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Boston Catholic Journal - Critical Catholic Commentary in the Twilight of Reason


The Tortures and Torments

of the Christian Martyrs


De SS. Martyrum Cruciatibus

(a Modern Edition)

Chapter XI


Of other Tortures and means of Martyrdom:

  • Burying alive

  • Throwing into Rivers, Wells, or Lime-kilns

  • Cutting open the Stomach, and the like

The tortures outlined above, in which the martyrs were cast into deep ditches and buried with earth, hurled into a running stream or into wells, or else into a lime-kiln, are found in many Histories of Martyrdom,  particularly those of Saints Castullus, Vitalis, Marcellus, Philemon and his companions, Saints Paulina and Daria, Roman virgins and martyrs, Saints Calistus and Carisius, Saints Alexandra, Claudia, and Euphrasia, matrons, Julitta, virgin and martyr, Saints Florus and Laurus, and many others. The two last named are commemorated in the Menology on August 17th in these words:

“Anniversary of the Blessed Martyrs, Saints Florus and Laurus. These holy men were twin brothers, and hewers of stone, an art they had learned from Proclus and Maximus. But after their masters had suffered martyrdom for Christ’s sake, they left Byzantium (Constantinople) and retired into the district of Illyricum, to the city of Ulpiani, where, working in the quarries under Lido the Governor, they worthily followed their trade. Finally, after enduring many tortures and being cast by Licio into a deep well, they gave up their souls to God.”

The blessed martyrs were also thrown sometimes into a lime-kiln, much as we find in the Acts of St. Clement, Bishop of Ancyra, and also by the account of three hundred martyrs given in the Roman Martyrology, on August 24th:

“At Carthage, anniversary of three hundred Holy Martyrs in the time of Valerian and Gallienus. Among other punishments, after the Governor commanded a lime-kiln to be lighted and in his presence live coals and incense to be brought forward, he said to the three hundred, ’Choose one of two things — either burn incense to Jupiter on these coals, or be plunged into the quicklime.’ Then, armed with faith and confessing Christ the Son of God, they threw themselves with a quick dash into the fire, and amid the vapors of the quicklime were instantly reduced to powder. It is for this very reason that the white-clad host of Saints well earned the title of the White Band.”

How the Blessed Martyrs were Buried Alive

Before we proceed to other points, it is important to note that Christians tortured in this manner were not always cast bodily into pits to be buried entirely under earth and stones, although this was generally the case. We read, for example, in the Acts just cited, of Saints Philemon and Marcellus, that these martrys for the faith were buried only up to their loins. We suggest that you read their History for more on this point.

Of the Different Ways that Christian Martyrs were Cast into the Sea or into Rivers

As we mentioned above, it was not always in one and the same, way that the martyrs were tormented ... but in many. Many of the Blessed Martyrs are recorded as having been thrown into the waters. Sometimes this was done after great stones, or lead weights, had been fastened to their neck or feet or right hand, as
was the case with Saints Sabinus, Agapius, Florian, Alexandra, Claudia, Euphrasia, matrons, Julitta, virgin, and others. At other times they were cast into the waters with both hands and feet tied, wrapped in a net, shut in leaden boxes, or sewn up in a bag. These methods are to be found in the accounts of the martyrdoms of Saints Faustinus and Jovita, as well as Saints Hermillus, Ulpian, Stratonicus, Nicostratus, and others.

It is also noteworthy in this respect that the bag was a very ancient form of punishment indeed. Plautus [254-184 B.C.] makes mention of it in his Vidularia:

Iube hunc insui culeo, atque in altum deportari, si vis annonam bonam
(“Order the man to be sewn up in a bag, and cast into the deep, if you would have a good harvest ”).

Now the bag he speaks of was a skin, or sack made of leather, in which murderers were sewn up, often together with a dog, a cock, a snake, an ape, or some other creature, and thrown headlong, in accordance with Roman law, into the sea or river. From ancient times a law of this sort seems to have existed in the case of parricides; and so Cicero states:

“If any man has killed his parents or beaten them, and is found guilty and condemned on that count, his head is to be wrapped in a wolf’s skin, wooden shoes (that is, fetters) are to be put upon his feet, and he is to be led to prison, and there to stay a little while the bag is being made ready into which he must be placed and so cast into the water.”

In fact, this law was passed by the Romans to terrify and so discourage others from following the example of Lucius Hostius, who was the first of mankind, after the War with Hannibal, to kill his own father, and was intended to dissuade others from taking their own parents’ lives with the sword or otherwise. Accordingly, when during the Cimbrian War (113-101 BC) Poblicius Malleolus murdered his mother, he was punished in this fashion. His fate is mentioned by Livy in these words:

“Poblicius Malleolus, for the murder of his mother, was the first ever sewn up in a bag and thrown into the sea”

And in another place:

“Malleolus was condemned for his mother’s murder. After sentencing, his head was immediately muffled in a wolf’s skin, while the bag was getting ready, into which he was to be put and thrown into the water.”

At a later date Pompey the Great [106-48 BC], when Consul, passed a law further amending the ancient ordinance, extending the degree of relationship within which murder involved this form of punishment, and detailing the creatures to be enclosed in the bag’ along with the culprit — namely, a dog, a cock, a viper, and an ape. The same law of Pompey’s is again recited, with identical provisions, by Justinian in the Institutes. True, this law fell into practical disuse in later Roman times by reason of the cruelty of its provisions; but it was revived for the benefit of the Christians, several of whom won their crown of martyrdom in this strange fashion.

Of Catholics cast by heretics into the Sea and Rivers, or Buried in the Ground

Victor, Bishop of Utica, in his Vandal Persecution describes how the Catholics were embarked by their Heretic persecutors on board derelict ships, without sails or oars, and so committed to the vast sea to confront certain shipwreck. Nor is it only from the heretics that we learn of casting away Catholics on the waters, but those of more modern times as well. We see this in the Theatre of Cruelties:

“When the city of Oudenarde in Flanders had been occupied by the host of the Gueux, these insurgents captured all the priests of that province who were noted for their piety and learning and carried them off to the castle. Amongst these was one, Master Peter, a venerable old man and the oldest of all the company. After heaping insults and doing violence upon him, they stripped him of his clothes, bound his hands and feet together behind his back, and threw him headlong through the castle windows into the river, the good man crying out as he fell with alert and undaunted spirit, ’Thy will be done, O, Lord.“ In the same way, the venerable John Paul and the rest of the divines were cast into the river, of whom Master James, the eldest and weakest among them, unable to swim, was carried by the waters some way thence, taken out, and his life saved.”

Again, somewhat further down:

“Ursula, a Nun in the Beguinage at Haarlem, (after her aged father, the acting magistrate in that city, and several other well-reputed and well-born Catholics with him, had been hanged) was herself led under the gallows, and asked whether she would forsake her Faith and the Catholic Religion, and marry a certain soldier. And when she steadfastly refused to do so, she was at once cast into the water, and drowned.”

And yet again:

“The heretics of the city of Nimes in Languedoc, after slaughtering a great multitude of Catholics with their daggers, threw them, some dead, some still half alive, into a well in the city, which was both wide and deep, and filled it twice over to the brim.”

All this is to be found in the book, The Theatre of Heretic Cruelties, in which we also find the following concerning
Catholics who were buried in the earth:

“The Huguenots buried alive a priest named Peter, of the parish of Beaulieu, leaving only his head  above ground. At a place in Belgium not far from the Ypres, other clergy as well were thus covered with earth and stones, and   the Heugenots, setting up marks a short way from their exposed heads, rolled bowls of stone or iron at them in the way of sport.”

We will now continue to explore still other sorts of tortures and torments to which our forebears in Christ were exposed, first in the way of those martyrs who were publicly stripped and led naked through the streets of cities; secondly of those who were shut up in dungeons strewn with broken glass or shards of pottery or even iron caltrops [triangular spikes], so that their bare bodies would be lacerated and punctured by their sharp points, and last, those who were tied to the branches of two trees and wrenched apart. After this we will discuss (in Chapter XII) martyrs driven into banishment, and those condemned to hard labor and to the mines.

The first and second kinds are attested by the Acts of the Blessed Martyrs, Saints Alexander and Vincent, Peter and Marcellinus, Victor and Corona, as in the Menology where, on September 9th, it is recorded:

“Anniversary of the Blessed Martyr Strato, who, being bound to two cedar trees and so rent asunder in two parts for the faith of Christ, was made one with the celestial host.”

Of other faithful servants of Christ which were subjected to the same torture, Eusebius and Nicephorus both bear witness, as well as the History of the martyrdom of the above-named Saints Victor and Corona.

Of Catholics — particularly Monks and Priests — who had their Stomachs Ripped Open by heretics within this Present Century

Not only by the idolaters of antiquity and heretics of former days have Christian martyrs been torn apart and disemboweled in different ways (as we have already seen), but no less by the heretics of our own day. Let us quote what is said concerning this in the Theatre of Cruelties, and elsewhere:

“The Huguenots at the Church of St. Macarius in Vasconia ripped the bellies of many priests, and gradually drew out their bowels by winding them around sticks which they turned around and around. In the city of Mancina, having seized a priest of an advanced age, they proceeded to cut off his privates, and after roasting them over a fire, crammed them into his mouth. Then to see how he would digest them — for he was still alive — they ripped open his stomach, consummating his martyrdom. In the case of another priest, they  imitated the tyranny and cruelty of the Emperor Julian, by cutting open his belly with a sword, while he was yet alive, and stuffing the cavity full of oats, gave him to their horses to feed upon.”

This torturing of Christ’s priests was not confined to any particular place or time. We learn of others, equally horrible and cruel, to which they were indiscriminately subjected:

“In the parish of Cassenville, near Engolisma, the Huguenots seized upon a priest named Lewis, who by all accounts lived an excellent and exemplary life, and plunged his hands so often and so long in a vessel full of boiling oil that the flesh was stripped and fell off from the bones. Not content with this cruelty, they poured the same boiling liquid into his mouth. Seeing him not yet dead, they slew him by shooting at him with leaden bullets from iron barrels.

Another priest, Colin by name, was also seized and castrated. After shutting him in a cask with a hole in the top, they poured upon him such a quantity of boiling oil that he died under such torments.

In the parish of Rivieres, they laid hands on yet another priest, whose tongue they tore out while he was still alive by piercing his chin, afterwards killing him. Another, named John, they murdered by cutting his throat, after first burning all the skin of his feet with a red-hot iron.

Francois Raboteau, Vicar of the parish of Foucquebrun, was seized by the Huguenots and tied to oxen dragging a wagon, and was so savagely goaded and lashed that he finally died of the pain and torment.

At the time when Prince Auriac occupied Ruremond, a city of Guelderland which he had seized, his soldiers violently assaulted the Carthusian monastery there, shouting ’Geld!’, meaniing that they wanted money. At the entrance gate  three lay brothers were slain, Albert, John, and Stephen of Ruremond. Rushing into the Church, the soldiers disrupted the venerable Prior Joachim at prayers with the rest of the Brethren. Him They wounded him in several places and dragged him out, while four monks were killed on the spot, the rest being left grievously wounded.

In the city of Engolsheim, Friar John Auril of the Order of St. Francis, an old man of eighty, had his head split open with an axe, and his body thrown into the privies.

By the same ministers of Satan, in various other places, many priests serving God had noses and ears cut off, and eyes forced out. Indeed so audacious was the insolence of one Huguenot and so monstrous his barbarity, that he made himself a necklace of priests’ ears that had been cut away, and boasted of it before his leaders as a mark of bravery and diligence.

In England, the Calvinist heretics violently seized Catholic priests performing the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and clad as they were in their sacred vestments, set them on horseback in the midday and with burning torches carried in front, lead them about the streets in mockery. They also pierced their ears with a red-hot iron, exposing them on a stage to public scorn, fixed their heads in the pillory while nailing their ears at the same time to its wooden framework  — and all this was done for no other reason than the priests’ sympathizing and speaking well of the innocence of the martyrs and other Catholics who be tortured for their holy Catholic Faith.”

All these atrocities, we must bear in mind, were committed by the heretics of the present day in England, Ireland, France and Belgium.


Chapters:  1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12



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