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Tuesday - Third Week after Epiphany -- ST. FRANCIS DE SALES (January 29th)

The various tortures to which the martyrs were subjected

From book "Spiritual Readings for all days of the year from texts of Saint Alphonsus of Liguori"... The Rev. Father Mamachi, in his erudite work enti...

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Spiritual Readings

Saint Alphonsus

The Rev. Father Mamachi, in his erudite work entitled Manners and Customs of the First Christians, gives an account of all those tortures suffered by the Martyrs, from the works of ancient writers who were their contemporaries, as St. Justin, Tertullian, Athenagoras, Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea, Clement of Alexandria, and others. This author describes at much length the various species of torture employed against the servants of Jesus Christ during the Ten Persecutions of the Roman Emperors. We shall be more brief, as our intention is merely to show how rich in merit were those sainted heroes when they closed their earthly career.


Some were crucified in an erect posture, the same as Our Lord Jesus Christ; others with the head downwards, as St. Peter, according to Eusebius, who relates this on the authority of Origen; others in the manner in which the Martyrdom of St. Andrew is represented. Many were made to pass their arms under the transverse beam of the Cross, and had their hands nailed upon the upper part. Some were suspended from a tree by the hands, their arms having been first tied behind their backs, and heavy weights attached to their feet. Women were hung up by the hair, the agony of which torture was sufficient to cause death; others were hung by one or both feet, with the head downwards, and in many cases a large stone tied round the neck; finally, many had their hands nailed to a beam, with enormous weights at their feet.


Some were placed upon gridirons, others plunged into caldrons of boiling oil or pitch. Many were suffocated with smoke, or dressed in a garment smeared with some combustible matter, and so burned at a stake. Some were cast into fiery furnaces; others were crowded into a ship which was set on fire at sea; others were inclosed in a brazen bull and roasted alive; others again were tortured by red-hot plates of iron applied to their sides; and in fine, were thrown upon the earth, and molten lead poured over them, or were impaled upon a spit and roasted before a slow fire.


Scourges were of various kinds — of leather, of cane, of the tendons of oxen, of iron links, and sometimes of rods of iron, shaped like thorns, which were called scorpions. The Martyrs were generally tied to a post, or between four posts, to increase their punishment; but some were placed in a kind of stock. This stock consisted of two large pieces of wood, one above the other, between which the feet of the sufferers were confined, and in this torture they were sometimes scourged; and others were thrown with their backs on a table filled with large nails, and then scourged with sticks or rods.


These were iron hooks on which the Christians were suspended, and iron claws that served to tear them to the bone and to their very entrails. Other instruments were destined to pull out all their teeth, one after the other. Their flesh was lacerated with iron combs, or they were flayed. They were tied to the ground and were cut with blows of the hatchet, or their members were gradually cut to pieces, from the toes to their thighs, and from the fingers to the breasts, so that nothing was left but the trunk. They were stretched with their backs against a wheel that dragged them over sharp irons fixed in the ground; or they were tied upon a table, then disembowelled and their intestines taken out.


The Martyrs were also tortured on the rack and with other torments. Sometimes they were exposed to the sun, their bodies being rubbed with honey that they might be stung by the flies and wasps. They were stoned, beheaded, strangled, drowned. There were some who were tied to two trees that had been bent by main force, which when released would tear them asunder. Others tied in a bag were thrown into the sea, or thrown to the dogs or wild beasts. Some were made to die under the press; others perished from hunger.

In some of our narrations the reader may find himself at a loss to account for such barbarity and fierceness as the tyrants practised upon the Martyrs, whose innocence and meekness might be expected to save them from persecution. Let us consider whence this fury came.

It at first originated in the hatred which the pagans bore towards Christians whose virtues were the strongest censure upon their infamous lives.

It was also caused by the instigation of the devils who vehemently abhorred these pious athletes, the more their example served to propagate the Faith and induce others to imitate them.

The principal reason of the persecution was the hatred that those tyrants conceived against the Martyrs at seeing themselves overcome by children, by tender virgins, by simple and ignorant men, who upbraided them with their insanity in following a false religion which authorized every vice and called upon them to worship as gods men who, during their lives, had given the most horrid examples of turpitude and crime that ever disgraced human nature.

Their rage was yet more increased at the sight of the very many miracles wrought through the servants of the true God. They saw wild beasts cast themselves at the feet of the Martyrs; they perceived that red-hot coals, molten lead, did not burn them, and witnessed other similar prodigies. In vain did they cry out: "This is magic; these are incantations." The people were converted in the presence of these miracles, and thousands of them embraced the Faith, and this redoubled the irritation of the judges.

They believed that they were frightening the Christians by inventing new tortures, and flattered themselves that they were extinguishing the Faith by putting all the Christians to death. But the more they multiplied tortures, and immolated victims, the more did the number of the faithful increase. Tertullian relates that a certain governor in Asia, named Arrius, was putting to death those who confessed the Name of the Lord Jesus, when such a multitude presented themselves before his tribunal as caused him to shudder at the thought of shedding so much blood; he therefore contented himself with putting a few of them to death, and to the rest he said: "If your desire of death be so irresistible, there are precipices enough from which to fling yourselves. Begone!"

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The martyrs teach us to accept death according to the good pleasure of God

Monday - Third Week after Epiphany