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Foxe's Book of Martyrs

History of Christian Martyrs to the First General Persecutions Under Nero

I. St. Stephen.

This early martyr was elected, with six others, as a deacon of the first Christian church. He was also an able and successful preacher. The principal persons belonging to five Jewish synagogues entered into dispute with him; but he, by the soundness of his doctrine, and the strength of his arguments, overcame them all, which so much irritated them, that they bribed false witnesses to accuse him of blaspheming God and Moses. On being carried before the council, he made a noble defence; but this so much exasperated his judges, that they resolved to condemn him. At the instant Stephen saw a vision from heaven, representing Jesus, in his glorified state, sitting at the right hand of God. This vision so enraptured him, that he exclaimed, "Behold I see the heavens open, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God." This caused him to be condemned, and having dragged him out of the city they stoned him to death. On the spot where he was martyred, Eudocia, the empress of Theodosius, erected a superb church, and the memory of the martyr is annually celebrated on the 26th day of December.

The death of Stephen was succeeded by a severe persecution in Jerusalem, in which 2000 Christians, with Nicanor the deacon, were martyred, and many others obliged to leave their country.

II. St. James the Great.

He was a Galilean, and the son of Zebedee, a fisherman, the elder brother of St. John, and related to Christ himself; for his mother Salome was cousin to the Virgin Mary. Being one day with his father fishing in the sea of Galilee, he and his brother John were called by the Saviour to become his disciples. They cheerfully obeyed the mandate, and leaving their father, followed Jesus. It is to be observed, that Christ placed greater confidence in them than in any other of the apostles, Peter excepted. Christ called these brothers Boanerges, or sons of thunder, on account of their vigorous minds and zealous spirits.

When Herod Agrippa was made governor of Judea by the emperor Caligula, he raised a persecution against the Christians, and particularly selected James as an object of his vengeance. This martyr, on being condemned to death, showed such intrepidity and constancy of mind, that even his accuser was struck with admiration, and became a convert to christianity. This transition so enraged the people in power, that they condemned him likewise to death; when the apostle, and his penitent accuser, were both beheaded on the same day and with the same sword. These events took place in the year of Christ 44; and the 25th of July was fixed by the church for the commemoration of James's martyrdom. About the same period, Timon and Parmenas, two of the seven deacons, suffered martyrdom, the former at Corinth, and the latter at Philippi, in Macedonia.

III. St. Philip.

This apostle and martyr was born at Bethsaida, in Galilee, and was the first called by the name of disciple. He was employed in several important missions by Christ, and being deputed to preach in Upper Asia, laboured very diligently in his apostleship. He then travelled into Phrygia, and arriving at Heliopolis, found the inhabitants to sunk in idolatry, as to worship a large serpent. St. Philip, however, was the means of converting many of them to christianity, and even procured the death of the serpent. This so enraged the magistrates, that they committed him to prison, had him severely scourged, and afterwards crucified. His friend, St. Bartholomew, found an opportunity of taking down the body, and burying it; for which, however, he was very near suffering the same fate. The martyrdom of Philip happened eight years after that of James the Great, A. D. 52; and his name, together with that of St. James the Less, is commemorated on the 1st of May.

IV. St. Matthew.

This evangelist, apostle, and martyr, was born at Nazareth, in Galilee; but resided chiefly in Capernaum, on account of his business, which was that of a tax-gatherer, to collect tribute of such as had to pass the sea of Galilee. On being called as a disciple, he immediately complied, and left every thing to follow Christ. After the ascension of his Lord, he continued preaching the gospel in Judea about nine years. Intending to leave Judea, to go and preach among the Gentiles, he wrote his gospel in Hebrew, for the use of the Jewish converts; but it was afterwards translated into Greek by St. James the Less. He then went to Ethiopia, ordained preachers, settled churches, and made many converts. He afterwards proceeded to Parthia, where he had the same success; but returning to Ethiopia, he was slain by a halberd in the city of Nadabar, about the year of Christ 60; and his festival is kept by the church on the 21st day of September. He was inoffensive in his conduct, and remarkably temperate in his mode of living.

V. St. Mark.

This evangelist and martyr was born of Jewish parents of the tribe of Levi. It is supposed that he was converted to christianity by St. Peter, whom he served as an amanuensis, and whom he attended in all his travels. Being entreated by the converts at Rome to commit to writing the admirable discourses they had heard from St. Peter and himself, he complied with their request, and composed his gospel in the Greek language. He then went to Egypt, and constituted a bishopric at Alexandria: afterwards he proceeded to Lybia, where he made many converts. On returning to Alexandria, some of the Egyptians, exasperated at his success, determined on his death. They tied his feet, dragged him through the streets, left him bruised in a dungeon all night, and the next day burned his body. This took place on the 25th of April, on which day the church commemorates his martyrdom. His bones were carefully gathered up by the Christians, decently interred, and afterwards removed to Venice, where he is honoured as the tutelar saint and patron of the state.

VI. St. James the Less.

This apostle and martyr was so called to distinguish him from St. James the Great. He was the son of Joseph, the reputed father of Christ; and after the Lord's ascension was elected bishop of Jerusalem. He wrote his general epistles to all Christians and converts whatever, to suppress a dangerous error then propagating, viz. "That faith in Christ was alone sufficient for salvation, without good works." The Jews, being at this time greatly enraged that St. Paul had escaped their fury, by appealing to Rome, determined to wreak their vengeance on James, who was now ninety-four years of age: they accordingly threw him down, beat, bruised, and stoned him; and then dashed out his brains with a club, such as was used by fullers in dressing cloths. His festival, together with that of St. Philip, is kept on the first of May.

VII. St. Matthias.

This martyr was called to the apostleship after the death of Christ, to supply the vacant place of Judas, who had betrayed his master. He was also one of the seventy disciples. He was martyred at Jerusalem, by being first stoned, and then beheaded; and the 24th of February is observed for the celebration of his festival.

VIII. St. Andrew.

This apostle and martyr was the brother of St. Peter, and preached the gospel to many Asiatic nations. On arriving at Edessa, the governor of the country, named Egeas, threatened him for preaching against the idols they worshipped. St. Andrew, persisting in the propagation of his doctrines, was ordered to be crucified, two ends of the cross being fixed transversely in the ground. He boldly told his accusers, that he would not have preached the glory of the cross, had he feared to die on it. And again, when they came to crucify him, he said that he coveted the cross, and longed to embrace it. He was fastened to the cross, not with nails, but cords; that his death might be more slow. In this situation he continued two days, preaching the greatest part of the time to the people; and expired on the 30th of November, which is commemorated as his festival.

IX. St. Peter.

Among many other saints, the blessed apostle Peter was condemned to death, and crucified, as some do write, at Rome; albeit some others, and not without cause, do doubt thereof. Hegesippus saith that Nero sought matter against Peter to put him to death; which, when the people perceived, they entreated Peter with much ado that he would fly the city. Peter, through their importunity at length persuaded, prepared himself to avoid. But, coming to the gate, he saw the Lord Christ come to meet him, to whom he, worshipping, said, "Lord whither dost Thou go?" To whom He answered and said, "I am come again to be crucified." By this, Peter perceiving his suffering to be understood, returned into the city. Jerome saith that he was crucified, his head being down and his feet upward, himself so requiring, because he was (he said) unworthy to be crucified after the same form and manner as the Lord was.

X. St. Paul.

This apostle and martyr was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, born at Tarsus in Cilicia. He was at first a great enemy to, and persecutor of the Christians; but after his miraculous conversion, he became a strenuous supporter of christianity. At Iconium, St. Paul and St. Barnabas were near being stoned to death by the enraged Jews; on which they fled to Lyconia. At Lystra, St. Paul was stoned, dragged out of the city, and left for dead. He, however, happily revived, and escaped to Derbe. At Philippi, Paul and Silas were imprisoned and whipped; and both were again persecuted at Thessalonica. Being afterwards taken at Jerusalem, he was sent to Cesarea, but appealed to Caesar at Rome. Here he continued a prisoner at large for two years; and at length being released, he visited the churches of Greece and Rome, and preached in France and Spain. Returning to Rome, he was again apprehended, and by the order of Nero, martyred, by beheading. Two days are dedicated to the commemoration of this apostle; the one to his conversion, which is on the 25th of January, and the other to his martyrdom, which is on the 29th of June, A. D. 72.

XI. St. Jude.

This apostle and martyr, the brother of James, was commonly called Thaddaeus. Being sent to Edessa, he wrought many miracles, and made many converts, which exciting the resentment of people in power, he was crucified. A. D. 72; and the 28th of October is, by the church, dedicated to his memory.

XII. St. Bartholomew.

This apostle and martyr preached in several countries, performed many miracles, and healed various diseases. He translated St. Matthew's gospel into the Indian language, and propagated it in that country; but at length, the idolators growing impatient with his doctrines, severely beat and crucified him. He was scarcely alive when taken down and beheaded. The anniversary of his martyrdom is on the 24th of August.

XIII. St. Thomas.

He was called by this name in Syriac, but Didymus in Greek; he was an apostle and martyr, and preached in Parthia and India, where displeasing the pagan priests, he was martyred by being thrust through with a spear. His death is commemorated on the 21st of December.

XIV. St. Luke the Evangelist.

This martyr was the author of the third most excellent gospel; and also of the Acts of the Apostles. He travelled with St. Paul to Rome, and preached to divers barbarous nations, till the priests of Greece hanged him on an olive-tree. The anniversary of his martyrdom is on the 18th of October.

XV. St. Simon.

This apostle and martyr was distinguished from his zeal by the name of Zelotes. He preached with great success in Mauritania, and other parts of Africa, and even in Britain, where, though he made many converts, he was crucified, A. D. 74. The anniversary of his death, together with that of St. Jude, is commemorated on the 28th day of October.

XVI. St. John.

He was distinguished as a prophet, an apostle, a divine, an evangelist, and a martyr. He is called the beloved disciple, and was brother to James the Great. He was previously a disciple of John the baptist, and afterwards not only one of the twelve apostles, but one of the three to whom Christ communicated the most secret passages of his life. He founded churches at Smyrna, Pergamos, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, and Thyatria, to which he directs his book of Revelations. Being at Ephesus, he was ordered by the emperor Domitian to be sent bound to Rome, where he was condemned to be cast into a caldron of boiling oil. But here a miracle was wrought in his favour, the oil did him no injury; and Domitian, not being able to put him to death, banished him to Patmos to labour in the mines, A. D. 73. He was, however, recalled by Nerva, who succeeded Domitian, but was deemed a martyr on account of his having undergone an execution, though it did not take effect. He wrote his epistles, gospel, and Revelation, each in a different style; but they are all equally admired. He was the only apostle who escaped a violent death, and lived the longest of any, he being nearly 100 years of age at the time of his death. The church devotes the 27th of December to his memory.

XVII. St. Barnabas.

He was a native of Cyprus, but of Jewish parents: the time of his death is uncertain; but it is supposed to have been about the year of Christ 73; and his festival is kept on the 11th of June.