Posts filed under 'Religious Figures'

1557: Thomas Losebie, Henrie Ramsey, Thomas Thirtell, Margaret Hide and Agnes Stanley

Add comment April 12th, 2020 Headsman


“The Martyrdom of Thomas Losebie, Henrie Ramsey, Thomas Thirtell, Margaret Hide and Agnes Stanley at Smithfield on 12th April, 1557”, woodcut illustration from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

The five ordinary Londoners pictured above had been snitched out by neighbors for shirking the Catholic Mass under Queen Mary — the offense that Protestants would call recusancy when the mitre was on the other bishop.

They had the sturdiness one would attribute to men and women of the common clay, and also the theological unsophistication; our martyrology caveats of their interrogation that “some of them attributed the title and honour of a sacrament to the holy estate of matrimony” — the standard Anglican and also Lutheran position was that there were only two sacraments, baptism and eucharist — but this “undoubtedly was done rather of simple ignorance, than of any wilful opinion.” That’s the kind of interpretive generosity you’re entitled to when you go to the stake for the faith.

(Foxe has some miniutes from their interrogation; scroll down to page 410 of this pdf of Foxe’s Volume 12, from here.)

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,God,Heresy,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Religious Figures

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1821: Patriarch Gregory V, in his vestments

Add comment April 10th, 2020 Headsman

The Ottoman Empire besmirched this date in 1821* by launching the Constantinople Massacre of Orthodox Greeks, prominently including the summary hanging of Patriarch Gregory V in his full clerical vestments — on Easter Sunday.


Gregory V approaching martyrdom, by Nikiforos Lytras.

On edge from the outbreak just days earlier of the rebellion that would become the Greek War of Independence, Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II came down on the Greeks within his empire like a ton of bricks. He demanded a religious fatwa licensing a general massacre, a demand that the Sheikh ul-Islam courageously refused. (It cost him his own life to do so.)

Trapped frightfully in the middle of this was the Patriarch, 75 years old and no revolutionary but with a delicate job to safeguard his flock. Fatwa or no — and Gregory’s own private mission to his Muslim counterpart had helped to block that dreadful order — his people stood at Mahmud’s mercy. With news of rebel advances reaching the Porte during Holy Week, Mahmud had the prelate seized during Easter liturgy, escorted outside, and hanged at the gate of the Patriarchate.


St. Peter’s Gate where Gregory suffered has never since been opened. (cc) image from Alessandro57.

On the same day, dozens of other Greek priests, merchants, and officials were summarily executed around Constantinople; one report described of that day that “[a]ll the Archbishops and Bishops who were in the Church on account of the celebration of Easter, were either executed or thrown into prison. The congregation fled out of the Church to the neighbouring houses of the priest, but many were murdered by the enraged populace.” This assault signaled the start of months of terrors ranging from official persecutions, harassment by Janissaries, pogroms, and frequent public executions of prominent Greek Christians that continued into the summer.

* It was April 10 by the Julian (O.S.) date that was still in use in the Orthodox world; by the Gregorian (N.S.) calendar, it’s April 22. We think the reasons to override our general preference for Gregorian dates in this era of history are self-explanatory, especially since the Patriarch has been canonized with a feast date of April 10.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Gibbeted,Greece,Hanged,History,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Ottoman Empire,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Summary Executions,Treason,Turkey,Wartime Executions

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Feast Day of Saint Octavian, martyred by the Arian Vandals

2 comments March 22nd, 2020 Headsman

March 22 is the feast day of Saint Octavian of Carthage — a martyr for orthodox Nicene Christianity to its rival tradition of Arianism.

Ninth century illustration of Constantine burning Arian writings

One of the most consequential of the ancient world’s many confusing christological ruptures, the Arian controversy arose in the fourth century when the bishoppriest Arius of Alexandria preached that Christ was a subordinate entity to God the father — distinct from what is now the mainline trinitarian Christian position that God the father and Christ the son are equal and consubstantial divinities. The Arian position enjoyed substantial support, and it was largely to resolve this controversy that the Emperor Constantine convened the Nicene Council to define the church’s official line.

Nicene Christianity ruled Arianism heretical which the emperor — concerned above all to enforce uniformity within his realm — backed up with book-burnings and anathemas. But the doctrine proved tough to extinguish, waxing and waning in the ensuing decades and often finding a sympathetic ear among Constantine’s own successors.

And crucially, while all this was shaking out, it was Arian missionaries who converted the Germanic tribes fringing the empire’s borders — Goths, Gepids, Burgundians, and (crucial for this post) Vandals — and made Gothic Christianity a carrier of of the Arian contagion long after it had been suppressed within the Latin and Greek worlds.

Come the fifth century, the Vandals had established a kingdom in Carthage on the North African coast, stretching to Sicily and Sardinia and harrying in the Mediterranean the failing Roman state. These polities, however rivalrous, were brother-nations within Christendom — except that the Vandals were still Arians, a gulf that could easily be worth a martyr’s crown.

That’s where our man Octavian comes in. As the (Nicene) archdeacon of Carthage, he was inherently exposed any time the civil authorities might feel like making an example. The Vandal king Hun(n)eric, inheriting the throne of the Vandal Kingdom in 477 from the legendary Genseric, had this feeling exactly; he’s notorious for unleashing an anti-Nicene persecution. Besides Octavian, that persecution also claimed Saints Victorian and Frumentius, who are commemorated on March 23 of the Roman martyrology.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,History,Martyrs,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Tunisia,Uncertain Dates,Vandal Kingdom

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1547: Diego de Enzinas, Spanish Protestant

Add comment March 15th, 2020 Headsman

On or about this date in 1547, the Spanish-born scholar Diego de Enzinas was burned by the Roman Inquisition.

Like his (more renowned) brother Francisco de Enzinas — who translated the New Testament into Spanish — Diego (English Wikipedia entry | Spanih) was an apostate (to Cathoic eyes) Protestant scholar.

He spent the early 1540s — when he was merely in his early 20s — studying, translating, and propagandizing in Paris and the Low Countries. Catching word from his kin in Burgos that it was too dangerous to risk returning to his homeland, he took refuge with fellow dissidents in Rome … but when arrested, he would betray their names to Inquisition torturers.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,Heresy,History,Intellectuals,Italy,Martyrs,Papal States,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture

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1590: Christopher Bales, Nicholas Horner, and Alexander Blake

1 comment March 4th, 2020 Charles George Herbermann

(Thanks to Charles George Herbermann for the guest post. Herbermann emigrated from Prussia to the United States in childhood and became a prominent scholar of Catholicism at the institution now known as New York University. Herbermann was the chief editor of the gigantic originally published in a volume of Catholic Encyclopedia in the early 20th century, where this text originally appeared; many other contributors were involved, and it’s impossible to tell . -ed.)

Christopher Bales. Priest and martyr, b. at Coniscliffe near Darlington, County Durham, England, about 1564; executed 4 March, 1590. He entered the English College at Rome, 1 October, 1583, but owing to ill-health was sent to the College at Reims, where he was ordained 28 March, 1587. Sent to England 2 November, 1588, he was soon arrested, racked, and tortured by Topcliffe, and hung up by the hands for twenty-four hours at a time; he bore all most patiently. At length he was tried and condemned for high treason, on the charge of having been ordained beyond seas and coming to England to exercise his office. He asked Judge Anderson whether St. Augustine, Apostle of the English, was also a traitor. The judge said no, but that the act had since been made treason by law. He suffered 4 March, 1590, “about Easter”, in Fleet Street opposite Fetter Lane. On the gibbet was set a placard: “For treason and favouring foreign invasion”. He spoke to the people from the ladder, showing them that his only “treason” was his priesthood. On the same day Venerable Nicholas Horner suffered in Smithfield for having made Bales a jerkin, and Venerable Alexander Blake in Gray’s Inn Lane for lodging him in his house.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,Guest Writers,History,Martyrs,Other Voices,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Treason

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Feast Day of St. Polycarp of Smyrna

1 comment February 23rd, 2020 Headsman

Second-century Christian bishop and martyr St. Polycarp of Smyrna has his feast day on February 23. Be sure to shout supplications loudly, as he’s the patron for earaches.

Reputedly inducted into the mysteries by the Apostle John himself in the late first century, Polycarp was a consequential clergyman in the early church and a living link between the early church fathers and the literal companions of Christ.

As the bishop of the Christian community in Smyrna — these days it’s the Turkish city of Izmir; pilgrims can visit a cave where Polycarp was supposedly tortured, but the ruins of the old Roman amphitheater where he was martyred have been buried by urban development — he’s credited with an important epistle to the Philippians.* Likewise, he’s the addressee of the Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans (c. 110).**

Less pleasantly, a mid-second century century document titled Martyrdom of Polycarp is the earliest account of a Christian martyrdom outside the of actual scripture, and unsurprisingly casts its subject in a bold and eloquent mold.

On his being led to the tribunal, there was immense clamour at the news that Polycarp had been apprehended. At last, when he was brought near, the Proconsul asked him, if he were Polycarp; and, on his acknowledging it, he began to persuade him to deny the faith, saying, “Compassionate thine years;” and other similar expressions, which it is their wont to use. “Swear by the fortune of Caesar; think better of the matter; say, Away with the godless men.” But Polycarp regarded with a sad countenance the whole multitude of lawless heathen in the theatre; and waving his hand towards them, groaned, and looking up to Heaven said, “Away with the godless men.” And when the Governor urged him further, and said, “Swear, and I will dismiss thee; revile Christ;” Polycarp replied; “Eighty and six years have I been his servant, and he hath wronged me in nothing, and how can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour.” And on his pressing him again, saying, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar,” Polycarp replied; “If ye vainly suppose that I shall swear by Caesar’s fortune, as ye call it, pretending to be ignorant of my real character, let me tell you plainly, I am a Christian; and if ye wish to hear the Christian doctrine, appoint me a time, and hear me.” The Proconsul answered, “Persuade the people.” Polycarp replied, “To you I thought it right to give account, for we have been taught to give to rulers and the powers ordained of God such fitting honour as hurteth not our souls; but them I deem not worthy, that I should defend myself before them.” The Proconsul said unto him, “I have wild beasts in readiness, to them will I throw thee, if thou wilt not change thy mind.” But he said, “Bring them forth then, for the change of mind from better to worse I will never make. From cruelty to righteousness it were good to change.” Again he said unto him, “I will have thee consumed by fire, since thou despisest the wild beasts, except thou change thy mind.” Polycarp answered; “Thou threatenest me with a fire that burneth for an hour, and is speedily quenched; for thou knowest not of the fire of future judgment and eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly. But why tarriest thou? Bring what thou wilt.” (an 1833 translation)

* Prevailing scholarship holds Polycarp’s epistle to the Philippians to be a concatenation of two distinct epistles.

** Polycarp probably appreciated that this letter featured sections admonishing congregants “Let nothing be done without the bishop” and “Honour the bishop”.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,History,Martyrs,Milestones,Public Executions,Put to the Sword,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Torture,Turkey,Uncertain Dates

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1946: Maliq Bushati, Lef Nosi, and Anton Harapi, of Balli Kombëtar

Add comment February 15th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1946,* communist Albania executed three former officials of its deposed wartime government.

Fascist Italy occupied Albania during World War II.

In a situation mirroring that of neighboring Yugoslavia, there were two resistance movements that sometimes maintained an uneasy truce and other times went straight at one another’s throats: the communist National Liberation Movement (LNC or LANC), and the nationalist National Front (“Balli Kombëtar”).

In 1943, when Mussolini’s government collapsed, Nazi Germany took over control of Albania. Wary of postwar domination by communists — and the likelihood that this party would not cede bordering “Greater Albania” regions like the Yugoslavian province of Kosovo — Balli Kombëtar cut a deal with Berlin to run a collaborationist government.

Our principals for this date were all prominent figures in that government: Maliq Bushati, the prime minister; Lef Nosi, a member of the High Regency Council, and Anton Harapi, a Franciscan friar who consented to be the Catholic community’s representative in the governing council.

Needless to say, Balli Kombëtar did not long benefit from German support, and succumbed to the partisan movement — both the domestic LNC, and the allied Yugoslavian partisans under Tito. Its adherents faced the fury of their conquerors.


From left: Maliq Bushati, Lef Nosi, and Anton Harapi.

Those who could, fled to the west to enroll as exile auxilia for the coming Cold War: the attempted 1949 Albanian Subversion was one of the CIA’s earliest regime change attempts — notable in that the covert operation was betrayed to Moscow by the Kremlin’s British intelligence mole Kim Philby, resulting in hundreds of deaths.

* The Internet brings some citations for February 20 instead of February 15; I have not been able to locate the source of the discrepancy. The British diplomatic communique reporting on the trial is my authoritative primary source here: “The trial took place, in eight sessions, in a squalid cinema in Tirana before a house packed by Party members who constantly interrupted and jeered, while three military judges on the stage kept hurling accusations and abuse at the defendants, jointly and severally. All three were held responsible for, among other things, Albania’s entire war losses … Defendant’s counsel was howled down as a ‘fascist’ and never succeeded in making himself heard … The three accused were shot two days afterwards, on 15 February.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Albania,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Religious Figures,Shot,Treason

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1927: Mateo Correa Magallanes

Add comment February 6th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1927, Catholic padre Mateo Correa Magallanes was martyred during Mexico’s brutal Cristero war.

We’ve previously noted the bloody 1926-1929 rebellion of Catholics in central and western Mexico against the liberal and secular state that had emerged from the previous decade’s Mexican Revolution.

Imprisoned as a Cristero sympathizer during this conflict, Correa (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) administered the church’s sacrament of confession to some fellow-prisoners.

When the nearest general caught wind of this event, he immediately demanded of the priest the details those comrades revealed in the rite. Correa positively refused: the inviolable seal of the confessional being a principle that Romish clergy have bravely died for down the ages.

Correa joined their number by refusing every threat and blandishment to break his silence. He was shot in a cemetery outside Durango on the morning of February 6, 1927.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,History,Martyrs,Mexico,Religious Figures,Shot,Wartime Executions

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Feast Day of St. Apronian the Executioner

Add comment February 2nd, 2020 Headsman

This gentleman is far from antiquity’s most distinguished Christian martyr, but a site such as Executed Today can scarcely omit the sacrifice of one Saint Apronian the Executioner, who we learn was

Executioner for imperial Rome. He was a witness at the trial of Saint Sisinnius who was charged with Christianity in the persecutions of Diocletian. Sisinnius’ statement of his faith converted Apronian. He was martyred soon after.

Many other translations make him not executioner but notary; the Roman Martyrology from which these versions derive marks him as Commentariensis — a prison-keeper.

So there’s a good chance that “executioner” here is a bit of dramatic exaggeration. That said, while ancient Rome had plenty of executions, they wouldn’t necessarily be conducted by a single executioner as we imagine the office from subsequent European history. Depending on the rank of the accused (notably citizen vs. not), the location of the proceedings (Rome vs. provinces), and the prevailing climate, capital punishments might be handled by various civic entities or bodies of armed men.

The office of carnifex, literally “flesh-render” or “butcher”, had the brief to torture and execute slaves and foreigners; evidently, there are hints that this dishonorable position might also be held by a prison warden. Perhaps this is the basis for linking Saint Apronian to the gig.

Despite the distinctive (albeit not unique) professional attribution, Apronian is not the patron saint of executioners. In fact, there is no such sacred patronage, although searches for same turn up this jam:

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Executioners,God,Italy,Martyrs,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Uncertain Dates

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1522: Didrik Slagheck

1 comment January 24th, 2020 Headsman

Danish scheming archbishop Didrik Slagheck was burned in Copenhagen on this date in 1522 — sacrificed to his sovereign’s convenience.

Slagheck rolled into Stockholm in 1517 in the train of the papal legate who had been vainly dispatched to calm tempers during the run-up to what became the Swedish War of Liberation.

That’s liberation from Denmark, the effective overlord via the Kalmar Union joining those two countries and Norway besides. In 1520, with ecclesiastical mediation a bust and Sweden restive, the Danish king Christian II invaded. Slagheck made his villainous historical reputation by opportunistically hitching on with the vengeful king, the same king who would execute him in the end.

Things went great for Slagheck at first: he helped queue up the enemies list for the victorious Christian’s demonstrative mass beheading, the Stockholm Massacre. And he got his 30 pieces of krona right away in the form of an archbishopric which had come open along with its former owner’s neck on the occasion of said massacre. Thereafter he commanded troops in the field during the rebellion of Gustav Vasa. By 1521 he’d been kicked upstairs,

promoted to the position of archbishop of Lund, then a Danish see, entering the cathedral at his installation on November 25th with great pageantry and to the sound of martial music. During the same autumn, however, a papal legation in Copenhagen had been investigating what had taken place in Stockholm after the coronation, and five days after his installation as archbishop Slagheck was summoned to give an account of the advice he had given and the manner in which he had acted. Christian II decided to abandon him in an attempt to clear his own reputation, and Slagheck was executed and burnt in Copenhagen on January 24th 1522. (Source)

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Denmark,Execution,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Political Expedience,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Sweden

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