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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 IX

Of other Instruments of Torture and Methods Used for the Tormenting of the Christian Martyrs:

  • Schoolboys’ Iron Styluses

  • Nails

  • Saws

  • Spears

  • Swords

  • Arrows

  • Tearing out the Inwards

  • Cutting the Throat

  • Beheading

  • Branding and Marking

  • Pounding with Axes and Clubs

Ever seeking to prey upon of the souls of men, the Devil never ceases to devise further means and methods by which he may utterly overthrow and drive out the Faith of Christ. Deeming that he had found a means of easily accomplishing his evil purpose through torturing Christ’s members, he caused all the great judges of those times to believe that this alone would make them renowned —  if they ordered men and women who were champions and heralds of our Religion to be cruelly tortured, tormented and put to death with every agony that could possibly be devised. Such shallow ingenuity! Such futile designs! Truly, were these wise men made foolish, their cunning devices and evil counsels availing them nothing!

For indeed,— as Eusebius says in his Ecclesiastical History

“The hands of the executioners failed, and although succeeding one another in relays, the men were wearied out, and the edge of their sword blunted. I myself saw the tormentors sit back exhausted, recover strength, regain breath, take fresh swords — and yet the day was not long enough for all the torments to be inflicted! Nevertheless, not one of all the band, not so much as one child of tender years, could be frightened back from confronting death; the one and only thing each dreaded was, that when the hurrying sun ended the short day, he should be left behind, separated from the society of his martyred comrades. Thus did they, one and all, steadfastly and boldly trusting to the Faith, welcome with joy and exultation a present death as the beginning of eternal life. In a word, while the first batches were being slaughtered, the rest would stand singing psalms and hymns to God, each waiting his own turn of martyrdom, that so they might breathe forth their last breath in praises to the Almighty.”

How miserable the failure of these servants of Satan, and how great their foolishness! They themselves tumbled into the pit that they had dug for the Saints to fall into! Again and again they condemned — all in vain — their Christian adversaries to be torn limb from limb, to be stabbed to death with countless blows of iron writing Styluses or, what is the same thing, schoolboys’ pens, to be pierced over with nails, either their body entire or some special part of it, to be cut in half with saws, to be transfixed with spears, to be pierced with swords, to be shot with arrows; their stomachs to be gashed open and their inwards torn out, their throats to be cut; to be beheaded, to be disfigured with brands and markings; their heads to be pounded with axes or clubs, and dashed to pieces; women’s bosoms to be amputated, and their tongues, hands, and feet, as well as men’s, to be cut away; their legs to be broken, their teeth pulled out, their skin cruelly flayed from their living bodies, their bodies impaled with a sharp stake; nails, eyes, and face to be tortured with keen-pointed reeds; to be hurled headlong from high places, to be dragged over ground strewn with thorns and thistles and thickly covered with sharp stones by untamed horses or in other ways, to be exposed to wild beasts, to be buried alive in the earth, to be cast into a running river, thrown into a limekiln, stripped naked and led through the public streets. Or, whenever two trees could be found growing near each other, a branch of each being bent down so as to meet, to either of these one of the martyr’s feet was tied in such a way that the boughs which had been forcibly drawn together, when released, returned with a bound to their natural position and, tearing the man’s body in two which was fastened to them, rent his limbs apart and bore them back with them. Or lastly, these idol worshippers would drive Christians into exile, utterly deprived of every comfort, or sent forth to the quarries to cut blocks of marble, dig sand and carry the same on their own shoulders to their edifices which were then being built, or else to be deported to the mines. With such torments, and others described in previous chapters —  and others still, the names for which, given their unspeakable cruelty, Eusebius confesses himself incapable of describing — with all these were Christ’s most blessed soldiers tortured. Yet could they never be vanquished by any of them; but guarded by the protection of Heaven, they suffered and endured every anguish bravely and steadfastly. The following is told by St. Ephraem:

“For truly they stood forth in the time of trial most gallant warriors of God, bearing every torment with the utmost readiness in the name of the only-begotten Son of God, our Savior Jesus Christ. How strong were they and what a glory of gallant endurance they acquired, who, seeing all the horrid preparations of torture then before their eyes, not only felt no fear, but contending with all the greater constancy, overcame all suffering by their steadfastness! They looked on the blazing pile, and red-hot pans, and boiling caldrons, which in their fierce boiling shot out afar drops of pitch and melted fat. They gazed upon the wheels, iron-shod and iron-spiked, turning with fierce velocity amid the flames. They beheld the iron claws and glowing plates, the cudgels, the bears and lions, precipices, handspikes, augers, fetters and chains, in a word all the devices the Arch-Enemy of Truth invented against the holy confessors of our Lord and Savior. For every sort of torment was spread by the evil one in sight of the martyrs to make the Saints afraid, that their tongues, struck dumb by the mere sight of such horrors, may not dare to confess the Lord Jesus. But what effect on these faithful and eager warriors of Christ had this exhibition of horrible and unheard of tortures?  It served to make them more eager yet, with greater confidence and increased firmness still, unhesitatingly and intrepidly to confess their Savior Christ before the tribunals of Judges and Administrators! Neither crackling flames, nor fiery pans, nor boiling pots, nor hurtling wheels, nor red-hot plates, nor toothed claws and other the like instruments, nor fetters and ponderous chains, nor tyrants’ menaces, nor princes’ threats, nor all the Devil’s and his servants’ wiles, availed to terrify Christ’s intrepid soldiers, or force them to abjure their faith or withdraw their allegiance to their God and Savior. Rather, imbued with faith, they trod underfoot all the machinations of the Evil One, and consternation had no hold upon them.”

“Could you but see the strength of Christ’s faithful followers, see the glory of the soldiers of the Savior, and their steadfastness! Could you but glimpse the haste of them that seek the kingdom of Heaven with all their heart, and love Christ their King with all their might! Could you but observe the perfect faith of them that have been truly made perfect! Could you see the charity that burns in the holy bosoms of martyrs, for which they scorned all earthly joys, to hold to their God whom they have chosen? Could you but witness Christ’s loving-kindness, by which He raised to Heaven itself those who desire nothing more than to be brought there! Could you only see that triumphant Paradise embrace and cherish Christ’s champions which were eager for its bliss, now rejoicing in eternal light and peace!  Consider then, and contemplate, the glorious triumphs of the martyrs; behold with the eyes of the heart the abounding faith of these heavenly souls, and the inviolable ardor of their piety! No weight of agony could move these just men’s resolution; not even death itself could extinguish the zeal of their undaunted love. Beaten, they welcomed with great joy the blows of the rods as the keenest of delights; with calm and smiling faces they rendered thanks to God, that they had been deemed worthy to suffer for His sake.” [see the Acts of the Apostles 5.41]

Let us now continue to examine each of the several sorts of tortures listed at the beginning of this chapter to the end of confirming their authenticity through the Histories of the Blessed Martyrs. The first — martyrs torn limb from limb — is attested to in the Acts of St. Nicephorus, commemorated in the Roman Martyrology on February 25th, and of St. James, surnamed Intercisus (“cut in pieces”); the second by St. Gregory Nazianzen, Victor, On the Vandal Persecution, as likewise the History of the martyrdom of St. Cassianus.

Iron Writing Styluses or Boys’ Pens — what they are and to what Purposes they were turned

This was an instrument, sometimes of brass, used for writing upon white waxed tablets in antiquity, much as we write nowadays in books. We find this as far back as in chapter 19 of the Book of Job:

“Oh that my words were now written! Oh, that they were inscribed in a book! that with an iron pen and lead they were graven. ...”

Likewise Plautus says, in his Bacchides:

... Affer cito.
Quid? Stylum, ceram, tabellas et linum
Habes tabellas? Vis rogare?
Habeo stylum
(“... Bring quickly. What? Your style, wax, tablets and thread,” (i.e. the thread with which the tablets were tied together when sent as a letter) —“ Have you your tablets? Can you ask? I have my stylus.”)

It is precisely with these writing instruments, or Styluses, that those condemned to die were often painfully stabbed to death. This is attested to by many authors, among them, Suetonius, in his Life of the Emperor Caius, as follows:

“Wishing the Senator’s destruction, he suborned men to attack him as he left the Senate House, and suddenly railing against him as a public enemy, to stab him with their writing pens and pass him on to others to be yet further mangled.”

Also Seneca tells us that:

“Erixio, a Roman Knight, was within our own memory stabbed to death by the populace in the Forum with their writing pens, because he had killed his son by flogging.”

This is also seen in the Acts of St. Mark of  Arethusa, where we read:

“From one crowd of boys to another Mark was  tossed, swinging to and fro, as they caught that noble body on their sharp pens or styluses;”

Also the Acts of St. Cassian the Martyr we find:

“Hereupon the holy man was questioned by the persecutor ... and then stripped of his clothes, and with hands tied behind him, he was made to stand up while his students were called in  and given permission to kill him —  so they proceeded to batter him with their tablets, or to to stab him with their writing Styluses. In this scene of martyrdom the weaker the hands engaged, the heavier was the pain of the victim, since death was the more protracted.”

It is important to make a distinction between being tormented with goads and to be stabbed with iron Styluses. With the former offenders were merely tortured, but with the latter they were both tortured and put to death. The former, moreover,  known as goading, was principally used upon slaves that had been guilty of stealing, while the latter was inflicted on prisoners convicted of the gravest crimes. The former mode of punishment is spoken of by Prudentius in his Hymn of the Martyr St. Hippolytus:

Ilaque infestis perfodiunt stimulis
(“And they stab his sides with painful goads”);

We find it no less used, and  repeatedly, by Plautus, as for instance in the Asinaria:

Utinam nunc mihi stimulus in manu sit,
(“Would I had my goad in my hand this minute”)

and in his Menoechmi:

At ego te pendentem fodiam stimulis triginta dies
 (“But I will hang you up and dig you with the goads for thirty days”);

To this may further be added a line from the same play of the Menoechmi in the way of further illustration:

Jam ascendo in currum. Jam lora teneo, jam stimulus in manu est
(“Now I mount the chariot, now I grasp the reins, now the goad is in my hands”).

All these passages serve to show that the goad was a rod or reed with a sharp point such as rustics use to prod oxen, and this is confirmed by the Acts of St. Joseph the Martyr, where we find written:

“But tying a point to a long reed, they ordered the Saint to be pricked therewith.”

To come now to the third and fourth kinds of torture, in which the Holy Martyrs were pierced with nails or cut in two with iron saws

The first kind of torture, involving the use of nails, we find in the Acts of Saints Paphnutius (Roman Martyrology, September 24), and Severus, Bishop (Roman Martyrology, November 7), Saints Fausta and Euphemia, virgins and martyrs, and others.

The second of these punishments —  that of sawing in half —  is recorded by Suetonius’s, in his Life of the Emperor Caius, where he speaks of certain persons condemned to this type of death. We will examine this form of torture in greater detail later, a torture which had the effect of stamping the name of the Emperor Caligula (Caius) with a reputation of cruelty for all ages. All this should impress upon us a clearer understanding, a deeper grasp, of the utter ferocity and rage of the Heathen against Christ’s soldiers, and how steadfast on the other hand the constancy and valor of Christian men and women, through which they endured, often happily, even eagerly, suffering and torment of every description.

The fifth kind of torture, in which Christians were pierced with nails, augers, or gimlets, can be found in the Acts of the holy Virgins and Martyred Saints, Faith, Hope, and Charity, three sisters already spoken of earlier, and also in the account of St. Fausta, a virgin martyr commemorated in the Roman Marlyrology, on September 20th:

“At Cyzicus in the Propontis, anniversary of the Blessed Martyrs, Fausta, a virgin, and Eulasius, slain under the Emperor Maximian. Of these two, Fausta was made bald by this same Eulasius, who was priest of the idols, and her head shaven in scorn, then hung up and tortured. Finally when the executioners were ordered to cut her in two, despite their efforts, they could not.  Eulasius, witnessing this, was astounded and then believed in Christ. As a consequence, while he in his turn was being violently tortured by the Emperor’s orders, Fausta was pierced with an auger in the head, stuck all over with nails, and finally set in a frying-pan over the fire, and so with the other, summoned by a voice from heaven, ascended to the Lord.”

The sixth kind, by which Christians were transfixed with spears or swords, is illustrated in the first instance (by spears) in  Histories of Saints Marcus and Marcellianus, Saints Benignus and Cyril, and in the latter instance (by swords) a deacon, Saints Fusca, Basilia, Anatholia and Justina, virgins and martyrs, and St. Polycarp.

Moving on to the seventh method of torture, the tearing open of the sufferers’ abdomen, we find one example of this in the History of St. Cyril, whose martyrdom is recorded in the Roman Martyrology on March 26th in these words:

“At Heliopolis in the Lebanon region, anniversary of St. Cyril, deacon and martyr, whose belly was cut open and his liver torn out, which the Heathen then proceeded to eat. This was done under the Emperor Julian, the Apostate.”

Another is found in the Acts of St. Eucratis or Eugratia, virgin and martyr, inscribed in the Martyrology on April 16th:

“At Caesaraugusta (Saragossa) in Spain, anniversary of Saint Eucratis, virgin and martyr, who after her body had been mangled, her breast cut off, and her liver torn out, was shut up still alive in jail until her body rotted away and began to decompose.”

Of Other Torments and Tortures to which Christian Virgins were Subjected

It was first under the rule of the Emperor Julian, surnamed the Apostate, that holy virgins were torn open. Then, even while their bellies were yet quivering and heaving, they were stuffed with barley and exposed to be devoured by wild hogs. This is recorded in each and every detail by St. Gregory Nazianzen, who writes:

“For they (the men of Heliopolis) — to relate only one atrocity out of many, but one that may well rouse the horror even of godless Heathens — are said to have taken chaste virgins, superior to the world’s attractions and who had scarcely ever yet so much as had been seen by men, and setting them in a public place, stripped them naked, that they might first shame them by exposing them to the general gaze. Afterward tearing and cutting open their bellies (Oh, Christ! how imitate Thy patient long-suffering at that time?), they first chewed their flesh with their own teeth and swallowed it —  and in their abominable fury, gorged themselves on their raw livers, and having once tasted such food, made it their common and usual diet; and then, while their inwards were yet quivering, they stuffed in pigs’ food, and letting in wild hogs, offered the horrid spectacle for people to see —  the girls’ flesh being mangled and eaten together with the barley. ...”

All this shows us that these Christian virgins were treated in this horrible way to subject them to the greatest ignominy possible — the same reason for which they were stripped of their clothes, for no greater shame can be inflicted on maidens than to be seen naked by lustful and wanton eyes.

Shame of this sort was inflicted on those Holy Virgins of Christ, Saints Prisca, Agnes, Barbara, Christina, Euphemia of Aquileia and her three sisters, Dorothy, Thecla, and Erasma, and on many, many, other Christian women. But there were also other ways used to expose the holy virgins to shame: their hair, for example, was often shaved off, as we find in the Histories of the blessed Saints Fausta, Charitina, Christina, and other virgin martyrs. In order to adequately understand how shameful it was to women to have had their heads shaved, it is necessary to read the Acts of the Saints just mentioned, Suetonius’ Life of Caius Caligula, and most especially what is written in the Roman Martyrology concerning St. Fausta, who was humiliated in this way.

What is more, to bring Christian maidens to the greatest shame and violence, and to graphically insult our holy Faith, these virgins were given over to sexual panderers or to wanton youths, or were taken to public brothels to have their maidenhood violated there. Yet did they remain virgins withal before God, and even having been violated offered to Him an unstained sacrifice.

The motivation for these these atrocities perpetrated on virgins dedicated to Christ, lay simply (all prurience aside) in the way of insult and disdain for the Christian religion. It is also likely that another motive was involved: the long-established custom of the Romans (as Suetonius tells us in his Life of Tiberius) that held it to be unlawful for a virgin to be violently put to death, unless she had first been deflowered by her executioners or by whore-mongers. I will quote the Historian’s actual words, in this regard:

“Unripe girls, inasmuch as by established custom it was forbidden to strangle virgins, were first violated by the hangman and then executed.”

However, the goodness and the power of Christ is such that He safeguards His brides even when they are exposed to peril and danger and preserves their virtue intact, reserving and liberating them from the hands of insolent and unruly men. This is what Basil the Great says in his book On True Virginity:

“When the fierceness of persecution was at its height, the virgins who were chosen out for their faithful love of the Bridegroom and delivered up to the mockery of impious men, remained unsullied in their bodies, forasmuch as He for Whose sake they bore these things rendered vain the assaults of sinners upon their flesh, and kept their bodies unsoiled by the miracle of His divine power.”

The same violence and the same deliverance is attested to in the Acts of the Blessed Saints and Virgins, Agnes, Daria, Seraphia, Theodora, Lucy, Susanna, and many others.

Under the Emperors Constantius (son of Constantine the Great) and Valens, as well as during the savage persecution of Catholics by the Vandals, the holy and virgin Brides of Christ were subjected to the same cruelty, the same shame, the same ignominy. Of such abominations under Constantius we are told by St. Athanasius (Apology) the following:

 “Now virgins were set in the flames of a blazing pile by that most abandoned of mankind Sebastianus, leader of the troops, to force them to assent to the heretical Arian doctrine. But when he found them steadfast against this torture, he stripped them naked and beat them so fiercely on the face, that for a long time after their friends could scarcely recognize them.”

 and in another place,

“The Arians whip and scourge the sacred bodies of virgins, and putting rude hands beneath their clothes drag them along, and bare their heads —  and when they resisted and would not come, punched and kicked them. However cruel this treatment, more cruelties yet followed — treatment altogether intolerable because of its shameful indecency. For knowing the maidens’ susceptibility to shame and their utter innocence of evil words —  that they could more readily endure stoning and cudgeling than foul speeches —  these men would accompany their violence with the most abominable expressions, and encourage the  younger men who were prone to crude laughter to abuse them with similar language. But the holy virgins and other pure-minded women would recoil from such talk as from the bite of serpents. And so these men added to the perpetration of these horrors through their filthy utterances.”

and yet again further on,

“Many virgins who, rebuking others for this type of impiety and daring to speak up for the truth, were driven from their houses; others they insulted as they went about their business, had them stripped by wanton and disorderly youths, and gave their own women permission to treat them with whatever indignities they would.”

Similar indignities were shown to holy virgins under the same Emperor (Constantius) according to the historian Theodoretus:

“George the Arian compelled virgins which had vowed themselves to lifelong chastity not only to deny the confession of St. Athanasius, but to pronounce accursed the faith of their fathers. His associate and confederate in these cruelties was a certain Sebastian, Prefect of the Troops, who, kindling a pyre in the middle of the city, made the virgins to stand naked beside it, bidding them to abjure their religion. But being so set in the Faith —  a sad and a bitter sight for believers and unbelievers alike —  they yet held this ignominy as the greatest honor.”

Of virgins similarly mocked and scorned under the Emperor Valens, Peter of Alexander writes, (quoted in the History, of Theodoretus):

“Palladius and his forces entered the Catholics’ Church, and instead of solemn words befitting the holy place, began to sing burlesque litanies to the holy images; instead of reading the divine Scriptures, they uttered unseemly shouts. They did not hesitate to indulge in dissolute words and obscene language and to pour insults upon the virgins of Christ ... nor did they remain content with foul words, sinning only in them, but far surpassed the abomination of their language by the atrocity of their deeds!

These men, vessels of wrath doomed to destruction, continued making loud and wanton noises that burst from their great noses like water, so to speak, from an aqueduct —  and began to tear the dresses of Christ’s virgins, whose holy life made them an example to godly people, and led them about naked as they were born in triumph up and down the city, and in their wantonness mocked them insolently and indecently, perpetrating deeds that were at once cruel and barbarous. And if anyone was moved to pity and tried either to stay them by force or dissuade them by words from such abominations, they did not escape without wounds.

Alas! Many maidens were forcibly violated, and many struck over the head with clubs, were left lying speechless. Nor was it permitted to commit their bodies to the tomb; indeed in many cases these women were sought for in vain by their parents with much weeping, but never found.”

Lastly, concerning virgins who were wantonly and violently handled under the Arian Vandals to the contempt of the true Church of Christ, Victor, Bishop of Utica, also bears witness:

“Then the Tyrant ordered the consecrated virgins to be assembled together, urging the Vandals, with midwives of their own race, to inspect and scrutinize, contrary to the laws of modesty, the shamefaced secrets of their privy parts, when neither their mothers were present nor any of the matrons. Then hanging the girls up cruelly, and cruelly burning them, fastening great weights to their feet, they afterward applied red-hot plates of iron to back, belly, breasts, and sides. Moreover they were asked in the intervals of torture, ‘Tell us now how the Bishops lie with you, and your Priests.’ And by this cruelty of torment we know that very many were killed there and then, while the others who were left alive were crippled and bent double by the drying up and contraction of the skin.”

All this plainly shows us that the Heretics of former days (whose evil example more recent Heretics still follow) proved themselves, in venting their hatred of the Catholic religion on the holy virgins, without a doubt more inhuman, more wanton, more merciless, and more cruel than the Heathen.

We will now explore the eighth kind of torture among those named at the beginning of this chapter. This torment, the shooting of Christians with arrows, is attested to by the Histories of many martyrs, particularly of the two hundred and sixty, whose names are unknown to us, but who are recorded in the Roman Martyrology on March 1st, as having died in this manner; also of St. Martha and her sons, Saints Irenis and Christina, virgins and martyrs, Saints Sebastian, Christopher and Faustus, of whom record is given in the Greek Menology, on July 16th, in the following words:

“Same day, anniversary of the Blessed Martyr, St. Faustus, who under the Emperor Decius, by reason of his confession of the Christian Faith, was arrested, and freely professing himself a servant of Christ, was fixed to a cross and wounded with arrows. After remaining five entire days on the cross without flinching, he at last commended his spirit into the hands of God. Again many Catholics are recorded by Victor in his  Vandal Persecution to have been shot to death by arrows.

He writes, “On one occasion the Eastertide rites were being celebrated, and our people having met in a place called the Palace to honor Easter Day, and shut and locked the Church upon themselves, the Arians discovered this. Immediately one of the priests, Andiot by name, collecting together a band of armed men, started to attack the company of innocent worshippers. They rushed up with drawn swords, seized other arms, and some of them, climbing on to the roofs, shot showers of arrows through the windows of the Church. Just then, as it happened, God’s people were singing, and a reader was standing up in the pulpit intoning the Allelujah versicle. At that moment an arrow caught him in the throat, and the book falling from his hand, he, too, fell down dead. Many others likewise are known to have been killed by arrows and darts in the very middle of the platform of the Altar. ...”

The ninth mode of torture — that wherein the martyrs’ throats were cut — is found in the History of St. Philip and his daughter St. Eugenia, a Roman virgin and martyr, and also in the account of the death of Saints Justus and Pastor, two brothers, given in the Roman Martyrology on August 13th:

“In Spain, anniversary of the Blessed Martyrs, Saints Justus and Pastor, brothers. When already well advanced in letters, they threw down their writing-tablets in the school, and of their own free impulse ran forth to meet martyrdom. Soon they were ordered by Dacian, the Governor of the Province, to be arrested and beaten with clubs; and after gallantly strengthening one another’s constancy with mutual appeals, were led forth from the city, and their throats were cut by the public executioner.”

Of the tenth sort, through which martyrs were condemned to be beheaded, witness is afforded by countless Histories of the Blessed Martyrs — notably of Saints Terence, Pompey, and their companions, Saints Palmatius, a Consul, and Simplicius, a Senator and their companions, Saints Anastasia and Basilissa, virgins and martyrs, Saints John and Paul, brothers, and many others. This is also attested to again and again in the Acts of the Blessed Virgins who were martyred at Rome — such as Saints Martina, Tatiana, Prisca, Theoodora, Cantianilla and her brothers, Lucy, Flora, Susanna, and a great many others.

It is highly probable that the greater part of the Christian martyrs were generally beheaded with the sword rather than the axe. This may be gathered not only from the several Histories of the Saints in manuscript, but also from other accounts in which we read that Christ’s warriors were chastised, slain, struck, punished, and so on, with the sword, but also from the fact that it was considered more ignominious to be slain with the sword than with the axe. Thus Spartian, in his Life of Geta, declares how Caracalla was angered because Papinian, the famous Jurist, whom he had ordered to be put to death, was beheaded with an axe and not, a sword. We say the martyrs “were generally beheaded with the sword,” for it is equally clear from the writers of Ecclesiastical History that some were put to death by the axe as well.

The Method by which the Christian Martyrs were Beheaded

Most generally the Blessed Martyrs were decapitated kneeling on their knees with the body bending forward. We find this, once again, in the Histories of the Saints, especially the account of St. Paul the Apostle as it comes to us through Linus, St. Menna, St. Dionysius (St. Denis), St. Flavian, and several others. Here we read:

“Binding his eyes with Plautilla’s handkerchief, Paul set both knees to the ground and stretched out his neck. The soldier, lifting his arms aloft, struck him with all his strength and cut off his head.”

In the Acts of St. Menna we find, correspondingly, the following:

“When he had so said, he knelt down and stretched out his neck, and was instantly beheaded with a sword”

We also find this in the respective Acts of Saints Dionysius, Rusticus, and Eleutherius, where we read:

“Forasmuch therefore as the Blessed Martyrs had, to begin with, been stripped and beaten with rods in sight of all, they were now clad again in their garments and led away to the place fixed for their beheading, and there ordered to fall on their knees ...;”

And further on:

“Kneeling and with out-stretched necks, at one and the same instant, according to the Prince’s order, they were beheaded with axes.”

And still further on:

“An ineffable light shone round about them all, and the dead body of St. Dionysius sprang upright, and taking in his hand the holy head from the corpse ... .”

Lastly, in the account of the passion of St. Flavian, it is recorded how:

“When the speech was finished, the victim went down to the appointed place, and bound his eyes with the part of the chaplet which Mutanus had asked him to keep two days before, and then kneeling down as though in prayer, he ended his martyrdom and his prayers at one and the same moment.”

Martyrdom though beheading with the sword, was often preceded with torture, and accomplished in several ways. Thus Valerius Maximus (not to mention other authors) declares that persons to be beheaded were usually first tied to stakes:

“He ordered them to be beaten with rods, then tied to a stake and beheaded with an axe.”

But we also read that St. Stephen, the Pope, was decapitated seated in his chair, while another Christian martyr, St. Alexander, was beheaded standing up. Of the latter we find the following recorded:

“When he had thus addressed the crowds that were assembled, Alexander turned to the executioner and said, ’Stay a little, brother, that I may make another prayer to God.’ Then, falling on his knees, he prayed ... Upon hearing a voice, the holy Martyr rose up from the ground, and addressing the soldiers, cried, ’Quick, my brothers, do your duty.’ ... And when he had so said, Caelestinus drew his sword, and taking a linen cloth, bound the blessed Alexander’s eyes.”

From these passages we gather that those to be beheaded with the sword were often first scourged with rods, and then afterward their eyes covered over and veiled with linen cloths or handkerchiefs just prior to being beheaded.

Even now the Heretics of our own day (1591) have condemned Catholics to death by beheading, among whom (see Sanders’ Anglican Schism) we find especially two shining lights of England, to wit: [St.] John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, and a member of the Most Sacred College of Cardinals, and [St.] Sir Thomas More, a knight and Chancellor of the entire Kingdom.

Now of the eleventh and twelfth methods of torture named above, by which the Blessed Martyrs were branded with disfiguring marks, or had their heads beaten with an axe or with clubs, we find examples in the Histories of Saints Bibiana and Aurea, Roman virgins and martyrs, and of Saints Laurence, Eutropius, Getulius, and others.

This last form of punishment, which was especially hideous, inasmuch as a free citizen’s face was terribly disfigured by it, mentioned by Suetonius in his Life of Caius:

“Many men of honorable rank he first disfigured with marks of branding, and then condemned to the mines and to work on the roads, or to wild beasts.“”

And again Seneca:

“There are various sorts of bonds, and different kinds of punishments — mangling of the limbs, branding of the brow ...”

This methodical disfigurement of the face, by which the offenders’ brows were marked with deeply incised characters that could never be obliterated, was forbidden by the Emperor Constantine —  but restored again under the Heretic and Iconoclast Emperor Theophilus. For it was Theophilus who branded the faces of the two Sainted brothers, Theophanes and Theodorus. And here let us quote, for the greater glory of God and the pious profit of the faithful, what Metaphrastes has preserved concerning these two martyrs from their letter addressed to the Bishop of Cyzicus and the rest of the multitude of Catholic believers,

“So when we stood before the Emperor’s face, silent and with downcast eyes, the Prince turning to the Prefect, which stood beside him, spoke to us in an angry and rough voice filled with contempt, and with a menacing face he said, ’Take these men away, and inscribe and engrave on their faces the verses composed for this purpose, and deliver them over to two Saracens, that they may carry them away to their own country’“ and further on, [We responded] “For it would be easier for heaven and earth to be turned upside down, than to seduce us from our religion. He then commanded our faces to be engraved; and still filled with pain from the fiery lashes we had received from the scourges, we were stretched on benches, and our faces stamped with words. And they went on pricking and pricking till darkness came on, when the sun set. ... Truly, we shall be known of Christ by these signs, and these letters shall be known and read of the heavenly hosts. For the Lord Himself said, ‘Whatsoever ye have done unto the least of these, ye have done unto Me.




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