The bloodthirsty mob in the amphitheater had never seen such courage. People were astonished at the slave girl's victorious cry even in the midst of her pain and suffering: "I am a Christian and there is nothing vile done by us." Even though the crowd detested these Christians, they had to admit that never had a woman endured so many and so terrible tortures.
It was the year 177 in Lyons, Gaul (modern France). Christianity had first come to Lyons over 25 years earlier when Polycarp of Smyrna (in modern Turkey) had sent Pothinus as a missionary to Gaul. Pothinus had diligently established the church of Christ in Lyons and nearby Viennes. As the church grew, spiritual resistance began to mount, and persecution against the Christians began. Christians were shut out of businesses and houses. They endured all kinds of shame and personal injuries. Mobs formed to beat, stone and rob the Christians. When believers were arrested and examined by the city authorities, they boldly confessed their allegiance to Christ. They were imprisoned to await the arrival of the governor to the region.
Some of the non-believing servants of the Christians were also seized. These servants feared being tortured and devised all sorts of false accusations against the Christians--such as that they practiced cannibalism, incest, and other shameful practices. Such accusations only enraged the mob even more.
August 1 was a holiday to celebrate the greatness of Rome and the emperor; the governor was expected to show his patriotism by sponsoring entertainment for the whole city. It was expensive to hire gladiators, boxers and wrestlers. It would be a lot cheaper to torture these Christians as part of the holiday entertainment!
The Christians were confined in the darkest and most awful part of the prison; many of them suffocated there. Some were placed in stocks; others were placed in a hot-iron seat where their flesh was burned. This was literally a human barbecue where the victim was chained onto a grate over burning coals. An example of this barbaric torture instrument can still be seen today at the archeological museum at Lyons.
Even a 92-Year-Old Bishop Tortured
It seemed impossible that any could live, having been tortured so cruelly, yet they were strengthened by the Lord, and they exhorted and encouraged each other in the faith. Pothinus, the 92-year-old bishop of Lyons, died in his prison cell two days after his torture at the judgment seat. That cell too can still be visited today in Lyon. It is about the size of a home electric dishwasher, so cramped he could not have even stood up straight.
Sanctus, a deacon from Vienne stood firm in his faith, even after red hot plates were fastened to the most tender parts of his body and he was one complete wound and bruise. He was "an example for the others, showing that nothing is fearful where the love of the Father is, and nothing is painful where there is the glory of Christ."
After enduring torture, some of the Christians were taken to the amphitheater where wild beasts would devour them to "entertain" the crowd. Among the group was the slave girl Blandina, who had already endured every imaginable torture and cruelty. Blandina was suspended on a stake and exposed to the wild beasts. Because she appeared to be hanging on a cross and because of her intense prayers, she inspired the other Christians. When they looked at her they were reminded of Christ who was crucified for them and that everyone who suffered for the glory of Christ would enjoy eternal fellowship with the living God. None of the beasts touched Blandina at the time, and she was taken down from the stake and cast into prison. The Christians believed God had preserved her for other contests so her victory over the evil spiritual forces might be the greater.
What an Amazing Young Woman!
On the last day of the contests in the amphitheater, Blandina was again brought in with Ponticus, a boy of about 15. Every day they had been brought to witness the sufferings of others and pressed to deny their faith and swear by idols. Ponticus died first, and Blandina remained the last. She had encouraged many others and saw them go on before her to Jesus. Now she was ready to hasten after them. She faced her death rejoicing-as if being called to a marriage feast rather than wild beasts. The report stated: After the scourging, after the wild beasts, after the roasting seat, she was finally enclosed in a net, and thrown before a bull. And having been tossed about by the animal, but feeling none of the things which were happening to her, on account of her hope and firm hold upon what had been entrusted to her, and her communion with Christ, she also was sacrificed.
After the bodies of the witnesses were exposed for six days, they were burned to ashes and thrown into the Rhone river. The bodies of those who had suffocated in prison were thrown to the dogs, and guards were stationed to prevent the remaining Christians from burying them. The pagans hoped to prevent even the hope of resurrection for the Christians.
The full account of Blandina's martyrdom and the other martyrs of Vienna and Lyon in 177 is contained in one of Christian History's Institute's Pocket Classics.