Saints Pothinus, (Bishop), Sanctus, Attalus, Blandina and the Martyrs of Lyon

June 2

Today is the feast day of Saints Pothinus, Sanctus, Attalus,  Blandina and the Martyrs of Lyon.  Orate pro nobis.

Among the persons who suffered for their faith on this occasion was the blessed Pothinus, bishop of Lyons. He was then above ninety years old; and so weak and infirm, that he could hardly breathe. But his ardent desire of laying down his life for Jesus Christ, gave him fresh strength and vigour. He was dragged before the tribunal; for, though his body was worn out with age and infirmity, his life was preserved till that time, that Jesus Christ might triumph in him. He was brought thither by the soldiers and magistrates of the city, the whole multitude hallooing after, and reviling him with as much eagerness and rage as if he had been Christ himself. Being asked by the governor, who was the God of the Christians? Pothinus told him, to prevent his blaspheming, he should know, when he was worthy of that satisfaction. Upon which he was dragged about unmercifully, and inhumanly abused. Those who were near him, kicked and struck him without any regard to his venerable age; and those who were at some distance, pelted him with what first came to hand; imagining the least tenderness or regard for him would have been an enormous crime, when the honour of their gods was so nearly concerned, which they endeavoured to assert by insulting the martyr. He was scarcely alive when he was carried off, and thrown into prison, where he expired after two days’ confinement. (5)

Human language could not describe the tortures that the Saints were made to endure, in the hope of making them admit the impious things we were charged with. They had been accused of eating human flesh. Red-hot plates were held to the sides of Sanctus, a deacon of Vienne, until his body became one great sore, and he no longer looked like a man; but amidst his tortures he said to his tormentors that it was such torments which consumed human flesh, whereas Christians did no harm to their fellow men. The letter says he was strengthened by the stream of heavenly water which flows from the side of Christ. (1)

Saint Blandia was slave to a Christian family, caring for the young girls of the household.  Having witnessed the Gospel from the family she worked for, Blandina converted to Christianity, despite the violent oppression and persecution of Christians at the hands of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.  During his reign, the fanaticism of the occupants of Lyon had been fanned like flames, and many harassed and mistreated their Christian neighbors, identifying them to the authorities, and handing them over to the Roman governor of the region.  Among those identified were Saint Pothinus (also celebrated today), the bishop of Lyons, Saint Irenaeus (a priest who had been sent to Lyons by Saint Polycarp), and Saint Blandina. (2)

While the imperial legate was away the chiliarch, a military commander, and the duumvir, a civil magistrate, threw a number of Christians, who confessed their faith, into prison. When the legate returned, the imprisoned believers were brought to trial. Among these Christians was Blandina, a slave, who had been taken into custody along with her master, also a Christian. Her companions greatly feared that on account of her bodily frailty she might not remain steadfast under torture. But although the legate caused her to be tortured in a horrible manner, so that even the executioners became exhausted “as they did not know what more they could do to her”, still she remained faithful and repeated to every question “I am a Christian and we commit no wrongdoing.”

Saint Blandina was taken to the town’s amphitheater, known as the Amphitheater of the Three Gauls, at the time of the town’s public games.  She was tied to a rough stake and wild beasts were set upon her.  However, they did not touch her, and rather laid at her feet. She was left for several days, with the animals loose beside her, but they never harmed or attacked her.  During this time, she was forced to watch her companions tortured and killed, the last among them her younger brother.  As the last of the martyrs, she was scourged, burned upon a hot grate over coals, bound in a net and thrown before a wild steer who trampled her.  Following these tortures, Saint Blandina was killed with a dagger, ending her suffering, and earning her the crown of martyrdom. (2)

Thus far the incomparable letter of the Christians of Lyons and Vienne, which was inserted entire in Eusebius’s account of the martyrs, as he himself assures us. But that piece is lost, and we have no more of this letter than what that author has given us in his Church History. He adds, that the churches of Vienne and Lyons subjoined, in the close of this epistle, a religious testimony conformable to holy faith, concerning the Montanists. These martyrs suffered in the beginning of the pontificate of Eleutherius, in the seventeenth year of Marcus Aurelius, as Eusebius testifies and of Christ 177, not 167, as Dodwell pretends. They are called the martyrs of Lyons, because that city was the theatre of their sufferings, though some of them were citizens of Vienne. St. Gregory of Tours says, they were forty-eight in number, and that part of their ashes was miraculously recovered. These relics were deposited under the altar of the church which anciently bore the name of the Apostles of Lyons. (5)


Image: Maturus, Sanctus, Blandina, and a youth from Pontus, most miserably tormented, on the River Rhone, about the year 172 (4)

Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff


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