[ABOVE—Maturus, Sanctus, Blandina, and a youth from Pontus, most miserably tormented, on the River Rhone, about the year 172 by Jan Luyken (1649–1712) The Martyrs Mirror [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]
During the reign of Marcus Aurelius, terrible persecution broke out against Christians, and the pagan emperor, seemingly enlightened in other areas, tolerated it. One episode took place in Lyon, France (or Gaul, as it was then known). Christians were tormented in the arena as a cheap form of public entertainment. Their sufferings were grave, their courage fine, and no more so than in the slave girl Blandina. As a rebuttal to meterialism, especially as manifested in the writings of Ernest Renan, John Reilly Beard produced A Manual of Christian Evidence, from which this account of Blandina is taken.
Blandina Excerpt from Beard’s A Manual of Christian Evidence
Most formidable was the persecution which raged over the Gallic Churches of Lyons and Vienne, in the year 177, A.d. The rage of the adversary was great, and no torture too cruel to be employed by him against the followers of Christ; but still greater was the steadfastness of the sufferers, and again still greater was the inspiration which God poured into their hearts during their “fiery trial.” Truly might each one of “the martyrs of Lyons” apply to himself the Apostle’s words: “I can do (bear) all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). And yet, so much confidence not one of them would venture to assume as true of himself. Their weakness was their strength. They were sustained not by their own arm, but by the arm of the Almighty. Conscious of their trepidation, with bodies vibrating with the anticipated, torture, with hearts writhing under the agonies of their fellow-sufferers, yet with minds fully bent and set to meet death heroically, each one of them might, with more propriety, adopt that other word of Paul’s : “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake, for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
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One aim the persecutors pursued with full determination. They spared no means in order to extort from their victims an avowal of the crimes with which the Christians were publicly and privately charged. As in the ages of (so to call it) Christian superstition, the persecutor sought for self-exculpation by wringing out of his victims a confession of the witchcraft laid to their charge, so those pagan persecutors grew furious against a sufferer in the degree in which they were foiled by his stedfastness in asserting his own innocence and the innocence of his fellow-believers.
The hope of the adversary was strongly excited by the appearance at the bar of a slave girl, Blandina by name. Here was a fine opportunity. Of course she knew all that went on in her mistress’s family, and that all, everybody said, contained many a frightful deed. “Only, then, use torture enough, and we shall obtain such a confession as, pertaining to this distinguished household, will prove to everybody that we are doing no more than our duty in bringing such crimes to light.” The rack (to use a modern term) was applied, freely applied; more freely still. In vain. Her only confession was: “I am a Christian, nothing wicked is done among us.” The greater the torture the stronger she seemed to grow.
Taken back to prison, she spent the night in communicating her own courage to fellow-prisoners. Produced again in public the next day and subjected to fresh torments, she said merely, “I am a Christian, and nothing wicked is done among us.” The day of her doom was come. It was “a Roman holiday,” made such, not by gladiatorial fights, but by agonies inflicted on an innocent and defenceless girl and her religious associates. A deacon, called Sanctus, and a fellow-believer named Maturus, were first flogged and then set on a burning iron chair; while Blandina, bound to a stake, had her limbs contemptuously contorted into the shape of a cross. Thus hanging there, this slave girl uttered no complaint, begged no pity, entreated no alleviation, but simply sang praise to God for the faith he gave, and implored similar support for her fellow-sufferers. The executioners, according to their nature, remained unmoved, simply letting out the wild beasts on their victims. The brutes, less brutish than their human masters, drew back from the offensiveness of the half-burnt bodies. Thereupon, the skulls of Sanctus and Maturus were split with a poleaxe, and Blandina was conveyed back to prison.
Among the Christian captives there were Roman citizens. “What is to be done with them?” asked the Praetor of his master. The answer was‚ “Unless they deny Christ let them be beheaded.” Remaining faithful they suffered decapitation. Those, however, who, not being members of the Roman empire, were accounted slaves were put to death by the most excruciating methods. Blandina and a boy, named Ponticus, were first compelled to witness the execution of others. The expectation was that they would lose courage at the sight and make confession. The expectation was disappointed. Full of courage, Blandina communicated her spirit to the youth, who, after bearing his sufferings calmly, sank like a young fawn hunted to death on its native hills. These over, now came Blandina’s turn. By her persistence, and by the spirit she communicated, she had given her torturers much trouble, and shall now receive her reward. A burning gridiron is brought forth on which she is laid. She prays and suffers, but still lives. Then they roll her in a net and throw her thus entangled to a maddened bull. It is a plaything for him. He gores her and tosses her about until the spectators are sickened at the sight, and order their victim to receive the coup de grace. Thereupon she is dispatched with a sword. Even the pagans allowed that never was so much heroism seen in a slave girl. The Christians looked to a higher power, and gave the glory to God.