162 AD, Lyon, France. The Romans had a strong hold over France, overthrowing the native population and enslaving the survivors. This is a time when Christianity was in its early years, a time in which Christians were persecuted for their beliefs, the symbol of the cross was seen as idolatry; necklaces, wooden carvings and ornaments symbolising Christianity would have to be kept hidden from prying eyes to avoid social outcasting and severe punishments. The prosecutions of Christians had become increasingly harsh and violent as they were publicly harassed and ill-treated. Christians were not allowed to public baths, or appear in markets or the forum and they were publicly beaten if they did. There was a general excitement against Christian followers and they were generally targeted in the streets, blamed for thefts and thrown into jail for merely preaching their religious beliefs. A group of Christian followers known as the Martyrs of Lyon had been subjected to horrible tortures and mistreatment purely through the fact that they did not value the Roman emperors as Godly and they wished to follow their own religious path and live by Christian virtues; one of these followers that was submitted to horrific torture was 15 year old Christian martyr Saint Blandina.
Saint Blandina was a Christian slave and she was initially thrown into prison along with her master for their refusal to sacrifice their religious beliefs and convert to the Roman gods of worship. It was common practice to torture followers of Christianity in an attempt to force religious conversion; despite her young age Saint Blandina was no exception. It has been written that during her captivity her captives had beat and tortured her to such an extent that they had exhausted their energy and “did not know what more they could do to her.” The witnesses to the torture stated that they had never before seen a women be able to withstand and suffer such a length of brutality. Saint Blandina denied conversion, her faithfulness to Christianity remained strong and intact continuously through her persecution, notoriously saying “I am a Christian and there is nothing vile done by us.”
Through intense torture, threats and fear for their loved ones, the Christian captives were at times forced to admit that their Christian masters had committed crimes of cannibalism and communed insest in a wide spread attempted smear campaign to disregard the Christian faith and in turn capture and convert more followers of Christianity. The Christians that held onto their beliefs and values were executed by beheading whilst those who converted were set free.
Saint Blandina was born in France but as a slave she did not have citizenship. Christian captives that did not have citizenship were subjected to new forms of torture that took place in the towns amphitheatre at the time of the public games. Blandina was tied to a stake and starved wild animals were let out into the arena with her as food bait. The wild animals approached her but to everybody’s surprise they did not harm her. After enduring this for days another effort to get her to repent her faith was attempted, she was lead back to the arena to watch the torture of her Christian companions, one of whom was her brother. On the final day she was savagely beaten by the Roman captives, strapped down to a red hot grate and whipped and left bloody in the middle of the amphitheatre. Blandina was cast into an enclosed net and thrown before a wild steer to be trampled to death, the steer tossed her in the air with it’s horns and stamped on her. Blandina survived still. Finally she was fatally stabbed with a dagger, burnt and her ashes were tossed into the Rohne.
Saint Blandina demonstrates courage beyond all measure. Blandina had a true sense of faith, she died for her beliefs and she will not be forgotten. The freedom to believe, think and feel is something that many are able to take for granted in the modern world but we must be aware the brutality of a state in which religious freedom and freedom of speech are persecuted. The crime committed was not Blandina’s cry for religious freedom, the crime was implicating a forced belief in true dictatorship fashion, an anti-democratic cage that we should ensure is never the case again. Freedom of speech and freedom of belief are integral for a liberated and fair society.