Christian Captives in North Africa

Robert Bridges
During the Middle Ages, Arabs, Moors, and Berbers captured many Christians and worked them as slaves or held them for ransom in North Africa. In 1415 the Portuguese captured the city of Ceuta, which for centuries gave them a toe-hold in North Africa. Robert Bridges, poet laureate of England from 1913 to 1930, made use of these historical facts in setting a blank-verse drama titled The Christian Captives. The story is a tragedy of thwarted love in five acts.

The desire of the King of Fez to regain Ceuta after the Portuguese invade Tangier is a central theme of the play. The Christian captives appear in the story as a chorus, introducing an Islamic princess to Christianity. They serve as a bargaining chip in negotiations between the Christians and the Muslims in an otherwise improbable tale.

Nonetheless, the captivity of Christians was real enough. Among the most famous captives of the sixteenth century was a Spaniard, Miguel de Cervantes, who was held five years despite several attempts to escape. Eventually his parents, with help of a religious organization, ransomed him and returned him home to write his famous novel, Don Quixote, the play The Dungeons of Algiers, and other works that mention captivity in Algiers.

A Magazine about Prisoners

A few months ago, Christian History published issue #123, devoted to Christians in prison. Although we mentioned it on Facebook, we’ve been remiss calling attention to it on this site. Some of the material from these pages made its way into the magazine as well as much new material. Preview a copy below, and order it for yourself at Captive Faith in the Christian History Institute store. One of its articles, “Paradoxes of Prison,” by this site’s webmaster, even won an award from the Evangelical Press Association.

Warning to the condemned

st sepulcher church
St Sepulcher’s Church by User Lonpicman — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:StSepulchresChurch.jpg, [CC BY-SA 3.0]

By Dan Graves

Here is another tidbit from Chamber’s Book of Days. Near Newgate prison in London was a parish church bearing the name St Sepulchre’s. On the 8th of May 1705, Robert Dowe gave £50 to the vicar and church wardens stipulating Continue reading “Warning to the condemned”

Angola prison and the communion of saints

Angola prison
Entrance, Louisiana State Penitentiary.

by Rhonda Mawhood Lee (originally appeared at Faith & Leadership (used by permission).

FOR MORE ARTICLES ABOUT CHRISTIANS IN PRISON, READ CHRISTIAN HISTORY #123, CAPTIVE FAITH: PRISON AS A PARISH.

Raymond Marler, a plumber, pipe fitter and welder, died at age 59. He considered welding “a noble trade and often spoke with pride about his aunt, who was one of a cadre of female welders who filled traditional male roles in armament factories during World War II.” Continue reading “Angola prison and the communion of saints”

African Prisoners

Abuna Salama
Abuna Salama, Metropolitan of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Henry A. Stern, Wanderings Among the Falashas in Abyssinia (London: Wertheim, Macintosh, and Hunt, 1862) p.137.

By Dan Graves

In the pages of Captive Faith we have featured only one African prisoner—Perpetua—and she was of European extraction. This has not been by design or by oversight, but because our focus is on prisoners who produced poems, letters, Scripture, court transcripts, or biographies during jail time or because of being jailed, or whose prison story became part of God’s word.*

This does not mean that African Christians have not had experience of prison. Here are a few of their stories. Continue reading “African Prisoners”

Softening a Desperate Place


Murals in Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary.

By Dawn Moore

On a recent Sunday afternoon, my husband and I were looking for something fun to do with our daughter Susie and her friend David. It was raining, so plans to stroll the local arboretum were tabled. Susie is an avid advocate for prison reform and delighted to explore historic Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP) in Philadelphia. I mostly wanted to see the historic architecture and learn a bit of history in a nice low-key way, without undue challenge to my comfortable suburban mindset.

I wasn’t disappointed in my quest for fascinating architecture, but our first steps inside quickly told me this would be a challenging afternoon. Continue reading “Softening a Desperate Place”

Fleet Prison Marriages

Fleet Prison marriage
A Fleet Prison marriage. Wikimedia.

Chamber’s Book of Days (1881) is full of fascinating tidbits, some of which concern imprisonment. One is an account of shady marriages conducted by incarcerated clergymen of the Fleet Prison, London.

“The trade was taken up by clerical prisoners living within the Rules of the Fleet, who, having neither cash, character, nor liberty to lose, became the ready instruments of vice, greed, extravagance, and libertinism.” Continue reading “Fleet Prison Marriages”