St. Ignatius of Antioch

Portrait of a Martyr

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May nothing seen or unseen begrudge me making my way to Jesus Christ. Come, fire, cross, battling with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the devil—only let me get to Jesus Christ. (Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Romans)

Ignatius Theophorus, bishop of Antioch, was an old man when he reached the Roman arena in the winter of the year 107. He had made an arduous journey by land and sea, accompanied by ten brutal guards whom he referred to as “leopards.” To the assembled crowds, he was just another fanatical Christian who refused to venerate the Roman gods and emperor. His wish for a quick end was granted: Two hungry lions quickly tore him to pieces. The crowds cheered, their perverse fascination with gore and blood satisfied. It was said that only two large bones remained of him.

Martyrdom, of course, was no rare occurrence in ancient Rome at the dawn of Christianity. When one became a Christian, he or she knew full well that the consequences might be a horrible death. The martyrdom of Ignatius, however, and…

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