Posts filed under 'Martyrs'

1066: John Scotus, sacrificed to Radegast

Add comment November 10th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1066, John Scotus was sacrificed to the Slavic god Radegast.

That’s Scotus not as in the Supreme Court of the United States, but as in Scotland: our man Johannes (English Wikipedia entry | German) was an Hibernian prelate, possibly previously the Bishop of Orkney and/or the Bishop of Glasgow, who came to Saxony in 1053 as the first Bishop of Mecklenburg.

The land was governed by the Slavic Obotrites (Abodrites), commonly known in western chronicles as the Wends. Predominantly pagan, they were at the time of John’s invitation ruled by a Christian king, Gottschalk. This man’s father had converted to Christianity, and Gottschalk himself during his life had apostatized and then re-converted — illustrating the fraught balance between the confessions. A century hence, these northern unbelievers would face the blades of Christendom’s crusaders.


Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky is the enduring silver screen remnant of the Northern Crusades of the 12th-13th centuries, but the very first of these campaigns was an 1147 crusade against the Wends.

As one might infer, then, Gottschalk’s aspiration to bring his kingdom over to his faith* did not go to plan, even though (according to the near-contemporary chronicle by Adam of Bremen) he “baptized many thousands of pagans.” Many more thousands than that remained un-moved by his sermons in alien Latin; overall, pagans held perhaps a 2:1 or greater preponderance over Christians among these people.

Wound-up Wends rebelled in 1066, deposing and murdering Gottschalk while his heirs fled into exile. John Scotus was not so nimble as the latter, and his political protection having disappeared, “the aged Bishop John was taken with other Christians in Magnopolis [Mecklenburg Castle] and held for a triumph. And because he confessed Christ he was beaten with rods and then was led in mockery through one city of the Slavs after another. Since he could not be turned from the profession of Christ his hands and feet were lopped off and his body was thrown into the road. His head, however, the barbarians cut off, fixed on a spear, and offered to their god Redigast in token of their victory. These things were done in the chief city of the Slavs, Rethra, on the fourth Ides** of November.” (Cf. Adam of Bremen)

The Obotrites were definitively back in the pagan camp for the foreseeable. There was no successor Bishop of Mecklenburg for nearly a century.

* Religion was also a wedge for Gottschalk’s political perspective, of mastering pagan nobility within his realm, and allying to neighboring Christian princes abroad.

** The Ides of November was the 13th; by Latin locution, using Romans’ inclusive numbering, the “second Ides” was the “second” [first] day before that, i.e., the 12th — and the “fourth Ides” the 10th.

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Entry Filed under: 11th Century,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Disemboweled,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Martyrs,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture

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1799: Domenico Cirillo

Add comment October 29th, 2020 Headsman

Neapolitan physician and scientist Domenico Cirillo was hanged on this date in 1799, for joining the abortive Parthenopean Republic.


Statue of Cirillo at his hometown of Grumo Nevano, where a school and library also bear his name. (cc) image by Nicpac.

Cirillo (English Wikipedia entry | Italian) was a gifted botanist and entomologist with a raft of scholarly papers to his name; he introduced smallpox inoculation in Naples.

For a time he was also the personal physician to the royal family, but as a Jacbobin-curious Freemason he also partook of the era’s emerging egalitarianism. An urban myth-sounding anecdote holds that when a faced with competing calls for his attentions he preferred to first visit a poor man rather than a rich man who would pay him, saying “the art of healing must be practiced to relieve human misery and not to procure health.”

Despite all that he was only a tardy participant when Naples made its abortive Republican turn in 1799, only reluctantly acceding to urgings to join the Parthenopean Republic.

Perhaps he anticipated the fury of the counterrevolution — or, as he represented matters later, that his cooperation was no more than apolitical civic engagement. In an appeal that he had the weakness to dispatch to Lady Hamilton, the lover of Lord Nelson who was even then anchored in harbor applying British intervention against the Jacobins,

The conduct of my life, before and after the French Revolution, was always honest, pure and loyal. I was often called to care for the French, who were sick, but I never had any intimacy with them, I had correspondence with them of any kind … For three months, I did nothing but help with my own money and that of some charitable friends the large number of [poor people] existing in the city. I induced all the doctors, surgeons and associations to go around visiting the impoverished, who had no way to cure their ailments. After this period, Abrial came to establish the new government, and insisted that I accept a seat on the Legislative Commission. I refused two or three times: in the end I was threatened and forced. What could I do? However, in the short time of this administration, I never took an oath against the king, I never wrote or spoke a single word offensive against any of the Royal Family, nor appeared in their public ceremonies, nor donned their uniform. I didn’t handle public money, and the only paper ducats they gave me were distributed to the poor …

Your Ladyship now knows the true story, not of my crimes, but of the involuntary errors to which I was driven by the strength of the French army. Now, m’lady, in the name of God, don’t abandon your unfortunate friend. Remember that by saving my life you will have the eternal gratitude of an honest family. Your generosity, that of your husband and the great Nelson are my only hopes. Obtain for me a pardon from our merciful king, and the public will benefit by my medical observations, collected in the space of forty years. Remember that I did all I could to save the Botanical Garden of Caserta, and I did my best to be of the best use to Mrs. Greffer’s [a widow whom Lord Nelson had aided -ed.] children. (Source)

No sale for Lord Nelson, who did indeed have the practical power to make decisive intercession, but refused.

Domenico Cirillo, who had been the King’s physician, might have been saved, but that he chose to play the fool and lie, denying that he had ever made any speeches against the government, and saying that he only took care of the poor in the hospitals.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Hanged,History,Intellectuals,Italy,Martyrs,Naples,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Treason

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1944: Zainal Mustafa, resister

Add comment October 25th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1944, the Japanese occupying Indonesia executed Zainal Mustafa with 17 of his followers.

The Javanese ulama had already been charged by the Dutch with provoking resistance to colonial rule by the time the Japanese moved in as the overseas overlord in March 1942.

Mustafa (English Wikipedia entry | Indonesian, which is the language of most links about him) was no more amenable to collaboration with the new bosses, and began constituting his students into a resistance militia.

After a February shootout with the santri in February 1944 that left a number of Japanese soldiers dead, the occupation came for him with overwhelming force and stuffed the prison at Tasikmalaya with 700 or more of them.

One of their number who survived the ordeal who rose to the brass of the Indonesian army later uncovered the details of his fate, including his secret execution. Mustafa was hailed as a National Hero of Indonesia in 1972.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Indonesia,Japan,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Religious Figures,Shot,Torture,Wartime Executions

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Feast Day of Saint Justus

Add comment October 18th, 2020 Headsman

October 18 is the feast date of early Christian (and possibly legendary) martyr-saint Justus of Beauvais.

He’s supposed to have been decapitated for the faith while en route to Amiens, France, around 287, and thereafter scooped up his head in his arms to join the cephalophore club.


The Miracle of Saint Justus, by Peter Paul Rubens (1630s).

Widely venerated in France, he bequeathed the place-name of Saint-Just on a number of villages, which of course makes him by indirect means* the namesake of the French Revolution figure Louis Antoine de Saint-Just — Robespierre’s ferociously irreligious “angel of death” and a great enthusiast of (and eventual prey to) the guillotine.

* As his ancestors come from Oise, the specific “de Saint-Just” in their names might refer to Saint-Just-en-Chaussee.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,God,Martyrs,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Uncertain Dates

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2019: Hervin Khalaf, Rojava politician

1 comment October 12th, 2020 Headsman

One year ago today, Rojava political figure Hervin Khalaf was killed by summary execution.

A Syrian Kurd whose family counts several martyrs to that people’s long struggle for self-determination, Khalaf (English Wikipedia entry | French was a civil engineer in Al-Malikiyah at the tip of Syria’s furthest-northeast salient wedged between Turkey and Iraq. It’s a heavily multiethnic part of the country; the Assyrian singer Faia Younan hails from the same town.

Amid the ongoing civil war that has fractured the map of Syria, Al-Malikiyah has since 2012 been part of Rojava, a de facto (albeit legally unrecognized) independent heavily-Kurdish polity that has unfolded an appealing secular social revolution featuring women’s rights and democratic devolution. Khalaf personified that vision, fired by the future she was making with her own hands; in an obituary, a friend recalled her rising at 5 in the morning and working until midnight, everything from diplomatic wrangling to teaching mathematics to children. She became the secretary-general of the liberal Future Syria Party.

Rojava has been menaced on all sides throughout its brief existence: initially by the Syrian army, which eventually withdrew amicably to allow both parties to focus on other threats; by the Islamic State; and — of moment to this post — by neighboring Turkey.

Turkey’s long-running conflict with its own Kurdish populace just across the border was of course a concern for Rojava and the Kurdish militias that supported it. When the United States withdrew its forces from northeast Syria in 2019, it laid Rojava open to Turkish invasion — which occurred on October 9, 2019. Days into that attack, an allied local militia of Sunni extremists stopped Khalaf’s armored SUV at a roadside checkpoint and summarily executed both she and her driver, Farhad Ahmed. The murder drew worldwide outrage.

While Rojava’s prospects seemed grim indeed in these days, Russia — stepping into the void as the Kurds’ great power patron — brokered a deal with Turkey that has prevented the region being overrun entirely.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Execution,History,Kurdistan,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Politicians,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Syria,Turkey,Wartime Executions,Women

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1992: Sukhdev Singh Sukha and Harjinder Singh Jinda, Operation Blue Star avengers

Add comment October 9th, 2020 Headsman

Two Sikh militants of the Khalistan Commando Force were hanged on this date in 1992 at Pune for assassinating the India army chief who conducted Operation Blue Star.

This operation in 1984 aimed to corral the Sikh independence movement that proposed to carve out a state called Khalistan in Punjab — specifically by capturing (or as happened in the event, killing) the Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. In a notable pre-Blue Star outrage, Bhindanwale had a top policeman murdered, and his body remained on the steps of the Golden Temple for hours because other Punjab police were afraid to remove it until Bhindranwale consented.

In the first week of June 1984 the Indian army besieged Bhindranwale, and supporters, in that same temple, eventually assaulting the premises despite a heavy civilian presence, hundreds of whom were killed in the resulting firefight. The Indian state emerged with a firmer hold on regional sovereignty, and the renewed enmity of a lot of aggrieved Sikhs.

It was these outrages that led to Indira Gandhi’s assassination* later in 1984 … and at slightly greater remove, it led to the murder of the Army Chief of Staff who had implemented the operation, General Arunkumar Shridhar Vaidya. Vaidya well knew that this role might be his own death warrant and took the risk in stride; “If a bullet is destined to get me,” he said, “it will come with my name written on it.”

That bullet arrived in August 1986, a few months after Vaidya’s retirement when motorcycle gunmen assassinated the former chief of staff as he drove back from the Pune marketplace.

Sukhdev Singh Sukha and Harjinder Singh Jinda — both seasoned Khaistani assassins — got clean away at that moment, but Sukha was caught several weeks later when he got into a traffic accident riding the same black motorbike he’d used to ice the general. Both men admitted their involvement but pleaded not guilty, arguing that Vaidya had incurred the “death sentence” that they executed.

They were hanged together at Yerwada Central Jail on the morning of October 9, 1992 amid Sikh protests throughout Punjab. They’re often honored by protests and Sikh nationalist events on this anniversary of their execution.

* Indira Gandhi’s killing triggered anti-Sikh pogroms in India with somewhere around 3,000 killed, which was in turn answered by Sikh extremists bombing an Air India flight in 1985.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,India,Martyrs,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Power,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Terrorists

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Feast Day of Saint Eleutherius of Nicomedia, Reverend Lovejoy counselor

Add comment October 2nd, 2020 Headsman

October 2 is the feast date of Saint Eleutherius of Nicomedia,* a martyr circa 303 who was accused of trying to burn down the palace of the Christian-persecuting emperor Diocletian.

One notices him in 2020 for a rather less pious achievement, however: he appears in the Simpsons episode In Marge We Trust** as a stained-glass icon come to life to banter with the town pastor during the latter’s crisis of faith.


gif via comb.io

While Saint Eleutherius is a real entry in the martyrology, not all the other witty apparitions in this episode can say the same. Alongside actual martyrs Saint Lucian and Saint Bartholomew, there’s a fictitious “Saint Donickus” who is simply a tribute to the episode’s writer, Donick Cary.

* Nicomedia was an old Greek-founded Anatolian city on the Sea of Marmara that had stood capital of the empire’s easternmost quadrant under Diocletian’s four-way division of power. It was here that Diocletian unleashed his great persecution of 303 by razing the church and issuing an anti-Christian Edict of Nicomedia. Within a few years of this persecution, Nicomedia would be supplanted as the capital by Byzantium/Constantinople, but it still exists to this day: it’s now the Turkish city of Izmit.

** This episode is also notable for the memorable B-plot, with Homer Simpson — the cartoon character, of course, not the real-life executed guy of that name — discovering that his face is a Japanese detergent icon known as Mr. Sparkle.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,Martyrs,Popular Culture,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Turkey

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1547: Jan Olivetsky, Moravian publisher

Add comment September 20th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1547, the anti-Catholic publisher Jan Olivetsky was beheaded in the town square of Olomouc. Links in this post are predominantly Czech.

Part of a whole family of pioneers in early Bohemian and Moravian printing — his father Pavel stamped out the first printed editions of Jan Hus‘s writings in Czech — Jan skirted even closer to the lines proscribing subversive and heretical propaganda. Too close.

Jan set up shop a couple miles down the road from Olomouc in Drozdovice where — in addition to ponderous legal compendiums and popular folk stories that comprised his daily bread — he dared to run the presses for a variety of Lutheran sermons and manifestos against the pope.

The outbreak of, and the decisive Catholic triumph in, the Schmalkaldic War of 1546-1547 came a sharp imperial crackdown on this sects trafficking.

He’s regarded as the protomartyr among Moravian publishers, a professional distinction rather than a confessional one.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Austria,Beheaded,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Czechoslovakia,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Habsburg Realm,History,Holy Roman Empire,Martyrs,Milestones,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures

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1812: Juan Jose Crespo y Castillo, Huanuco rebel

Add comment September 14th, 2020 Headsman

Peruvian revolutionary Juan Jose Crespo y Castillo was garroted on this date in 1812.

Bust of Juan Jose Crespo y Castillo at Lima’s Panteon de los Proceres. (cc) image from Fernando Murillo.

An advance shock of the coming Peruvian War of Independence, Crespo y Castillo came to the fore of an indigenous rebellion against Spanish dominion in the mountainous department of Huanuco.

This small — perhaps 1,500 rebels were involveed — rising broke out in February 1812 and lasted only a couple of months but testified to Peru’s ongoing current of native resistance.

Crespo y Castillo wasn’t a firebrand but a prosperous local Creole elite, a farmer and alderman of long standing. Beyond the common grievances of state abuses and corruption he acutely felt the injury imposed by trade tightening that devastated the value of his tobacco crops.

On February 22, 1812, Indians from several outlying towns marched on the town of Huanuco, putting the Spanish authorities to flight. Crespo y Castillo was elevated to the leadership of a small governing board for the rebellion, whose limited ambitions were marked by its slogan, Viva el rey, muera el mal gobierno.

By May, the whole thing had succumbed to the customary remedy of overwhelming counterattack plus clemency offer for the rank-and-file — among whom, of course, our man numbered not.

He was put to death at the Plaza Mayor of Huanoco, uttering the inspiring last words,

“Muero yo, pero mil se levantaran para ahorcar a los tiranos. Viva la libertad!”

(“I die, but a thousand will rise to hang the tyrants! Long live freedom!”)

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,Garrote,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Peru,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Spain,Strangled,Treason

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1943: Julius Fučík, Notes from the Gallows

Add comment September 8th, 2020 Headsman

Czechoslovakian journalist Julius Fučík was executed by the Third Reich on this date in 1943.

Nephew of a great composer of the same name, our Julius Fučík was an 18-year-old left-wing activist when the Social Democrat party he was a part of founded the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. Fučík and his pen grew up in this world, together generating a substantial corpus of essays and analysis on pregnant years.

Hitler’s occupation of Czechoslovakia drove his party and his work underground, which eventually resulted in his arrest.

He’d eventually be deported to Germany and hanged at Berlin’s Plötzensee Prison, but Fučík made his lasting fame to posterity through the clandestine diary notes, bursting with anticipation for a bright Communist future, that he scribbled during his initial detention at Prague’s Pankrác Prison from 1942-1943.

After the war, these would be published as Notes from the Gallows — a text so scriptural in Communist Czechoslovakia that it weighed like manacles.

In Milan Kundera‘s The Joke, one of the characters standing trial is browbeaten by a prosecutor using Fučík’s words, while Fučík’s “fervent, pure” portrait gazes in judgment. (Consonant with the stature of Notes from the Gallows, its author was saluted via many street names, public monuments, and so forth. Quite few still remain today, in Germany as well as the former Czechoslovakia.)

“‘Death, you have been long in coming. And yet it was my hope to postpone our meeting until many years hence. To go on living the life of a free man, to work more, love more, sing more, and wander the world over …'” I recognized Fucik’s Notes from the Gallows.

“‘I loved life, and for the sake of its beauty I went to war. I loved you, good people, rejoicing when you returned my love, suffering when you failed to understand me …'”

That text, written clandestinely in prison, then published after the war in a million copies, broadcast over the radio, studied in schools as required reading, was the sacred book of the era. Zemanek read out the most famous passages, the ones everyone knew by heart.

“‘Let sadness never be linked with my name. That is my testament to you, Papa, Mama, and sisters, to you, my Gustina, to you, Comrades, to everyone I have loved …'” The drawing of Fucik on the wall was a reproduction of the famous sketch by Max Svabinsky, the old Jugendstil painter, the virtuoso of allegories, plump women, butterflies, and everything delightful; after the war, or so the story goes, Svabinsky had a visit from the Comrades, who asked him to do a portrait of Fucik from a photograph, and Svabinsky had drawn him (in profile) in graceful lines in accord with his own taste: almost girlish, fervent, pure, and so handsome that people who had known him personally preferred Svabinsky’s sublime drawing to their memories of the living face.

Fučík, and the idealized Max Švabinský portrait of him — one of several times it’s been used on postage stamps.

Meanwhile Zemanek read on, everyone in the hall silent and attentive and the fat girl at the table unable to tear her eyes away from him; suddenly his voice grew firm, almost menacing; he had come to the passage about Mirek the traitor: “‘And to think that he was no coward, a man who did not take flight when bullets rained down on him at the Spanish front, who did not knuckle under when he ran the gauntlet of cruelties in a concentration camp in France. Now he pales under the club of a Gestapo agent and turns informer to save his skin. How superficial was his bravery if so few blows could shake it. As superficial as his convictions … He lost everything the moment he began to think of himself. To save his own life, he sacrificed the lives of his friends. He succumbed to cowardice and through cowardice betrayed them …'” Fucik’s handsome face hung on the wall as it hung in a thousand other public places in our country, and it was so handsome, with the radiant expression of a young girl in love, that when I looked at it I felt inferior not just because of my guilt, but because of my appearance as well. And Zemanek read on: “‘They can take our lives, can’t they, Gustina, but they cannot take our honor and love. Can you imagine, good people, the life we might have led if we had met again after all this suffering, met again in a free life, a life made beautiful by freedom and creation? The life we shall lead when we finally achieve everything we’ve longed for and fought for and I now die for?'” After the pathos of these last sentences Zemanek was silent.

In the post-Communist era Fučík has had a critical re-examination, with an updated version of Notes published now including for the first time the bits his widow had judiciously excised, wherein Fučík admits to breaking under torture — although he also records that he “confessed” only inaccurate information that would not endanger comrades. He’s also been knocked for failing to use his firearms on either his captors or himself at the time of his arrest.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Czechoslovakia,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Power,Torture,Wartime Executions

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