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Boston Catholic Journal - Critical Catholic Commentary in the Twilight of Reason


The Tortures and Torments

The Tortures and Torments of the Chistian Martyrs

of the Christian Martyrs

(a Modern Edition)

 De SS. Martyrum Cruciatibus

 by Reverend Father Antonio Gallonio, translated from the Latin by A.R. Allison, 1591

Revised and Edited into Contemporary English
by Geoffrey K. Mondello
for the Boston Catholic Journal

“Father Gallonio’s work was intended for the edification of the Faithful, and was issued with the full authority and approbation of the Church.“
 A. R. Allison

Note: This translation by the Boston Catholic Journal has been edited for abstruse and confusing archaisms, needless redundancies, and presented in Modern (American) English. It is our goal to render this important, historical document into an easily readable format. However, we encourage the reader to consult the following important link: Acta Martyrum for a necessary perspective on the important distinction between authentic Acta Matyrum, scholarly hagiography, and edifying historical literature. This does not pretend to be a scholarly edition, replete with footnotes and historical references. Indeed, the original vexes us with its inconsistent references, and the absence of any methodical attribution to the works or authors cited. However, it must be remembered that the present work is not offered to us as a compendium, or even a work of scholarship. That was not its intended purpose. For us, however, it is intended to accompany the Roman Martyrology which we bring you each day, in the way of supplementing the often abbreviated account of the Catholic Martyrs with an historical perspective and a deeper understanding of the suffering they endured for the sake of Christ, His Holy Catholic Church, and the Faith of our fathers which, in our own times, sadly, recedes from memory for the sake of temporizing our own Catholic Faith to accommodate the world at the cost of Christ.

If wish to download the entire book, simply click on the appropriate link for the file type you prefer: PDF or Microsoft Word.



CHAPTER I (this page)

Of the Cross, of Stakes, and Other Means by which the bodies of Christians remaining steadfast in their Confession of Christ were suspended


Of the Wheel, the Pulley, and the Press as instruments of torture


Of the Wooden Horse as an instrument of Martyrdom; also of many different types of Bonds


Of different instruments employed for Scourging the Blessed Martyrs


Of instruments the Heathen used to Tear the Flesh of Christ’s Faithful; to wit, Iron Claws and Currycombs


Of Red-Hot Plates, Torches, and Blazing Brands


Of the Brazen Bull, Frying-Pan, Pot, Caldron, Gridiron, and Bedstead; likewise of the Chair, Helmet, and Tunic, and other instruments of Martyrdom using Red-Hot Iron


Of other methods by which Christ’s Holy Martyrs were Tortured with Fire


Of other instruments of torture and methods employed for the tormenting of Christian Martyrs, such as School-Boy’s Iron Styles, Nails, Saws, Spears, Swords, and Arrows; Tearing out the Inwards, Cutting the Throat, Beheading, Branding and Marking, Pounding with Axes and Clubs


Of yet other instruments and methods of torture for afflicting Christian Martyrs, such as Amputating Women’s Bosoms, Cutting out the Tongue, and Lopping-off the Hands and Feet, Pulling out the Teeth, Flaying Alive, Transfixing, and Exposing to Wild Beasts


Of still other tortures and methods of Martyrdom: Burying Alive, Throwing into Rivers, Wells, or Lime-Kilns; Cutting open the Stomach, and the Like


Of Martyrs driven into Exile, and condemned to Hard Labor or the Mines


Of the Cross, of Stakes, and other Means by which the Bodies of the Christians Remaining Steadfast in their Faith were Suspended

Since we propose in this book to discuss the many instruments of Martyrdom and the countless methods by which the most glorious and unconquered soldiers of our Lord Jesus Christ underwent death with a brave heart for His honor, it is entirely proper that we begin our task with the blessed and holy Sign of the Cross. For it was this upon which the Savior of the World, bursting the bonds of death, vanquished that cunning serpent, the Devil, and by His sufferings earned for His servants such tremendous fortitude that they were happy to endure the most arduous hardships of every sort, even, if need be, to the shedding of their blood and the cruel dismemberment of all their limbs. If, that is to say, the Martyrs won from the Cross the strength which they displayed in tortures and torments, it seems to us all the more appropriate to discuss the Cross first, as an instrument of torture and martyrdom in this book.

Since, however, stakes set up in the ground were included in antiquity under the common term of  crosses, we must also examine these in this chapter, as well as other means by which the bodies of the Blessed Martyrs were suspended as punishment for defending of the Faith of Christ; for, indeed, whether nailed to the cross or bound to wooden poles, they may equally be said in a sense to have hung suspended.

In beginning our discussion of the Cross, it is important for us to understand that not only were the Jews accustomed to nail condemned criminals to the cross [Deut 21:22-23], but the Gentiles as well. This is expressly stated by many of their own authors — by Cicero in several places (especially in the Philippics and De Finibus), no less than by Valerius Maximus, Livy, Curtius, Suetonius (Galba), and Seneca (De Consolatione). This last passage shows that crosses were of more than one kind, as we see from the words quoted below:

“From this I gather that crosses were not all of one kind, but differently made by different people. Some hang the criminal head downwards, while others drive a stake through his entrails, and others again stretched out his arms on a forked gallows ...”

What Seneca says here, to wit, that “others drive a stake through his entrails,“ he explains elsewhere, for he calls this kind of cross, in his indictment of the Mecaenas, a sharp-pointed cross. From this we may readily understand that, while one form of cross was of the type most commonly associated with the word, another resembled the sharp stakes which the Turks now employ for executing criminals, driving them through the victims’ middle up to the head. We may also find this in Procopius’s, Vandal War.

Upon the first kind of Cross (as Seneca states above, and as we find in numerous Acts of the Saints) [Acta Martyrum] some were fixed with their heads toward the ground, while others with them raised to heaven. Christian martyrs were, in fact, crucified in both ways by the worshippers of idols. Among others who won the crown of martyrdom by crucifixion head downwards was the chief of the Apostles himself, St. Peter, concerning whom Origen writes:

“When Peter was come to the outskirts of Rome, with head placed downwards (for so he desired himself to suffer), he was nailed to the Cross.”

St. Augustine writes that:

“So both (Peter and Paul) hasten to attain to the palm of martyrdom, and win the crown thereof.“ And elsewhere: “Peter for Christ’s sake is suspended on the tree head downward; Paul slain with the sword. The Apostle went with his own feet to meet Christ, and looking upward with his eyes to Heaven, sent forth his blessed spirit to the Heavens above.”

This is also described by St. John Chrysostom in his Homily on the Chief of the Apostles:

“Rejoice, Peter, to whom has been granted to enjoy Christ on the tree, and who was happy to be crucified as thy Master was, yet not with form upright like Christ the Lord, but with head turned to the ground, as one journeying from earth to heaven. Blessed the nails which did pierce those holy limbs”

To this most holy Apostle of Christ may be further added St. Calliopus, who died the same death for guarding the Christian Faith, bravely and signally triumphing over the World and the Devil. We clearly see, then, that some Martyrs were crucified with feet upward towards the sky.

As to those who suffered with feet pointing to the ground, we find many outspoken champions of the Christian Law: St. Philip and St. Andrew, Apostles; Nestor, a Bishop; Timon, a Deacon, and many others. The Roman Martyrology itself speaks of ten thousand Martyrs so crucified, including Simeon, a Bishop, who at the date of his Martyrdom was in the one hundred and twentieth year of his age. Concerning the ten thousand who were lifted up on the Cross (22 June), we read:

“On Mount Ararat the passion of ten thousand blessed Martyrs who were crucified.”

Concerning St. Simeon (20 April) we read:

“At Jerusalem anniversary of the Blessed Simeon, Bishop and Martyr, who is said to have been the son of Cleophas and a kinsman of the Savior according to the flesh. Ordained Bishop of Jerusalem next after James, brother of Our Lord, after suffering in the persecution of Trajan many tortures, he died a Martyr, and all present, including the very Judge himself, marveled how an old man of one hundred and twenty years should have endured the punishment of the Cross bravely and unflinchingly.”

The Method Employed by the Heathen for Crucifying Christian

In the first place, the ministers of cruelty would make ready (as many passages from the Acts of the Saints above refer to, particularly concerning St. Pionius) mallet, iron nails, and a cross made of wood, which they then set on the ground, sometimes attaching ropes to it for fastening to the hands and feet of those to be crucified. Then laying the holy Martyrs —  or it may be others of their own vain religion who had been condemned for some crime —  on the wood, after stripping them of their clothes, they hung them upon it by means of four nails (this appears most probably to have been the number). This done, they raised the cross along with the victim fixed to it, and set it in a hole in the ground dug out for the purpose, and left them to the bitter agony of a lingering death — hanging there until they rotted away, as Valerius Maximus in several passages clearly implies. From this we gather that the Jews differed from the Gentiles with regard to removing the bodies of those crucified from the cross. The latter, as we have just noted, left them to hang on the gibbet until they rotted; but the Jews,  in accordance with the Law declared in Deuteronomy 21, took them down the same day and buried them in a convenient place.

As for the other sort of Cross mentioned on Seneca’s authority at the beginning of this chapter  — that is, to its  having been a sharp stake —  we have been unable to find mention of it in the Histories of the ancient Martyrs unless we choose to include under this heading the torture inflicted on certain most glorious athletes of Christ by having pointed sticks driven through their inwards. But we shall discuss this, as God wills, in the last chapter of the book. Another similar punishment is described by Theodoret (Ecclesiastical History) in the following words:

“But when he beheld him (St. Benjamin) mocking this torture, he commanded yet another reed to be pushed, this time into his genital member, which, being drawn out and pushed in again, caused him inexpressible torments. Afterward the savage tyrant ordered a stout rod, thick and extremely rough with branches that stuck out all over it, to be inserted up his rectum ...”

We also know that the Turks impaled  Hadrian of the Order of St. Dominic and twenty-six others, his companions, on stakes; and the same punishment is spoken of by Procopius in his Vandal War.

Stakes, in fact, were employed in many ways by the heathen Devil-worshippers for the tormenting of Christians. Fastening the blessed Martyrs to a stake after stripping their bodies as near naked as possible, either by means of iron nails or with ropes, they would then tear their flesh mercilessly with claws of iron or with hooks or currycombs, transfix them with arrows, beat them with cudgels, scourges, and the like, expose them to the bites of wild beasts, pull out their teeth, cut out their tongues, in the case of women amputate their bosoms, in a word, torture them in every horrible manner possible after first attaching them to stakes or poles set in the ground. This is confirmed by numerous Acts of the Holy Martyrs, such as those of Gregory Thaumaturgus, Polycarp, Gaiana, and Febronia, Virgins, and a nearly countless host of others of either sex. The same method is also mentioned by Classical authors, such as Cicero, Valerius Maximus, and Suetonius.

It should be noted here that the Martyrs who were fastened to stakes with iron nails and so tortured, were sometimes also bound with ropes, possibly for their yet greater torment.

Of Pillars and Trees Employed for the Same Purpose

Although the Worshippers of Devils most often punished those condemned to death after binding them to stakes or crosses, it is sometimes recorded that the Martyrs were tied to pillars or trees, or fastened to them with nails at the command of their tormentors, and then tortured.

Eusebius tells us of pillars used in this way, as do the Acts of different Martyrs. There is also the famous Pillar religiously preserved in the Basilica of St. Sebastian outside the Walls, which, according to ancient Christian tradition, is believed to be the very same to which this Blessed Martyr was bound and shot to death with arrows for confessing his faith in Christ. We also have record of trees used for this purpose in the Acts of many Martyrs, such as those of St. Zoe and of St. Paphnutius.

Of Different Methods of Suspending from the Cross

Having explained the use of the Cross and of Stakes used for crucifixion, let us now examine the methods of suspension that were used; that is to say, the ways the Blessed Martyrs and champions of the Holy Gospel were hung upon crosses and stakes by the Heathen. The methods of hanging in which we find them suffering at the caprice of their tormentors are both horrible and cruel. Of some we read that they were suspended by one foot only, others by both feet, or else (as Nicephorus describes in his History) by one foot drawn up to the level of the head, with a slow fire kindled underneath in such a way as to suffocate them with the smoke coming from the burning fuel. Yet others were suspended by the arms, both or only one, or else by the tips of the thumbs, while heavy weights were attached at the same time to their feet. Of others again we find it recorded that they were suspended hanging from a high wall, stones being fastened to neck and feet, or ropes bound to their bodies, their shoulders loaded with great lumps of salt, and for their greater torment wooden gags being placed in their mouths.

Others were smeared with honey and attached to upright stakes under a blazing sun to be tortured by the stings of flies and bees. Still others are said to have been suspended from iron hooks, or from a noose, until they were dead. Last of all, some were tied to pillars, their faces turned toward each other, with their feet not quite reaching the ground, or else hung up by the hair, as was often done to women contending for the Faith of Christ. The Acts of the Blessed Martyrs make frequent mention of these methods — and of the first especially in the Acts of St. Gregory, Bishop of Armenia.

Christian women, likewise, were often hung up by one foot the whole day long (as Eusebius’s, Ecclesiastical History bears witness), in such a way that not even their private parts were covered, in order to show the greatest possible scorn for Christ’s holy Religion.

The Methods, however, through which the Martyrs were tortured by suspension, were themselves many and varied. Sometimes the Martyrs were simply hung up by one foot, while at other times smoke from damp and evil-smelling fuel, such as the dung of animals, was added to increase the agony — while a dozen executioners thrashed the victim at the same time with rods. In other instances they were suspended by one foot, the leg being bent at the knee and an iron band fixed around that joint, and then an iron weight fastened to the other foot in such a way that the helpless victims were miserably strained asunder. Thus in the Acts of St. Samona we find written:

“But the Magistrate at once ordered Samona to have one leg bent at the knee and an iron band put around the joint. This done, he hung him head down by the foot of the bent leg, at the same time dragging the other downwards by means of an iron weight.”

Of Martyrs who suffered by the first of these Methods of torment, we read, among others, the names of those most noble soldiers of Christ mentioned above: St. Gregory of Armenia and St. Samona.

As to the second method — in which the victims were hung up by both feet —  we have ample testimony in the  Acts of the Saints; for example, those of St. Venantius, of the holy Virgins Euphemia and her sisters, of Bishop Acepsima and his companions, as well as the Cappadocian Martyrs, a great host commemorated in the Roman Martyrology, on May 23rd, where it is written:

“In Cappadocia, commemoration of the Blessed Martyrs who in the persecution of Maximianus were slain and their limbs broken; likewise of those who at the same date in Mesopotamia [the geographic area north of the Persian Gulf, including present-day Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey] were hung aloft by the feet head down, suffocated with smoke, and consumed over a slow fire, and so fulfilled their Martyrdom.”

Actually it was not in one way only, but in many and various, that the Martyrs were suspended by these Servants of the Devil (as we gather from the Acts quoted above) and tormented. For sometimes they were suffocated with smoke; sometimes their heads pounded with hammers by their executioners; sometimes great stones fastened round their necks; and sometimes they were cruelly burned with blazing torches.

In the first of these ways many Christians are known to have suffered in the region of Mesopotamia; in the second, Euphemia, Thecla, Erasma, and Dorothea, most noble Virgins and Martyrs of Christ; in the third, Saints Theopompus, Mercurius and the already mentioned Venantius.

Of the Third Method of Suspending, that is, Martyrs Hung up by One Arm

This third Method of suspending, that is to say, hanging up by one arm, is often mentioned in the Acts of the Blessed Martyrs, among which are St. Samona just cited, and St. Antonia, that most noble-hearted martyr, of whom it is recorded on May 4th in the Roman Martyrology:

“At Nicomedia, the anniversary of St. Antonia, Martyr, who, after being savagely racked and tortured, was suspended three days by one arm, kept imprisoned two years in a dungeon, and was finally burned at the stake by the Governor Priscillianus, confessing the Lord Jesus.”

It should also be noted that sometimes the executioners of Martyrs suspended in this way fastened stones of great weight to their feet, so that all the joints of their bodies might be drawn asunder. We find clear testimony to this in the Histories of various Saints, especially that of St. Samona of whom we spoke earlier.

Of Weights by which the Martyrs of Our Lord Jesus were Tortured

We read again and again in the Histories of the Martyrs how, after being suspended aloft, they were, among other torments, loaded with weights, sometimes lead or iron (which we will describe elsewhere), others again of stone. Of the latter we have evidence preserved to this day in Rome in the Churches of the Holy Apostles, as also in those of St. Apollinaris and St. Anastasius not far from the City. They were stones of great weight, black in color, round or oval in shape, having an iron ring imbedded in the stone through which a rope for binding and hanging could be passed and so attached to the feet or hands of those suspended.

Certain authorities have erroneously maintained that these stone balls, called by Josephus in his Maccabees “Orbicularia”, or Round Stones, were not designed specially for purposes of inflicting torture, but for weighing. This is not so. Stones of this latter kind always had (as Isidore and Alciatus, On Weights, state) the figure of the weight inscribed on them, while those used to torture the Martyrs did not.

These weights were also entirely different from those to which debtors were condemned in Law XII of the “Twelve Tables,” for these were nothing more than fetters. Of them Aulus Gellius says, “Bind him either with a thong, or else with fetters of not less than fifteen pounds weight; or if a greater weight is desired, with heavier still.”

Of the Fourth Method of Suspending, that is, Hanging by Both Arms

This fourth method of suspending is mentioned in the Acts of Saints Procopius, Andochius, Thyrsus and Felix, and their companions.

Much as we had seen above, it was occasionally the custom of the Heathen to either attach heavy weights to the feet of those suffering this method of hanging, or else, after twisting their arms behind their backs, to haul the weights aloft and then release them. Thus in the Roman Martyrology, on September 24th, we read of those blessed Confessors of Christ, St. Andochius and his Companions:

“At Augustodunun (Autun), the anniversary of the Holy Martyrs Andochius, Priest, Thyrsus, Deacon, and Felix, who being sent by the Blessed Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, from the East to teach Gaul Christianity, were there cruelly scourged, and suspended all day with hands tied behind their backs and thrown into the fire, but not consumed. Finally their necks were struck with heavy bars, and they thus won the crown of martyrdom.”

Of the Fifth Method of Suspending: Hanging up by the Thumbs

This fifth method is described in the Acts of Saints Jacob and Marianus, in which the following narrative is written concerning Marianus, servant of Christ:

“Marianus was condemned to torture because he confessed himself a reader only, as indeed he was. And what torments were these, how new and strange, how imbued with the poisoned ingenuity of the Devil, how cunningly contrived to break the spirit! Marianus was hung up to be tortured; and what grace the Martyr showed even in the midst of his sufferings, the very torment and punishment merely serving to increase his courage! Now the cord which kept him suspended was attached not to his hands but to the tips of his thumbs, in such a way that the slenderness of those parts added to the agony endured in supporting the weight of the rest of the body. Moreover, unconscionably great weights were further attached to his feet, so that the whole framework of his body should hang suspended, torn asunder by pain and agonizing internal convulsions.”

Of the Sixth Method of Suspending: Hanging up with Weights Fastened Around the Neck and to the Feet

The History of the most Blessed Martyr St. Severianus details this method:

“The Prefect, taking Severianus’ silence for contempt, as indeed it was, devised a yet more terrible punishment for him; and after removing him from the rack, had him taken to a wall. Then after attaching two enormous and very heavy stones, one to his neck, the other to his feet, and tying a rope round the Martyr’s middle, he left him hanging in the air from the wall, so that his members, being dragged apart by the weights, may be separated in this violent fashion.”

Of the Seventh: When the Sufferers ’Bodies are Suspended by Ropes, their Shoulders at the same Time being Loaded with Heavy Lumps of Salt and the like

This seventh kind is mentioned in the Acts of St. Gregory of Armenia, where we read:

“When St. Gregory had ended discoursing at length on these matters, Tyridates was filled with anger above all measure, and was furiously stirred up against him. As a result, the most noble hero was immediately bound. After inserting a wooden gag into his mouth, parting the upper and lower jaws as widely as possible, they loaded his shoulders with lumps of salt, that is dug up in Armenia. Then binding his holy body with ropes, they suspended the Saint aloft, prolonging this bitter torment for seven entire days.”

Of the Eighth Method: Suspending Victims from Upright Stakes after Smearing them with Honey so that they should be Tortured by the Bites of Flies and Bees

This form of torture is spoke of in the Histories of St. Maurice and his companions, and of St. Mark of Arethusa.

Three Methods are recorded in the Histories of the Martyrs in which Christians were exposed to the rays of the sun with this end in view. Sometimes they were merely bound to stakes, as was done with St. Maurice and his companions; sometimes they were raised aloft in baskets made of rushes as we find in the account of St. Mark of Arethusa mentioned above; and sometimes (as St. Jerome records in the History of Paul, the first Eremite), they were laid on the ground with hands tied behind their backs.

Coelius Rhodiginus states that there existed in antiquity a form of punishment known as “Cyphonismus” so named from the word Cyphon, “from which also Cyphon is so called in Aristophanes’ play of Plutus,” writes Rhodiginus:

 “because it was a sort of fetter of wood or, as in the present day, of iron, commonly called a pillory, to which the prisoner was ignominiously fastened and detained, smeared with honey and exposed to the bites of the flies.“ Hence it came about, adds the same author, “that this title of ’Cyphon’ was given to scamps, and the punishment was called ’Cyphonismus.’ Then adding a little later: “I note among certain people a regulation to the following effect — that any man who insolently demonstrates contempt for the decrees of the law, shall be kept in fetters at the public place of execution for twenty days, naked and smeared over with honey and milk, to be food for bees and flies; and when these have done their work, he shall be dressed in women’s clothes and cast headlong down a cliff.”

The Persians employed a similar Method of punishment for criminals condemned to death which they themselves called Scaphismus. Plutarch in his Artaxerxes speaks of it in these terms:

“Accordingly he ordered Mithridates to be put to death by the punishment of the boats (scaphae) The nature of this form of death and punishment is as follows: Two boats are built of the same size and shape. In the one they lay the man destined for the torture, and putting the other boat on top of him, joined the two together in such a way that the man’s hands and feet were left outside, while the remainder of his body (except the head) was imprisoned. They supplied the man with food, and by prodding his eyes with sharp points forced him to eat, even against his will. But on his eating, they poured a mixture of milk and honey into his mouth, and smeared his face with it. Turning the boat, they so arranged it that his eyes always faced the sun, his head and face being covered every day with a host of flies that settled upon him.

Moreover, being compelled to defecate and urinate inside the closed boats, the resulting corruption and putrefaction give birth to swarms of worms of many sorts which penetrate his clothes, and eat away his flesh. Indeed, after the man is dead, and the upper boat is removed, his body is seen to be gnawed away, and all about his viscera is found a multitude of these and similar insects, that grows denser every day. Subjected to this form of torture, Mithridates actually endured the agonizing existence to the seventeenth day, before finally dying.”

Plutarch’s account differs little from that given by [the Byzantine historian] Zonaras who, in his Annals, states that:

“The Persians outdo all other Barbarians in the horrid cruelty of their punishments, employing tortures that are peculiarly terrible and long-drawn, namely the ’boats’ and sewing men up in raw hides.

But what is meant by the ’boats’ I must now explain. To wit, two boats are joined together, one on top of the other, with holes cut in them in such a way that the victim’s head, hands, and feet only are left outside. Within these boats the man to be punished is placed lying on his back, and the boats are then bolted together. Next they pour a mixture of milk and honey into the unfortunate man’s mouth until he is filled to the point of nausea, smearing his face, feet, and arms with the same mixture, and then leave him exposed to the sun. This is repeated every day to the effect that the flies, wasps, and bees, attracted by the sweetness, settle on his face and all the parts of his body that project outside the boats, miserably tormenting and stinging the wretched man.

Moreover his stomach, distended as it is with milk and honey, throws off liquid excrements, and these, putrefying, breed swarms of worms, intestinal and of other sorts. Thus the victim lying in the boats, his flesh rotting away in his own filth and being devoured by worms, dies a lingering and horrible death. By this punishment Parysatis, mother of Artaxerxes and Cyrus is said to have executed the man who boasted of having slain Cyrus when contending with his brother for the Kingship; he endured the torment fourteen days before he died. Such, then, is the nature of “Scaphismus, or the boat-torture.“

Something similar awaited those who were sewn up in an ox-hide. In this case the head alone was left outside, while the rest of the body was stripped naked and sewn up inside the hide. So we read in the Acts of St. Chrysanthus:

“Carrying him from that place, they proceeded to flay a calf, and to wrap him up naked in the fresh hide, placing him so as to face the sun; nevertheless, despite being exposed all day long to the excessive heat of a blazing sun, he felt no excessive warmth and remained unaffected in any way, for the hide could in no way hurt God’s servant. So afterward they laid on him fetters and the like.“

From this it is plainly evident how this punishment of the raw hide was distinct from that just described under the name “Scaphismus“.

Similar forms of torture may be found abundantly described in Lucian’s Dialogue [actually Apuleius’s Asinus Aureus, or the ’Golden Ass’], Lucius or the Ass, in which the following story is related:

“We must discover,“ he then said, “some sort of death through which this maiden may endure long-drawn and bitter torment ... So let us kill this ass, and afterwards cut open its stomach and after removing the inwards, shut up the girl inside in such a way that only her head would be left outside (this, of course, to prevent her being suffocated altogether), while the rest of her body is hidden within the carcass. Then, when this has been sewn up, let us expose them both to the vultures — a strange meal prepared in a new and strange fashion. Now just consider the nature of this torture, I beg you. To begin with, a living woman will be shut up inside a dead ass; then by reason of the heat of the sun will she be roasted within its stomach; further, she will be tormented with mortal hunger, yet entirely unable to destroy herself. The other gruesome aspects of her agony, both from the stench of the dead body as it rots, and the swarm of writhing worms, I say nothing of. Lastly, the vultures that feed on the carcass will rend in pieces the living woman at the same time. All shouted assent to this monstrous proposal, and unanimously approved its being put in execution.”

To the same effect Apuleius in his Golden Ass, writes:

“Let us decide to cut this ass’s throat tomorrow, and when it has been cleared of all the entrails, sew the virgin naked into the middle of its stomach so that only the girl’s face projects while all the rest of her remains imprisoned within the animal, and this done, let us expose the ass with its contents on some craggy height to the exhalations of the blazing sun.“

Of the Ninth and Tenth Methods of Hanging:  Suspending from a Hook and Putting to Death with a Noose 

These two Methods of Martyrdom are amply attested to in various Acts of the Blessed Martyrs — in the first instance especially by those of St. Nicetus, as also of Saints Gorgonius and Dorotheus, whose deaths are likewise recorded by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History.

Of the Eleventh Method: Binding Victims to Pillars with Feet not Touching the Ground

This method is spoken of by Bishop Philreas, and quoted by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History as follows:

“Others again were bound facing each other, suspended from pillars with their feet not reaching the ground, in such a way that the greater the strain put upon the ropes and the tighter these were drawn, the more cruelly did the victims feel the agony caused by the dragging weight of their own bodies. Nor was it for a short while only — that is to say, just while the Magistrate was putting them to cross-examination, and was at liberty to question them — but throughout the entire day that they endured this kind of torment. Moreover when, as he went on from them to others, he left subordinate officers to carefully watch the first group in the event that any of them should appear in imminent danger of dying from the torture, giving orders that they be racked by means of the ropes without an instant’s respite, and finally, when at the point of dying, that they be let down again to the ground and dragged unmercifully to and fro.“

The same writer earlier states that:

“Others were suspended from the portico or arch, attached by one arm, and endured the stretching and straining of all their limbs and joints — a bitter torment surpassing almost every other in severity. Others again were bound to pillars, their faces turned inward toward one another, with nothing for their feet to rest upon.”

The Martyrs were lashed to the pillars in the following way:  fastened to the upper portions of these pillars were either iron rings or, more likely still, various pulleys, over which ropes were led. By means of these ropes the Blessed Martyrs were then, with arms tied behind their backs and faces turned toward the pillars, all day long first hoisted up by the tormentors, and afterward let down again with a rush, but in such a way that they never quite touched the ground in order that they might suffer the more agonizing pain. Finally, when they were at the point of dying, the executioners, at a sign from the Judge, would lower them to the earth and cruelly drag them around.

Of the Last Method: Hanging Christian Women by their Hair

Evidence of this manner of torture is found in many Histories of the Holy Martyrs; we encounter it  in the account of the passion of St. Eulampia, St. Juliana, virgin and martyr, as well as Saints Theonilla, Euphemia, and lastly, St. Symphorosa.

So much for the various methods of suspension used by the Heathen against Christian men and women. If the reader wishes to learn more about this, he should consult the various authorities and the Acts of the Blessed Martyrs already cited. Yet before leaving the subject altogether we will quote one other passage, from St. Gregory Nazianzen, in which he writes, speaking of St. Mark of Arethusa:

“From one crowd of lads to the other he was tossed to and fro, swinging as it were suspended, the boys alternately catching that gallant body on their penknives, and in this tragic way doing the holy man to death, as it had been some sort of game ...” that is to say, the martyr in question was thrown backward and forward between two sets of schoolboys.

Many other instances of the same or similar Methods of martyrdom could be provided, but which we must omit for the sake of brevity.


Illustrations for Chapter I:

Christian Martyrs crucified and suspended by their feet

Martyr suspended by both feet and a great stone fastened to his neck

Christian Martyrs bound to and dragged behind running horses

Christian Martyrs suspended and being hammered by torturers

Christian Martyrs suspended by hands bound behind back and by a hook

click to enlarge


Chapters:  1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12

Redaction with annotation by:

Geoffrey K. Mondello
Boston Catholic Journal

2012  + Feast of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order

Copyright © 2004-2023 Boston Catholic Journal. All rights reserved for this revised edition by Geoffrey K. Mondello.  Contact the Boston Catholic Journal for permission to reprint, in any format, or upon any media, digital or otherwise, any part of this book revised by the Boston Catholic Journal , the original of which is in public domain.


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