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Lyons and Vienne were counted among the most brilliant centres in the Church of Christ, when a frightful storm fell upon these young churches and put “in evidence” the gifts of force and faith which they contained in their bosom.

It was the seventeenth year of the reign of Marcus-Aurelius; the emperor had not changed, but opinions annoyed him. The scourges which desolated, the dangers which menaced the empire, were considered as having for their cause the impiety of the Christians. On all sides the people adjured the authorities to maintain the national worship, and to punish the despisers of the gods. Unhappily the authorities yielded. The two or three last years of the reign of Marcus-Aurelius were saddened by spectacles quite unworthy of such a perfect sovereign.

At Lyons popular clamour grew into rage. Lyons was the centre of that great cult of Rome and of Augustus, which was the cement of Gallic unity and the mark of its communion with the empire. Around the celebrated altar situated at the confluence of the Rhone and the Saone was grouped a federal town composed of permanent delegates from sixty peoples of Gaul, a town rich and powerful, strongly attached to the religion which was its raison d’être. Every year on the first of August, the great day of the Gallic fairs, and the anniversary of the consecration of the altar, deputies from the whole of Gaul met together there. It was this they called the Concilium Galliaruin, an assembly without great political 175weight, but of high social and religious importance. Fetes were celebrated, which consisted in contests of Greek and Latin eloquence, and in bloody games.

All these institutions gave much strength to the national cult. The Christians who did not practise this worship appeared atheists and impious. The fables universally admitted concerning them were repeated and empoisoned. They practised, it was said, certain festivals of Thyeste, certain incests in the fashion of Œdipus. No absurdity was too great; there were alleged against them enormities impossible to describe, crimes which had never existed. In all ages secret societies which affect mystery have provoked such suspicions. Let us add that the disorders of certain Gnostics, especially the Markosians, might give such an appearance; and that was not one of the smallest reasons for which the orthodox disliked those sectaries who compromised them in public opinion.

Before going as far as punishments, malevolence expressed itself in quarrels and vexations every day. This cursed people, to whom were attributed all misfortunes, were put in quarantine. .It was forbidden to Christians to appear at the baths, in the forum, or to show themselves in public or even in private houses. If one of them happened to be seen, wild clamours arose, he was beaten, pulled about, struck by blows of stone, and he was forced to barricade himself in. Vettius Epagathus alone by his social position escaped these insults, but his credit was not sufficient to preserve from the popular fury his co-religionists.

The authority did intervene only as slowly as it could, and partly to put an end to these intolerable disorders. One day, nearly all the people known as Christians were arrested, led to the forum by the tribune, and by the duumvirs of the city 176interrogated before the people. All Confessed themselves Christians. The imperial legate pro prætore was absent; the criminated, while waiting for him, were subjected to the sufferings of a rude prison.

The imperial legate having arrived, the case began. The preliminary “question” was applied with extreme cruelty. The young and noble Vettius Epagathus, who had till now escaped the severities which his co-religionists had suffered, could not bear this. He presented himself at the tribunal, and demanded to defend the accused, and at least to show that they did not deserve the accusation of atheism and impiety. A frightful cry arose. That people of the lower regions, Phrygians and Asiatics, should be given to certain perverse superstitions, that appeared simple enough; but that a man of consideration, an inhabitant of the “high town,” a noble of the country, should become an advocate of such follies, that appeared altogether unbearable. The imperial legate repulsed roughly the just request of Vettius. “And thou also, art thou a Christian?” he asked of him. “I am,” replied Vettius, with a distinct voice. They did not arrest him nevertheless; doubtless in that town, where the condition of persons was very different, some immunity sheltered him.

The interrogation was long and cruel. Those who had not been arrested, and who continued in the town to be the butt of the most cruel treatments, did not quit the confessors; by paying they obtained leave to serve them and to encourage them. The great misery of the accused was not the punishment, it was the fear that some, less well prepared than others for these terrible struggles, would allow themselves to deny Christ. The trial in fact proved too strong for about a dozen of the unfortunates who 177renounced their faith with their lips. The grief which these acts of weakness caused the prisoners and the brethren who surrounded them was great. What consoled them was that the arrests continued daily; other believers more worthy of martyrdom filled up the blanks which apostasy had left in the ranks of the elect phalanx. Persecution reached soon to the Church of Vienne, which it appears then had been scattered at first. The élite of the two churches, nearly all the founders of Gallo-Grecian Christianity found themselves together in the prisons of Lyons, ready for the assault which was about to be made upon them. Irenaeus did not suffer arrest; he was one of those who surrounded the confessors, who witnessed all the particulars of their struggle, and it is perhaps to him that we owe the account of them. Old Pothin, on the contrary, was soon, if not at the very beginning, among his faithful followers; he followed day by day their sufferings, and, almost dying as he was, he did not cease to instruct and encourage them.

According to custom in the great criminal investigations the slaves were arrested at the same time as their masters; now many of these slaves were Pagans. The tortures which they saw inflicted on their masters frightened them; the soldiers of the officium whispered to them what it was necessary for them to say in order to escape the torture. They declared that the infanticides, repasts of human flesh, were realities, as well as that the monstrous stories which they told concerning Christian immorality had not been exaggerated.

The indignation of the public was then at its height. Up till then the believers who had remained free had found some communication with their relations, their neighbours, and their friends; now everybody showed nothing but contempt for them. It was resolved to push the art of torture 178to its last refinements, to obtain from the faithful the avowal of the crimes which would place Christianity among the monstrosities for ever cursed and forgotten.

The executioners actually surpassed themselves, but they could not subdue the heroism of the victims. The exaltation and joy of suffering together put them into a state of “quasi-anæsthesis.” They imagined themselves but as a divine water flowing from the side of Jesus. Publicity sustained them. What glory to confess before all people, his Word and his Faith. This became a pledge and very few yielded. It is proved that self-love often suffices to sustain an apparent heroism when publicity is added to it. The Pagan actors submitted, without flinching, to the most cruel punishments. The gladiators made a good figure before approaching death, not to confess to weakness under the eyes of an assembled crowd; what otherwise was vanity, brought into the heart of a little group of men and women imprisoned together, became a pious intoxication and a sensible joy. The idea that Christ suffered in them filled them with pride, and of poor weak creatures made a kind of supernatural beings.

The deacon Sanctus, of Vienne, shone among the most courageous. As the Pagans knew him to be the depository of the secrets of the Church, they sought to draw from him some word which should give a ground to the infamous accusations against the community. They did not succeed in making him tell his name, nor the name of his people, nor the name of the town from which he came, nor whether he was bond or free. To everything they asked of him he replied in Latin Christianus sum. There was in that his name, his country, his race, his all. The Pagans could draw from his mouth no other avowal than that. This obstinacy only 179redoubled the fury of the legate and the torturers. Having expended all their means without conquering him, they took the idea that they would apply the copper-plates at a white heat upon the most sensitive organs. Sanctus during this time remained inflexible, never leaving his obstinate confession Christianus sum. His body was nothing but a sore, a mass bloody, torn, convulsed, contracted, presenting no longer a human appearance. The faithful triumphed, saying that Christ knew how to make his own people insensible, and put himself in their place when they were in torture, that he might suffer in their stead. What was most terrible was that some days after they re-commenced the torture of Sanctus. The state of the confessor was such that when they touched his hand they made him leap with pain. The executioners took one after the other the inflamed sores, they renewed each one of his wounds, they repeated upon each of his organs the frightful experiences of the first day; they hoped to conquer him or to see him die in torments, so that the others might be terrified. It was not so, however; Sanctus resisted so well that his companions believed in a miracle, and pretended that this second torture, having upon him the effect of a cure, had straightened his limbs again and given back to his body the human appearance which it had lost.

Maturus, who was only a neophyte, behaved himself like a valiant soldier of Christ. As to the slave, Blandina, she showed that a revolution was accomplished. Blandina belonged to a Christian lady, who, doubtless, had her initiated in the faith of Christ. The feeling of her low social position only excited her to equal her masters. The true emancipation of the slave, the emancipation through heroism, was mainly her work. The 180Pagan slave was supposed to be bad and immoral. What could be a better manner of rehabilitating them, and allowing them to show themselves capable of the same virtues and the same sacrifices as the free man? How could one treat with disdain those women they saw in the amphitheatre even more sublime than their mistresses? The good Lyonese slave had been told that the judgments of God are the reverse of human appearances, that God is often pleased to choose the most humble, the most uncomely, the most despised, and confound that which appears most beautiful and strong. Penetrated by a sense of her own position she called for the torturers and longed to suffer. She was little, weak in body, so much so that the faithful feared she should not be able to resist the torments. Her mistress especially, who was of the number of the accused, feared that this weak and delicate being would not be capable of affirming her faith. Blandina had prodigious energy and boldness. She exhausted the brigades of executioners who exercised themselves on her from morning to night; the conquered torturers confessed that they had no more punishment for her, and declared that they could not understand how she could still breathe with a body so dislocated and transpierced; they declared that only one of the tortures they had applied to her ought to have been sufficient to make her die. The blessed one, like a generous athlete, gained new strength in the act of confessing Christ. It was for her a strengthener and an anaesthetic to say, “I am a Christian, nothing evil is done among us.” Scarcely had she uttered these words when she appeared to recover all her vigour, presenting herself refreshed for new struggles. This heroic resistance irritated the Roman authorities; to the tortures of “the question” they added that of lying in a prison 181which was made the most horrible that could be. They put the confessors into obscure and unbearable holes, they put their feet in the stocks, stretching them out to the fifth hole, they spared them none of the cruelties which the jailers had to cause their victims to suffer. Many died asphyxiated in the dungeons. Those who had been tortured resisted amazingly. Their sores were so frightful that people could not understand how they survived. Entirely occupied in encouraging the others, they appeared to be themselves animated by a divine strength. They were like veteran athletes hardened to everything. On the contrary, the last arrested, who had not yet suffered “the question,” nearly all died shortly after their imprisonment. They might be compared to novices half-trained, whose bodies, little accustomed to tortures, could not support the trial of the dungeon. Martyrdom would appear more and more as a kind of gymnastics, or school of gladiators, in which a long preparation was necessary, and a sort of preliminary asceticism.

Although isolated from the rest of the world, the pious confessors lived in the life of the universal Church with a singular intensity. Par from feeling separated from their brethren they were interested in everything which occupied Catholicism. The appearance of Montanism was the great matter of the period. People spoke only of the prophecies of Montanus, Theodotus, and of Alcibiades. The Lyonese interested themselves in these all the more that they shared in many of the Phrygian ideas, and that many of them, such as Alexander the physician, Alcibiades the ascetic, were at least the admirers and partly the votaries of the movement begun at Pepuza. The report of the dissensions which these novelties excited reached even them. They had no other subject, and they occupied 182the intervals between one torture and another in discussing these phenomena, which, without doubt, they would have desired to find true. Strong in the authority which the title of “prisoner of Jesus Christ” gave to the confessors, they wrote upon this delicate subject many letters full of tolerance and charity. It was admitted that the prisoners of the faith had, in their last days, a sort of mission to settle the differences of the churches, and to solve the questions that were in suspense; they attributed to them, in this point of view, a state of grace and a special privilege.

The majority of the letters written by the confessors were addressed to the churches of Asia and Phrygia, with whom the faithful Lyonese had many spiritual ties; one of these was addressed to Pope Eleutherus, and it was conveyed by Irenæus. The martyrs made thus the warmest eulogium on this young priest.

“We wish thee joy in God for everything, Father Eleutherus. We have charged to carry these letters our brother and companion Irenæus, and we pray thee to receive him in great honour, imitator as he is of the Testament of Christ. If we believed that the position of the people is what it ought to be by their deserts, we should have recommended him to thee as a priest of our Church, a title which he really possesses.”

Irenæus did not leave at once; one may suppose that Pothin’s death, which soon followed, prevented him from setting out immediately. The letters of the martyrs were sent to their addresses later on, with the epistle which contained the recital of their heroic struggles. The old Bishop Pothin had spent his life; age and prison sapped it; only the desire of martyrdom sustained him. He breathed with difficulty on the day on which he was to appear before the tribunal; he had scarcely enough breath left to 183confess Christ worthily. We can see indeed, from the respect by which the faithful surrounded him, that he was their religious chief—a great curiosity attached itself to him in passing from the prison to the tribunal; the authorities of the town followed him; the squad of soldiers who surrounded him with difficulty drew him from the press; the most diverse cries were heard. As the Christians were sometimes called the disciples of Pothin, sometimes the disciples of Christos, many demanded if it was the old man who was Christos. The legate put the question to him: “Who is the God of the Christians?” “Thou should’st know that if thou wert worthy,” replied Pothin. They drew him about brutally; they struck him blows; without regard to his great age, those who were near him buffeted him with their fists and feet; those who were at a distance from him threw at him whatever came to their hands; everyone would have been believed guilty of the crime of impiety if he had not done what he could to cover him with insults; they believed that they would revenge thus the injury done to their gods. They put the old man back into prison half dead. At the end of two days he yielded up his last sigh. What made a strange contrast, and rendered the situation tragical in the highest degree, was the attitude of those whom the force of torture had conquered, and who had denied Christ. They had not been released for that; the fact that they had been Christians implied the avowal of crimes for which they were persecuted even after their apostasy. They were not separated from their brethren who remained faithful, and all the aggravations of the prison rule by which the confessors suffered were applied to them. But how different was their condition! Not only did the renegades find that they had drawn no advantage from an act which had been painful to them; but their position 184was in some sort worse than that of the faithful. Those indeed were only persecuted for bearing the name of Christians, without formulating any special crime against them; the others were, by their own avowal, under accusations of homicide and monstrous prevarication. Thus their look was pitiable. The joy of martyrdom, the hope of promised blessedness, the love of Christ, the Spirit sent from the Father, made everything light to the confessors. The apostates, on the contrary, appeared to be torn by remorse. It was especially in going from the prison to the tribunal that one could see the difference. The confessors advanced with a calm and radiant air; a sort of sweet majesty and grace shone upon their faces. Their chains appeared to be the ornament of brides adorned in all their finery; the Christians believed they could feel around them what they called the perfume of Christ; some pretended indeed that an exquisite odour was exhaled from their bodies. Very different were the poor renegades. Ashamed, and with their heads lowered, without grace and without dignity, they marched like common criminals; the Pagans even treated them as dastards and ignoble murderers convicted by their own speech; the fine name of Christian, which rendered so proud those who paid for it with their life, belonged to them no longer. This difference of gait made the strongest impression. Thus the Christians were often seen to make their confession as soon as possible, so that they might deprive themselves of all possibility of recalling it.

Pardon was sometimes indulgent to those unfortunates who expiated so dearly a moment of surprise. A poor Syrian woman of fragile frame, originally from Byblos, in Phœnicia, had denied the name of Christ. She was again put to the question; they hoped to draw from her weakness and her 185timidity an avowal of the secret monstrosities with which they reproached the Christians. She came to herself again somewhat upon the wooden horse, and, as if awakening from a profound sleep, she denied energetically all the calumnious assertions. “How can you think,” she said, “that people to whom it is forbidden to eat the blood of beasts should eat children?” From that moment she avowed herself a Christian, and followed the fate of other martyrs.

The day of glory at length came for a portion of these veteran combatants who founded by their faith the faith of the future. The legate gave expressly one of those hideous fetes, consisting in exhibitions of punishments and in fights with beasts which, in spite of the most humane of emperors, were more in vogue than ever. These horrible spectacles were put down for fixed dates; but it was not rare for extraordinary executions to take place, when they had beasts to exhibit to the people as well as unfortunates to deliver to them.

The festival was probably given in the amphitheatre of Lyons, that is to say, of the colony which was ranged under the roof of Fouriviers. This amphitheatre was, as it appears, situated at the base of a hill, near the present Place de Jean, near the cathedral. The Rue Tramassac marks nearly the grand axis. One could believe that it had been made five years previously. An exasperated crowd covered the benches and called for the Christians with loud cries. Maturus, Sanctus, Blandina, and Attalus were chosen for that day. They were quite nude; there had not been that day any of those spectacles by gladiators whose variety had such an attraction for the people.

Maturus and Sanctus traversed anew in the amphitheatre the whole series of punishments as if they had never before suffered anything. Men 186compared them to athletes, who, after having conquered in many separate combats, were reserved for a last struggle which carried with it the final crown. The instruments of these tortures were arranged for the distance of a spina, and transformed the arena into a representation of hell. Nothing was spared the victims. They began, according to custom, by a hideous procession, in which the condemned, filing naked before the squad of soldiers, received each one dreadful blow on the back. Then they let loose the beasts. It was the most terrible moment of the day. The beasts did not devour the victims all at once; they bit them, they drew them about, their fangs were stuck into the naked flesh, in which they left bloody traces. At these moments the spectators became mad with delight. The summons crossed the seats of the amphitheatre. What in fact made the interest of the ancient spectacle was that the public intervened there. As in the bull-fights of Spain, the audience commanded, ruled the incidents, ordered the blows, judged the incidents of death or life. The exasperation against the Christians was such that they called aloud against them for more terrible punishments.

The red-hot iron chair was the most infernal thing that the art of the executioner had invented. Maturus and Sanctus were seated there; a repulsive odour of roasted flesh filled the amphitheatre, and only further intoxicated these furious savages. The firmness of the two martyrs was admirable. They could draw from Sanctus only one word, ever the same, “I am a Christian.” It appeared as if the two martyrs could not die. The beasts on the other hand appeared to shun them. They were obliged to finish them, to put them out of their misery, as in the case of the beasts and gladiators.

Blandina during all this time was fixed to a stake and exposed to the beasts whom they urged on 187to devour her; she did not cease to pray, her eyes raised to heaven. No beast that day would touch her. That poor naked body exposed to those thousands of spectators, whose curiosity was restrained only by the close band which the law ordered to be worn by actresses and condemned women, did not excite any pity from the audience; but it presented to the other martyrs a mystic signification. Blandina’s stake appeared to them as the cross of Jesus. The body of their friend shining by its whiteness to the other extremity of the amphitheatre recalled to their minds that of Christ crucified. The joy of thus seeing this image of the sweet Lamb of God rendered them insensible. Blandina from that moment was Jesus to them. From that moment, in their cruellest sufferings, a look cast upon their sister on the cross filled them with joy and ardour.

Attalus was known throughout the whole town, thus the crowd called eagerly for him. They compelled him to make the tour of the amphitheatre, having borne before him a tablet inscribed HIC EST ATTALIS CHRISTIANUS. He walked with firm step, with the peace of a sound conscience. The people called for the most cruel punishments for him. But the imperial legate, having learned that he was a Roman citizen, made them cease, and ordered him back to prison. Thus ended the day.

Blandina, attached to a stake, waited in vain for the teeth of some beast. They unloosed her hands, and led her back to the depot, that she might serve again for the amusement of the people.

The case of Attalus was not isolated; the number of accused increased daily. The legate felt himself compelled to write to the emperor, who about the middle of the year 177 A.D. was, it appears, at Rome. Some weeks had to pass before a reply. During this interval the prisoners abounded in mystic joys. 188The example of the martyrs was contagious, all those who had denied returned to repentance, and demanded to be interrogated anew. Many Christians doubted the validity of such conversions, but the martyrs settled the question by stretching out their hands to the renegades, and communicating to them some of the grace that was in them. They declared that the living in such a case could revivify the dead; that in the great community of the Church those who had too much could give to those who had not enough; that he who had been rejected from the bosom of the Church, like an abortion, could in some manner re-enter it; to be connected a second time with the virginal bosom, to be placed in communication with the sources of life. The true martyr was thus looked upon as having the power of forcing the devil to vomit from his maw those whom he had already devoured. His privilege became a privilege of indulgence, grace and charity.

That which was admirable among the Lyonese confessors is that glory did not fascinate them, their humility equalled their courage and their holy liberty. Those heroes who had proclaimed their faith in Christ two or three times, who had faced the beasts, whose bodies were covered with scars, with stripes, dared not claim the title of martyr, nor were they allowed to attribute such a name to themselves. If any one of the faithful, by letter or the living voice, called them so, they quickly rejected the title; they reserved the title of martyr first for Christ, “the faithful and true witness, the first begotten again from the dead,” the imitator of the life of God, then to those who had already obtained by dying, while confessing their faith, and whose title was in a manner sealed and ratified; as to themselves they were only modest and humble confessors, and they asked only from their 189brethren to pray for them without ceasing that they might make a good end. Far from showing themselves proud, haughty, or hard upon the poor apostates as pure Montanists did, and as certain martyrs of the third century did, they had for them the bowels of a mother, and poured out for their establishment continual tears; they did not accuse anyone; they prayed for their executioners, and found extenuating circumstances for all their faults; they absolved, and did not condemn them. Some rigorist found them too indulgent to the renegades; they quoted for example St. Stephen, saying, “If he prayed for those who stoned him, would he not have been permitted to pray for his brethren?” Good minds on the contrary said with justice that it was the love of the accused that made their strength and secured their triumph. Their perpetual desire was peace and concord; thus there were left after them, not like certain confessors, courageous besides, some discords and disputes among their brethren, but an exquisite souvenir of joy and perfect love.

The good sense of the confessors was not less remarkable than their courage and love. Montanism, by its enthusiasm and ardour for martyrdom which it inspired, could not all at once displease them, but they saw excess in it. This Alcibiades, who lived on nothing but bread and water, was among the confessors; he wished to carry out this régime in the prison. The confessors looked with an evil eye upon these peculiarities. Attalus, after the first combat which he had in the amphitheatre, had a vision on this matter; it was revealed to him that the way of Alcibiades was not good; that he had the fault of avoiding systematically the use of things created by God, and caused thus a scandal to his brethren.

Alcibiades allowed himself to be persuaded, and 190ate henceforth all foods without distinction, giving thanks to God for them.

The accused, thus believed also that they possessed in their bosom a permanent fire of inspiration, and received direct counsels from the Holy Spirit. But that which in Phrygia raised nothing but abuse was here a principle of heroism. Montanists, by the ardour of martyrdom, the Lyonese, by the absence of all pride, were profoundly Catholic.

The imperial reply arrived at last; it was hard and cruel. All those who persevered in their confession were to be put to death, all the renegades were to be released. The great annual festival which was celebrated at the altar of Augustus, and when all the peoples of Gaul were represented, was commencing. The affair of the Christians occurred to increase the interest in it.

So as to strike the people, a sort of theatrical audience was organised, where all the accused were pompously paraded. They were asked simply if they were Christians. Upon an affirmative reply, they beheaded those who appeared to have the right of Roman citizenship, and reserved the others for the beasts. Pardon was also extended to several. Not a single confessor was weak, as might have been expected. The Pagans hoped that those who had formerly apostatised would renew their anti-Christian declaration. They questioned them separately, in order to exclude them from the influence of the others. They showed them that immediate liberty would be given as the result of their denial. There was here, in some sense, the decisive moment, the crisis of the struggle. The hearts of the faithful who remained free, and who witnessed this scene, beat with anguish. Alexander the Phrygian, who knew them all as a physician, and whose zeal 191knew no bounds, kept himself as near the tribunals as possible, and made the most energetic signs with the head to those who were interrogated to make them confess. The Pagans took him for one that was “possessed.” The Christians saw in his contortions something which recalled to them the convulsions of child-birth. The act by which the apostate re-entered the Church seemed to them a second birth. Alexander and grace fascinated them.

Apart from a little number of unfortunates whom punishments had frightened, the apostates retracted and avowed themselves Christians. The anger of the Pagans was extreme. They accused Alexander of being the cause of these culpable retractations. They stopped him and presented him to the legate. “Who art thou?” asked he. “A Christian,” replied Alexander. The enraged legate condemned him to the beasts. The execution was fixed for the next day.

Such was the enthusiasm of the faithful band that they cared much less for the frightful death which they had before their eyes than for the torture of the apostates. The horror which the martyrs conceived against those who relapsed was extreme. They treated them as sons of perdition, wretches who covered their Church with shame; people in whom remained no longer a trace of faith, nor of respect for their nuptial robe, nor fear of God. On the contrary, those who had repaired their first fault were reunited to the Church, and fully reconciled.

On the first of August, in the morning, in the presence of all Gaul assembled in the amphitheatre, the horrible spectacle began. The people thought much of the punishment of Attalus, after Pothin the true head of Lyonese Christianity. We cannot see how the legate, who once had snatched him 192from the beasts because he was a Roman citizen, could give him up this time; but the fact is certain; it is probable that the title of Attalus to Roman citizenship was not found sufficient. Attalus and Alexander entered first into the sandy and carefully raked arena. They passed like heroes all the instruments of punishment with which the arrangements were made. Alexander did not pronounce one word, did not utter a cry; collecting himself he communed with God. When they seated Attalus in the red-hot iron chair, and his body, burned on all sides, exhaled an abominable odour and smoke, he said to the people in Latin, “It is you who are eaters of men. As to us, we do nothing evil.” They asked him, “What is God’s name?” “God,” said he, “has not a name like a man.” The two martyrs received the coup de grâce, after having exhausted with full knowledge all that was most atrocious that Roman cruelty could invent.

The fêtes lasted several days; every day the combats of the gladiators were relieved by the punishment of the Christians. It is probable that they introduced the victims two and two, and that every day saw one or other pair of martyrs perish. They put in the arena those who were young and those thought feeble, that the sight of their friends’ suffering might frighten them. Blandina and a young man of fifteen years of age, named Ponticus, were kept to the last day. They were thus witnesses of all the trials of the others, but nothing shook them. Each day there was a strong attempt made on them; it was sought to make them swear by the gods; they refused with disdain. The people, much irritated, would listen to no sentiment of shame or pity. They made the poor girl and her young friend exhaust all the hideous series 193of the punishments of the arena; after each trial they proposed that they should swear. Blandina was sublime. She had never been a mother; this boy by her side became her son, born in the tortures. Attentive only to him, she followed him in each of his halting-places of pain, to encourage him, and to exhort him to persevere to the end. The spectators saw this and were struck by it. Ponticus expired after having submitted to the complete series of torments.

Of all the holy band there remained only Blandina. She triumphed and shone with joy. She looked like a mother who has seen all her sons proclaimed conquerors, and presents them to the great King to be crowned. That humble slave was shown to be the inspirer of heroism in her companions; her ardent voice had been the stimulant which had upheld the weak nerves and failing hearts. Thus she was thrust into the bitter career of tortures which her brothers had passed through, as if it had been a nuptial festival. The glorious and near issue of all these trials made her leap with pleasure. She placed herself at the end of the arena, not to lose any of the ornaments which each punishment engraved upon her flesh. There was first a cruel scourging which tore her shoulders, then they exposed her to the beasts, who contented themselves with biting her and drawing her about. The odious burning chair was not spared her. At last they enclosed her in a net and exposed her to a furious bull; this animal, seizing her with its horns, threw her many times into the air and let her fall heavily. But the blessed one felt nothing any longer; she rejoiced already with supreme felicity, lost as she was in internal communion with Christ. It was necessary to finish her like the others. The crowd ended by 194being struck with admiration, they spoke of nothing but the poor slave. “Truly,” said the Gauls, “never have we seen a woman in our country suffer so much.”

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