Chapter 5

CHAPTER V: THE MARTYRS OF LYONS AND VIENNE (AD 177)

Many other martyrs suffered in various parts of the empire under the
reign of Marcus Aurelius. Among the most famous of these are the
martyrs of Lyons and Vienne, in the south of France (or Gaul, as it
was then called), where a company of missionaries from Asia Minor
had settled with a bishop named Pothinus at their head. The
persecution at Lyons and Vienne was begun by the mob of those towns,
who insulted the Christians in the streets, broke into their houses,
and committed other such outrages against them. Then a great number
of Christians were seized, and imprisoned in horrid dungeons, where
many died from want of food, or from the bad and unwholesome air.
The bishop, Pothinus, who was ninety years of age, and had long been
very ill, was carried before the governor, and was asked, "Who is
the God of Christians?" Pothinus saw that the governor did not put
this question from any good feeling; so he answered, "If thou be
worthy, thou shalt know." The bishop, old and feeble as he was, was
then dragged about by soldiers, and such of the mob as could reach
him gave him blows and kicks, while others, who were further off,
threw anything which came to hand at him; and, after this cruel
usage, he was put into prison, where he died within two days.

The other prisoners were tortured for six days together in a variety
of horrible ways. Their limbs were stretched on the rack; they were
cruelly scourged; some had hot plates of iron applied to them, and
some were made to sit in a red-hot iron chair. The firmness with
which they bore these dreadful trials gave courage to some of their
brethren, who at first had agreed to sacrifice, so that these now
again declared themselves Christians, and joined the others in
suffering. As all the tortures were of no effect, the prisoners were
at length put to death. Some were thrown to wild beasts; but those
who were citizens of Rome were beheaded: for it was not lawful to
give a Roman citizen up to wild beasts, just as we know from St.
Paul's case at Philippi that it was not lawful to scourge a citizen
(Acts xvi 37).

Among the martyrs was a boy from Asia, only fifteen years old, who
was taken every day to see the tortures of the rest in the hope that
he might be frightened into denying his Saviour; but he was not
shaken by the terrible sights, and for his constancy he was cruelly
put to death on the last day. The greatest cruelties of all,
however, were borne by a young woman named Blandina. She was slave
to a Christian lady; and, although the Christians regarded their
slaves with a kindness very unlike the usual feeling of heathen
masters towards them, this lady seems yet to have thought that a
slave was not likely to endure tortures so courageously as a free
person; and she was the more afraid because Blandina was not strong
in body. But the poor slave's faith was not to be overcome. Day
after day she bravely bore every cruelty that the persecutors could
think of; and all that they could wring out from her was, "I am a
Christian, and nothing wrong is done among us!"

The heathen were not content with putting the martyrs to death with
tortures, or allowing them to die in prison. They cast their dead
bodies to the dogs, and caused them to be watched day and night,
lest the other Christians should give them burial; and after this,
they burnt the bones, and threw the ashes of them into the river
Rhone, by way of mocking at the notion of a resurrection. For, as
St. Paul had found at Athens (Acts xvii 32), and elsewhere, there
was no part of the Gospel which the heathen in general thought so
hard to believe as the doctrine that that which is "sown in
corruption" shall hereafter be "raised in incorruption;" that that
which "is sown a natural body" will one day be "raised a spiritual
body" (1 Cor. xv. 42-44).