In Lyon, France (formerly Lugdunum of the Roman Empire) in 177 AD, numerous Christians weregathered into the Amphithéâtre des Trois Gaules (Amphitheater of the ThreeGauls). Having been barred from numerous public facilities and community life, Christians in Lyon were experiencing a fierce wave of persecution. Church leaders and a number of other Christians were singled out for a public display of savagery. This site today, practically neglected among the daily life of Lyon (in the neighborhood of Croîx-Rousse), is a sober reminder of France’s deep Christian roots yet contemporary state of spiritual darkness. The following is an excerpt from “The Letter of the Churches of Vienna and Lugdunum to the Churches of Asia and Phrygia.” It describes the witness of Blandina, a young freed slave woman, and her noble witness to the faith.
“Then at last the holy Witnesses suffered tortures beyond all description, Satan striving eagerly that some of the evil reports might be acknowledged by them. But in an exceeding degree did the whole wrath of mob, general, and soldiers fall on Sanctus, a deacon from Vienna, and on Maturus, a newly-enlightened but noble combatant, and on Attalus, a native of Pergamus, who had always been the Pillar and foundation of the church there, and on Blandina, through whom Christ showed that the things that to men appear mean and deformed and contemptible, are with God deemed worthy of great glory, on account of love to Him,-a love which is not a mere boastful appearance, but shows itself in the power which it exercises over the life. For while we were all afraid, and especially her mistress in the flesh, who was herself one of the combatants among the Witnesses, that she would not be able to make a bold confession on account of the weakness of her body, Blandina was filled with such power, that those who tortured her one after the other in every way from morning till evening were wearied and tired, confessing that they had been baffled, for they had no other torture they could apply to her; and they were astonished that she remained in life, when her whole body was torn and opened up, and they gave their testimony that one only of the modes of torture employed was sufficient to have deprived her of life, not to speak of so many excruciating inflictions. But the blessed woman, like a noble athlete, recovered her strength in the midst of the confession; and her declaration, `I am a Christian, and there is no evil done amongst us, ‘brought her refreshment, and rest, and insensibility to all the sufferings inflicted on her.”
“Upon this a grand dispensation of God’s providence took place, and the immeasurable mercy of Jesus was made manifest,-such an occurrence as but rarely happens among the brotherhood, yet one that does not fall short of the art of Christ. For those who in the first apprehension had denied, were imprisoned along with the others, and shared their hardships. Their denial, in fact, turned out at this time to be of no advantage to them. For while those who confessed what they really were, were imprisoned simply as Christians, no other accusation being brought against them, those who denied were detained as murderers and profligates. They, moreover, were doubly punished. For the confessors were lightened by the joy of their testimony and their hope in the promises, and by their love to Christ, and by the Father’s Spirit. But the deniers were tormented greatly by their own consciences, so that when they were led forth their countenances could be distinguished among all the rest. For the confessors went forth joyous, with a mingling of glory and abundant grace in their looks, so that their chains lay like becoming ornaments around them, as around a bride adorned with golden fringes wrought with divers colours. And they breathed at the same time the fragrance of Christ, so that some even thought that they were anointed with this world’s perfume. But the deniers were downcast, humbled, sad-looking, and weighed down with every kind of disgrace. They were, moreover, reproached even by the heathens with being base and cowardly, and charged with the crime of murder; they had lost the altogether honourable, glorious, and life-giving appellation. When the rest saw this, they were strengthened, and those who were apprehended confessed unhesitatingly, not allowing the reasoning of the devil to have even a place in their thoughts.”
For the full description of the martyrdom of believers in Lyon, click here.