strangely, the Martyr’s Mirror makes no mention of Lawrence, but does record Leonard Bernkop’s echo of the famous quote 1,200 years later.

The book helped me with a burning question I couldn’t answer from an Internet search. I now know how priests are supposedly desecrated. Here is Eco’s likely well-informed description, through the eyes of his narrator, Adso:

And after he had been led out in all his priestly vestments, a ritual began, and one by one his vestments were stripped away until he remained in that little garment the Florentines call the “cioppa.” And as is custom when a priest is defrocked, they seared the pads of his fingers with a hot iron, and they shaved his head.

Whether the ritual as Eco describes it still held sway 200 years later in Cologne – when the Mirror cited it as a possible reason for William van Keppel’s mysterious survival – is up for debate.

The Template of St. Perpetua

Posted in Anabaptism, Anabaptist, Christian, Christianity, Church, History, Martyr, Martyrs Mirror, Patriarchs, Religion, Roman Martyrs with tags , , , , , , , , on December 29, 2009 by fuzzysoul

St. Perpetua, looking mighty white for a North African in this stained glass window.

My wife and I have been watching the excellent 11-year-old PBS series, From Jesus to Christ, online over the last couple weeks. This scholarly approach to the origins of Christianity is a great introduction to those looking into where all this tradition got started.

The last segment of the series focuses on the early Roman persecutions as well as the cult of the martyrs and the Christian subversion of pagan Roman rule through the use of social programs (like Hamas, only without the guns and bombs). One of the most striking details of the series, for me anyway, was the tale of Perpetua, whose diary of imprisonment and pregnancy in captivity the show credits with launching the martyrdom testimonial tradition that seems to have eventually led to the creation of the Martyrs Mirror.

Perpetua gets a mention in the Mirror. It’s a decent half-page entry with some good detail, but it does not tell the heroic postmortem death sequence tacked on to the original diary, which is why it did not initially grasp my attention. The Mirror’s account includes a quote from the patriarch Tertullian, presumably the main source here, and puts Perpetua’s death at 201 C.E. in Tuburbi, a city in Mauritania, a province in North Africa.

Perpetua, as the journal story goes, gave birth while in prison. In addition to having her newborn baby torn from her breast, Perpetua was killed, along with her friend Felicity, by wild beasts and gladiators as entertainment for the masses on the occasion of the Emperor’s birthday:

For the young women, however, the Devil had prepared a mad heifer. This was an unusual animal, but it was chosen that their sex might be matched with that of the beast. So they were stripped naked, placed in nets and thus brought out into the arena. Even the crowd was horrified when they saw that one was a delicate young girl and the other was a woman fresh from childbirth with the milk still dripping from her breasts. And so they were brought back again and dressed in unbelted tunics.

First the heifer tossed Perpetua and she fell on her back. Then sitting up she pulled down the tunic that was ripped along the side so that it covered her thighs, thinking more of her modesty than of her pain. Next she asked for a pin to fasten her untidy hair: for it was not right that a martyr should die with her hair in disorder, lest she might seem to be mourning in her hour of triumph.

Then she got up. And seeing that Felicitas had been crushed to the ground, she went over to her, gave her hand, and lifted her up. Then the two stood side by side. But the cruelty of the mob was by now appeased, and so they were called back through the Gate of Life.

There Perpetua was held up by a man named Rusticus who was at the time a catechumen and kept close to her. She awoke from a kind of sleep (so absorbed had she been in ecstasy in the Spirit) and she began to look about her. Then to the amazement of all she said: “When are we going to be thrown to that heifer or whatever it is?”

Perpetua had apparently been knocked silly, but not killed. So, she was dragged back out into the arena to have her throat cut by a nervous gladiator.

She screamed as she was struck on the bone; then she took the trembling hand of the young gladiator and guided it to her throat. It was as though so great a woman, feared as she was by the unclean spirit, could not be dispatched unless she herself were willing.

Yeah, it’s pretty spectacular and hardcore, but so are a lot of stories in the Mirror. People are always rejoicing on their way to death, bravely and stoically resisting torture and bringing great awe and fear to the hearts of their tormentors. These martyr stories are a literary genre, not historical fact, and Perpetua’s tale is as good a template as you are going to find.

Martyred by the Romans: Polycarp of Smyrna

Posted in Anabaptism, Anabaptist, Christian, Christianity, Church, History, Martyr, Martyrs Mirror, Patriarchs, Religion, Roman Martyrs with tags , , , , on April 2, 2009 by fuzzysoul
Polycarp = superhero

Polycarp = superhero

Wow, how did I miss this one? Two pages stuck together? Who knows. Maybe I skimmed it too quickly, thinking it was a long diatribe by one of the church fathers. Anyway, I somehow missed the ancient tale of Polycarp, aka Asbestos Man.

Somewhere around 168 A.D., the Martyrs Mirror reports that one Polycarp, bishop of the church of Smyrna, drew the ire of the local authorities. Polycarp, legend has it, saw his death coming. He dreamed he saw the pillow, on which his head lay, consumed by fire. From then on, he knew he was going to die in a fire.

Not exactly.

Polycarp tried to outrun The Man, but they caught up with him at a friend’s house. When the thugs came for him, he greeted them at the door with a smile and served them lunch. While they ate, he said his prayers. The men then put him on a donkey and took him to the city, where he was met by the local potentate. The city officials urged him to deny Christ and worship the Emperor; he refused; they abused him; yadda yadda yadda.

Polycarp was taken to the amphitheater to be executed, where we have to endure another round of threats from the executioner and a great many more pious ramblings from Polycarp. Eventually, the executioner elects to barbecue the 86-year-old man. Polycarp strips naked, has his hands tied and is laid on the pyre.

But as the flames rise around him, he isn’t harmed much. Supernatural, or bad fire building? You decide.

This was not a welcome development for the executioner, so he ordered one of his agents to stab old Polycarp with a sword. According to the Mirror, a great deal of blood gushed from the wound, extinguishing the fire, and Polycarp the vampire was finally silenced.

Martyred by the Romans: Antipas of Pergamum

Posted in Anabaptism, Bible, Christ, Christian, Christianity, Church, Fundamentalism, Fundamentalist, Fundie, God, Gospel, History, Martyr, Martyrs Mirror, Patriarchs, Religion, Roman Martyrs with tags , , , , on March 17, 2009 by fuzzysoul
Certified USDA "Antipas"

Certified USDA "Antipas"

“Roasted alive in a copper ox.”

Now, how is that for a form of judicial execution? Makes crucifixion sound downright humane. At least the Nazis gassed their victims before baking them. The Romans were hardcore.

Yes, poor Antipas was baked to death inside of a hollow, copper steer, according to the Martyrs Mirror.

Since I usually skipped the first three boring chapters of the book as a kid in order to get to the freaky stuff, I completely missed the John of Patmos shoutout to Antipas in Revelation 2:13. John doesn’t mention the ox part, though, perhaps in good taste.

As for ol’ Patmos John, the Martyrs Mirror takes an obviously pre-textual scholarship view that he was the same guy who wrote the fourth gospel. Not being a textual scholar, I’ll take the experts’ word that the gospel writer and the crazy old man on the island were not the same dude.

If the Apostle John and the Revelation writer were one and the same, then this guy was clearly from Krypton. The Martyrs Mirror tells of him getting dipped in boiling oil in Rome and surviving, being forced to drink poison (and surviving) in Ephesus and taking a two-year unscheduled survival vacation on a Mediterranean desert island. It places his death at 99 C.E. after 51 years of preaching. If he was a contemporary of Jesus, that would have made him at least an octogenarian in an era when age 30 was old.

A rich history of slaughter

Posted in Anabaptism, Anglican, Bible, Catholic, Catholic Martyrs, Christian, Christianity, Church, Fundamentalism, Fundamentalist, Fundie, God, Gospel, History, Martyr, Martyrs Mirror, Religion, Roman Martyrs, Theology with tags , , , on March 15, 2009 by fuzzysoul
Emperor Theodosius coin. Render unto Caesar...your head.

Emperor Theodosius coin. Render unto Caesar...your head.

I’m approaching the 200-page mark in the Martyr’s Mirror. I confess that I’ve been breezing through some of the denser patches of voluminous scripture quotation in defense of adult baptism. I realize that this is the whole point of the Mirror, but I’m mostly interested in the stories, since the theological debate is largely settled.

Around P. 198 in the Herald Press version, I found reprinted orders from the Roman Emperors Theodosius and Honorius that prohibit re-baptizing or being re-baptized under pain of death. The first order dates to 413 C.E.

Well, that didn’t take long.

Having spent the previous 300 years slaughtering Christians, the new Christian Roman emperors start slaughtering anyone who isn’t the kind of Christian they want them to be – bloodthirsty, obedient soldiers. Time to cull the hippies!

These orders are apparently reprinted to show the length and depth of the Anabaptist movement and give the authority of history to its teachings. If you’re going to be a heretic, you might as well be one with a pedigree. However, they can also be spun to show the consistency of the Roman church in stamping out the Anabaptist heresy. The papists were nothing if not consistent.

Obviously, the Anabaptists eventually won, at least in this country. Even the Roman and Anglican churches made a concession to the Anabaptist theology by inventing limbo for kiddies and creating the sacrament of Confirmation.