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Jun. 2nd, 2011

The martyrs of Lyons and Vienne; Photinus (Pothin/Photin), Blandina and companions (d. 177) A contemporary letter by St. Irenaeus describing the persecution and execution of these martyrs was preserved in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History; it is the earliest evidence of organized Christianity in Gaul. It preserves a report, addressed to the churches of Asia, of these martyrs under Marcus Aurelius. They include both clerics and laity, women and men, slaves and free. After the Christian group was denounced to the governor they were arrested, then their slaves were rounded up and induced to accuse their owners of cannibalism, incest, etc. The mob was so roused against them that they killed some before their trials could even be finished – the rest were rescued and put on trial. Photinus, the ninety-year-old bishop, died in prison from the mob's ill treatment just two days after being arrested. He had been born in c88 in Asia Minor and was probably a disciple of Polycarp. In c150 he became the first bishop of Lyons. According to his successor St Irenaeus, he had 'listened to those who had seen the Apostles'.

The young slave Blandina is said to have been tortured, to have been exposed to wild beasts that did not molest her, and finally to have been burned alive in the amphitheatre of Lyon. The rest of the members of the group were used for entertainment in the amphitheater, before finally being executed. The bodies were burned (perhaps while still alive), in an effort to prevent their veneration, and the ashes thrown into the river. In the case of Sainte Blandine, it didn't work. She is venerated in a lovely chapel at the former abbey church of Saint-Martin d'Ainay, mentioned in Rabelais's Gargantua.

Photinus imprisoned (rear) and his martyrdom as depicted in a copy from 1463 of Vincent of Beauvais' Speculum historiale in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (Paris, BnF, ms. Français 50, fol. 387r): http://tinyurl.com/2wwrfeu

Marcellinus and Peter (d. 304) Marcellinus, a priest, and Peter, an exorcist, familiar to some from their presence in the canon of the Roman Mass, are Roman martyrs buried in that portion of the cemetery ad duas lauros that was later named for them. They were arrested and proceeded to convert a lot of people while in prison (including the jailer and his family, the daughter of whom was cured of a demonic possession by Peter). Finally they were taken to a secret place in the forest and beheaded, in the hope that the place of their execution could thus be kept from becoming a cult center. The plan failed, though, divulged, probably by Dorotheus, the executioner, who afterwards became a Christian. They have an epitaph in verse by pope St. Damasus and a legendary Passio. The emperor Constantine erected over/near their graves a basilica connected to his mausoleum that ultimately was used for St. Helena. This was a fixture in the seventh-century guidebooks for pilgrim to Rome. In 827 pope Gregory IV sent their relics to Charlemagne's biographer, Einhard, for his monastery at Seligenstadt.

Marcellinus and Peter as depicted in a (c1414) breviary for the Use of Paris (Châteauroux, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 2, fol 185r): http://tinyurl.com/28azq5j

The martyrdom of Marcellinus and Peter as depicted in a copy from 1463 of Vincent of Beauvais' Speculum historiale in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (Paris, BnF, ms. Français 51, fol. 67v): http://tinyurl.com/24pt64z

Nicholas the Pilgrim (d. 1094) was a Greek who seems to have been mentally handicapped. His parents gave up trying to teach him and sent him to tend sheep at the age of six. He took to shouting "kyrie eleison" all the time. Most people thought he was insane or possessed by demons. He became a teenaged monk and undertook a pilgrimage to Rome. But he never proceeded beyond Apulia, where he spent a few years wandering around its central and southern ports (all of which had Greek-speaking residents), proclaiming the Lord in Greek, attracting followers, and dying young at Trani. Miracles were reported at his tomb. He was canonized in 1098 during the Council of Bari. In the early twelfth century a dossier on him was put together for use at Trani, containing a translation from the Greek of an account of his life before his arrival in Apulia, Adelfer of Trani's account of his doings in Apulia, and Amandus of Trani's account of his canonization and of his translation to Trani's cathedral.


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