The Tortures and Torments
of the Christian Martyrs
De SS. Martyrum
(a Modern Edition)
Of the Wheel, the Pulley, and
the Press, as Instruments of Torture
now come to other instruments of torture applied to the Holy Martyrs
apart from the various types of hanging, both on Cross
and Stake discussed in the previous chapter. However, since the
instruments named above, together with the Wooden Horse, are
without doubt the most terrible and appalling of all, we will look at
them now — and the Horse in the following chapter. Concerning
the torture of the Wheel, which is widely held to be the severest of
all, it is significant to note its antiquity. This form of torment was
first practiced earlier by the Greeks.
We learn this from numerous statements made by their own writers and
preserved among us. Aristophanes in the Plutus says:
"By rights you should be bound
to the Wheel, and so forced to reveal your evil doings."
Commenting on this same passage,
one ancient commentator adds:
"The Wheel was a contrivance
on which slaves were bound down for punishment."
Again the same poet, in his
"For sorrow! What a convulsion
and a straining of every limb do I feel, for all the world as though
I were being racked on the Wheel!"
Anacreon, as quoted by Athenceus,
speaks of the same thing, when he says,
"Many torments and rackings
of the neck I endured on the Wooden Horse, and many on the Wheel."
Similarly Demosthenes in his
Oration against Aphobus says:
"Let us set Milias on the
Wheel to be tortured"
And Plutarch, in his
"Then he proceeded to bind
the barber to the Wheel, and further torture him."
Also, Lucian in the Epistle
to Stesichorus writes:
"After being lopped of their
extremities, they were racked and stretched on Wheels;"
And Suidas in his Dictionary
under the word Wheel describes it thus:
"The Wheel was an instrument
of torture for racking men's bodies. Whence Aristophanes: 'Let him
be torn on the wheel and flogged.' So slaves were bound to the Wheel
and thrashed. And in another passage: 'You will have to speak up
on the Wheel and confess your crimes.' Thus we see people were tortured
on the Wheel and questioned to discover their complicity with others
and their own wrong doings. Similarly the Wheel was an apparatus
of wood, on which slaves were bound for punishment."
Phalaris seems to give concurrent
testimony in one of his Epistles, where we read:
"They were being tortured,
or racked, on the Wheels."
The device is alternately spoken
of by Pindar, Homer (both in the Iliad and the Odyssey),
Lucian, Ovid, Propertius, Seneca, and Claudian.
Other ancient authors also make mention of the torture of the Wheel,
especially Josephus in discussing the Maccabees in the
Jewish War [Bellum Judaicum]:
"Some refused to eat of polluted
meats; these he ordered to be tortured on the Wheel, and put to
death;" and again: "For this make ready the wheels, and blow up
the fire to a fiercer heat." And further on: "But when the Apparitors
[constables] had set ready the Wheels and Cords, the Tyrant adds
..."; and again, "The Apparitors were then directed to bring in
the elder prisoner; and tearing away his tunic, bound him hand and
foot with thongs every way. And when those who applied the lash
were wearied out without gaining anything, they fixed him about
a great Wheel, stretched around the circumference of which the noble-hearted
youth had all his joints dislocated and all his limbs broken." And
a little further on: '"Wicked hirelings,' cried the youth, 'your
Wheel is no more able than you to drown my reason; cut off my limbs,
and burn my flesh, and rack my joints with the twisters' On his
so saying, they set fire underneath, and divided him limb from limb,
stretching his body over the Wheel. And the whole Wheel was stained
with his blood, and the grate, which contained the pile of coals,
was put out by reason of the drops of blood pouring down upon it,
while about the axles of the wheel the gobbets of flesh were carried
round and round, the parts adjoining the joints of the bones being
everywhere cut to pieces. Nevertheless the noble youth Abraham never
uttered so much as a groan, but nobly endured the twisters,
that is the instruments of torment."
He reiterates this later:
"They proceeded to disarticulate
Arthremboles' hands and feet at the joints, and separating these
from the ligaments, tore them away with levers and so perforated
his fingers, arms, legs and elbows. But when they found that they
could not break his resolution, they dragged off the skin together
with the tips of the fingers, and immediately led him to the Wheel,
about which were crushed the joints of every limb, and he saw his
own flesh cut to pieces and drops of blood distilled from his inwards."
Also yet again:
"The Apparitors dragged him
bound to the catapults to which, when they had tied him at the knees,
and secured them firmly with iron bands, they bent back his loins
over a rounded wedge, so that all his body being dashed around its
circumference, was broken in pieces." And further down: "They fastened
him to the Wheel, on which he was stretched and burned with fire;
moreover they applied spits, sharpened and made red-hot, to his
back, and pierced his sides and inwards."
Other writers speak of the Wheel,
for we find in Apuleius', Golden Ass [also known as The Metamorphoses]:
"Without an instant's delay,
according to the Greek custom, fire and wheel and every kind of
torture were exhibited"
"Neither the Wheel nor the
Horse, after the manner of the Greeks, were lacking to his instruments
Cicero in the Tusculan Orations,
"Thus much we are justified
in saying, that the happy life cannot end on the Wheel."
In Virgil's, Aeneid, 6
"And there they hang, stretched
out on the spokes of wheels."
The 4th century biographer
Julius Capitolinus also states:
"The Tribune of the Soldiers
who allowed his post to be abandoned was tied beneath a wheeled
wagon and so they dragged him, alive and dead, the whole stage."
St. Basil, too, in his, Homiles
on 40 Martyrs, writes:
"Fire moreover was made ready,
the sword unsheathed, the cross set up, the sack, the wheel, the
scourge prepared;" and in his Homily on St. Gordius the Centurion:
"Let his body be torn on the Wheel."
St. Gregory of Nazianzen and Nicephorus
equally makes reference to these Wheels, as well as many Lives of
the Saints, especially in the case of St. Catherine, St. Euphemia,
Virgin and Martyr, and St. Felix and his companions.
These Wheels — as we have gathered from the Histories of different
Martyrs — were not of one kind only, but of several. Some, which we
find spoken of as Machines in the Acts of the Saints,
were broad and large, while others were narrow. We will discuss both.
The Wheel of the first sort, that is to say, the larger Wheel of which
Nicephorus and the Acts of St. Pantaleemon speak, was made in
such a way that being taken up to some high hill, with the victim bound
to its circumference, the Wheel, together with the condemned man, was
then violently hurled down from the summit of the mountain by a steep
and slippery way, so that each member of the Martyr's body was broken.
Thus do we read of that most glorious servant of Christ, Pantaleemon,
in the History of his Martyrdom:
"And they said to him, 'Let
the great wheel be brought, and carried to the top of the mountain,
and have him bound to it and hurled down the mountain in such a
way that his flesh may be miserably scattered abroad, and he die.'
The most blessed Pantaleemon was then led away to prison while the
wheel was being constructed. As soon as it was finished, the Judge
ordered the criers to proclaim through the city, that all men should
come together to see the death of the Blessed Pantaleemon, and ordered
him to be brought in. When the holy Martyr of Christ was led in,
to their amazement he was singing Psalms to the Lord in Christ!
Then the Attendants bound him over the wheel; but as soon as they
began to roll the wheel, his bonds were loosed, and the Holy Martyr
stood up unhurt. The wheel, however, rolling onward, killed many
of the Heathen."
Other types of broad wheels were
also used by the Heathen for the massacring of Christians. The circumference
of these wheels, to the which the naked Martyrs were bound by cords,
was imbedded with blades, sharp nails, and the like, and then suspended
stationary in the air. Then revolving the martyrs along with the wheels
again and again with all their might over iron spikes fixed in the earth
for piercing and cutting, they caused the flesh of the sufferers thus
punished to be dreadfully torn and mangled. It was precisely by such
a torture wheel that we suppose the Blessed Virgin of Jesus Christ,
St. Catherine, to have won the Crown of Martyrdom, to which her Acts
in part witness.
Of Wheels of the Second Sort
Other wheels of a lesser breadth
than those just described were likewise used by these Devil-worshippers
for torturing faithful Christians. Around the circumference of these
wheels they would very often fix sharp nails and the like, in such a
way that their points, being turned upward, might project beyond the
rims. Then on the wheels thus arranged they would bind the Martyrs whose
bodies were then pitifully torn by the sharp points of the spikes, as
well as by others which stood planted in the earth beneath. In the
Acts of St. George we find the following narrated:
"The Emperor ordered a wheel
to be brought in stuck all round with sharp points, and the Saint
to be bound naked to it, and so mangled by the various devices imbedded
within it. The wheel was hung in the air, while underneath planks
were laid upon which were closely fixed together a number of spikes,
like sharp swords, some with their points straight upward, others
curved like hooks, while still others resembled flaying knives.
When the revolving wheel approached the planks — and the Holy Man
bound like a lamb to it with slender lines and small cords in such
a way that they cut into into his flesh and were imbedded within
it — it was forced, as the wheel turned, to pass over the swords,
and the Martyr's body was caught on their keen edges and terribly
lacerated, contorted, and torn in pieces as if with the instrument
known as a "scorpion."
It is next to be specially noted
that the Heathen, after binding the Martyrs to wheels, thrashed them
cruelly with rods and cudgels as they were whirled round upon it. The
Acts of St. Clement of Ancyra give testimony in the following
"The Magistrate ordered the
Martyr (that is, Clement) to be bound to the wheel, and the latter
to be revolved at great speed with the Martyr upon it being simultaneously
beaten savagely with rods. Immediately the Martyr was bound to the
wheel, and the wheel turned rapidly. Now the Martyr, while he was
on top of the wheel in its revolution, was exposed to the fellows
who stood ready with their rods; but when the wheel carried him
underneath, his body was bitterly crushed and his bones broken."
Nevertheless, the Heathen were
not content in venting their hatred for our fellow-Christians through
these means of torture alone, that is to say, through which they bound
the Martyrs to wheels and tormented them, for they never ceased to invent
new ones. Hence it came about sometimes that, binding them to wheels
having sharp spikes fixed all round, and placed over a fire burning
below, they would revolve the wheel, together with the Martyr, round
and round and round at high speed. In other words, in just the same
fashion as meat placed upon a spit and set to the fire be roasted and
cooked, so were the Martyrs turned about and roasted, that they might
become fine bread of Jesus Christ. In the Acts of St. Christina,
Virgin and Martyr, and of St. Calliopius, we find it written: '"Set
up the wheel,' he (the Prefect) said to his Apparitors, 'and kindle
a great fire beneath it,' upon which the youth was tightly bound to
the wheel and was racked to pieces. Then instantly an Angel of God approached,
and put out the flame of the coals; and when the attendants tried to
turn the wheel, they could not. But his tender limbs bespattered all
the wheel with blood, for it was armed all around with sharp swords."
In this way, the Blessed Martyrs, bound to wheels, and revolved upon
them over a fire, happily won the most noble Crown of Martyrdom.
Moreover it was the custom with these same impious men to use the several
interstices of the wheels, of the narrow sort described above, in such
a way that the limbs of Christ's faithful servants, after being first
broken with iron bars, were intertwined and inserted within them so
that they appeared, as it were, woven in with the spokes. Then attaching
the wheels to the upper end of poles set upright in the ground, they
would leave them in this condition to live on for days. This torture,
as mentioned by Gregory of Tours in his History of the Franks,
was inflicted at Valence in Gaul upon Felix, a Priest, and Fortunatus
and Achilleus, Deacons, who had been sent to Tour by St. Irenaeus, Bishop
of Lyons, to preach the word of God.
We have already seen that the wheels which were used for stretching
and racking the bodies of Christians, were either pulleys or
the wooden horse — for by means of these instruments, which contained
several small wheels, and so could be collectively spoken of as wheels,
were the bodies of Christ's faithful servants especially torn — or else
in no way differed from the wheels just described, as the History
of St. Calliopius quoted above seems clearly to imply, for it states
that he was so tightly bound to the wheel with small cords, that even
before his tormentors began to revolve it, the blessed youth was mangled
and torn to pieces.
Pulleys, as instruments of martyrdom,
are spoken of by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History and in
many Acts of the Saints, especially those of Saints Crispinus
and Crispianus, and of St. Quintinus, a Roman citizen. Further mention
is made of them by Gregory of Tours who, in his History of the Franks,
"Stretched at the pulleys,
he was beaten with cudgels, rods, and double thongs"; and in
another place, "He was stretched on the ground at the
pulleys, and finally beaten with triple thongs;" and still further
that, "The King was furious and ordered them to be stretched
at the pulleys, and violently beaten ..."
A careful study of these sources
will show beyond a doubt that this sort of punishment was especially
employed to torture criminals and murderers. It is no surprise, then,
atht the true worshippers of God, fighting for His honor, were racked
or drawn aloft by means of pulleys at the hands of the Heathen who,
after all, accounted Christians among the most criminal of all mankind.
Pulleys — what were they?
The Pulley (as is clear from Vitruvius)
was a contrivance for hauling, provided with a roller or little grooved
wheel, moving on a small axle, with the pulling rope being led over
it. It was used either for hoisting weights to a height and into the
required positions in building, or for lowering them, or else for moving
things, and lastly for drawing water from wells. Pulleys (see Isidore,
Etymologicum) may be best described as made in the likeness of
the theta, or eighth letter of the Greek alphabet [Θ]
and named trockleae from the word trochla, signifying
a little wheel. Some modern writers, then, err who hold the trocklea
(pulley) to have been simply a capstan or windlass.
Granted that a pulley is incapable
of tearing asunder the bodies of condemned criminals without the addition
of some accompanying instrument to help, whether a stake to connect
it with, or some device of one sort or another; yet must it not be concluded
from this that it was a capstan, but only that it required a capstan
of some kind. Inasmuch as in this form of torture the bodies of the
victims were often horribly stretched and racked, it appears to us certain
— especially when we consider the difficulty of tearing a man's body
apart, and at the same time consider the relatively little effort
exerted by the executioners — that some small engine was employed
in conjunction with the pulley, such as a capstan or the like. If one
reads the passages of Vitruvius referring to this subject, it will become
apparent that the pulley was not a capstan, nor yet the
capstan a pulley. Lastly, we should note that in the accompanying Fig.
IX a capstan is illustrated along with a pulley, not to imply these
were one and the same, but to show the probability that the victims,
for the reason just alluded to, were torn and racked by both
these instruments at once. We say "probability" because there are other
ways in which it could be done, and very likely sometimes was.
Now the way in which Christians were tortured by the pulley is as follows.
First of all, as many stakes were fixed in the earth as there were victims
to be punished. This done, the appointed attendants proceeded to bind
the Martyrs, sometimes by their hands, sometimes by their feet, to the
ropes of the pulleys one way and to the stakes the other; then the ropes
being pulled tight according to the Judges' orders, their bodies were
miserably stretched and racked. All this is shown in the Acts
of the sons of St. Symphorosa the Martyr, as well as by Gregory of Tours,
in his History of the Franks.
Those condemned to this punishment
(as we see from the History of the Martyrs, St. Quintinus and
St. Ferutius, and other passages in Gregory of Tours already noted)
were, at the same time , both racked at the pulleys and simultaneously
beaten with cudgels or burned with torches — or else sprinkled with
red-hot sulfur, resin, boiling oil, and the like. Thus in the Acts
of the Blessed Quintinus we find:
"Then the Prefect, raging
with despotic fury, ordered the holy Quintinus to be so cruelly
racked at the pulleys that his limbs were forced to part at the
joints from sheer violence. Moreover, he commanded him to be beaten
with small cords, and boiling oil and pitch and melted fat to be
poured over his back, so that no kind of punishment and torment
available may fail to contribute to his agony. When this yielded
nothing the savage Prefect Rictiovarus, to glut his mad and monstrous
thirst for cruelty, further ordered burning brands to be applied."
Martyrs Hoisted up with Pulleys
Lastly we must consider that the
Christian martyrs were not only stretched and racked with pulleys,
but were also hoisted aloft by them in the same manner by which
condemned criminals at that time, with hands tied behind their backs,
were hauled up in the air by a rope in order to extort the truth from
them. This kind of torment is said to have been used with the holy Martyr
of Christ, St. Servus, of whom we read in the Roman Martyrology
on December 7th:
"At Tuburbo in Africa, anniversary
of the Martyr, St. Servus, who in the Vandal Persecution under the
Arian heretic King Hunneric, was a long time beaten with clubs,
then repeatedly hoisted aloft with pulleys, and suddenly let go
with the the full weight of his body onto flint stones. Thus scarified
by the sharp stones he won the palm of martyrdom."
Further details concerning the
same Martyr can be found in Victor's, The Vandal Persecution.
Of the Press as an Instrument of Torture
The Christian Martyrs were also
squeezed in Presses, much in the way that grapes and olives are pressed
to extract wine and oil. It was by this method of torture that
most noble soldier of Christ, St. Jonas, was martyred, of whom we read
in the Acts of this Martyr:
"They (the Persian Magi) ordered
the Press to be brought and St. Jonas to be placed within it, and
violently pressed and cut to pieces. The Attendants did as they
were commanded, and squeezed him mercilessly in the Press, breaking
all his bones, and finally cut him in two through the middle."
Illustrations for Chapter