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5 Heroic and Gruesome Deaths of Religious Saints

From bronze bulls to severed heads, according to Catholic tradition these religious saints courageously faced gory deaths.

The word “saint” is derived from a Greek verb meaning “to set apart,” “sanctify,” or “make holy.” Catholicism has a long history of using the term to refer to extremely holy men and women who possess a unique and rare, unwavering faith. Because these people have demonstrated a willingness to endure persecution, often suffering horrific physical torture for their beliefs, Christians around the globe regularly honor (and even worship) these unique individuals. The list below contains a few heroic Religious Saints who suffered particularly gory fates.

1. St. Denis of Paris (Beheaded)

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A statue of the walking headless Denis, in the crypt of the Roman Catholic Basilica of Denis in Paris.

Born in Italy, St. Denis was distinguished for his enduring faith and virtuous life. After building a church in the Seine, Denis preached the Gospel and was responsible for countless conversions, which quickly angered many, particularly Governor Fescenninus Sisinnius. Soon after, Denis and his two companions were seized, imprisoned, racked, and burned at the stake before being beheaded. Legend has it, after being beheaded Denis picked up his own severed head and walked approximately two Gallic miles (the modern-day equivalent of approximately six miles), preaching the entire time through the mouth of the severed head he was carrying. When he reached a proper burial spot, he reportedly dropped dead. For this reason, in sculptures, paintings and pictures, he is typically represented with his head in his hands.

2. St. Cassian (Hacked to Death by Children)

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Formerly the bishop of Brescia, Cassian was a teacher of Pagan pupils in Imola, Italy, in the fourth century during a period of Christian persecution in the Roman Empire. In addition to introducing his students to Christianity, he also taught them a form of shorthand that helped students write as fast as they spoke. At some point, a city official discovered that Cassian was a Christian and reported him to government authorities. When he refused to worship pagan gods, he was interrogated by Emperor Julian the Apostate. When he again refused to sacrifice to the gods, the judge sentenced him to death. His death was particularly gruesome because it was inflicted upon him by his students, who used their pointed iron styli (devices used to mark wooden or wax writing tablets) as weapons of execution. He was stripped and bound, and many of the students reportedly cut his flesh and stabbed his bowels, while others tore off his skin. Due to the manner in which he died, you might be surprised to learn that St. Cassian of Imola is the patron saint of court reporters, stenographers, students, school teachers and shorthand writers.

3. St. Lucy (Eyes Gouged Out)

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Saint Lucy, by Francesco del Cossa

Born in Syracuse, Sicily, into a rich and noble Roman family, Lucy privately decided as a young teenager to consecrate her virginity to God and devote her worldly goods to the service of the poor. Unaware of Lucy’s commitment to Christianity, her mother Eutychia privately arranged Lucy’s marriage to a young man of a wealthy pagan family. Meanwhile, as a result of Lucy’s charitable works, not to mention her sparkling blue eyes, Lucy quickly became known in Syracuse as a faithful and devout Christian. By 304 AD, however, a vicious wave of religious persecution arrived in Sicily, courtesy of Roman Governor Pascasio. Desperate to assist her fellow Christians, Lucy soon began aiding Catholics who were hiding from potential religious persecution in the dark catacombs beneath the city. She reportedly wore a wreath of candles on her head to light her way through the catacombs as she carried food and water in her arms. As rumors of Lucy’s heroic deeds spread across Syracuse, the pagan man to whom Lucy was betrothed became irate and, in his anger, denounced Lucy to Pascasio as a Christian. Lucy was soon hauled before the governor, who forced her to renounce her faith and worship the pagan gods. Though initially Lucy was condemned to suffer the shame of prostitution, when the soldiers arrived to escort her to a local brothel, they were unable to move her. When a team of oxen failed to make her budge, the governor, infuriated by Lucy’s defiance, ordered her to be burned alive unless she would deny Jesus and worship the pagan gods. Lucy refused, and though bundles of twigs were placed around her, soldiers were mysteriously unable the ignite them. When Pascasio ordered the wood be soaked with oil, and when the oil didn’t ignite, he ordered the soldiers to gouge out Lucy’s eyes and stab her in the neck. Interestingly, numerous legends suggest that God restored Lucy’s eyes after they were gouged out. Because of this, she eventually became the patron saint for the blind, as well as people afflicted with eye disorders.

4. St. Mercurius (Tortured with Sharp Nails and Burned before Being Beheaded)

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Saint Mercurius by Yuhanna al-Armani

Born around 225 AD in Cappadocia (now Kayseri in Turkey), Mercurius was a Roman soldier who served under Decius. Though he was born to pagan parents, he considered himself a Christian. While fighting for Rome against invading barbarians, the Archangel Michael appeared to Mercurius and gave him a bright sword, assuring him that the sword would bring victory. Victory did come, and aside from being given the title Supreme Commander of all the Roman Armies, Mercurius was also invited to the palace to offer up incense to the gods. When Mercurius refused to worship the gods, however, Decius commanded that he be sent to jail, where he was forced to endure various forms of torture, including being stabbed with sharp nails and burned. Though Mercurius’ wounds miraculously healed, Decius denounced the miracle as witchcraft and ordered his beheading. During his life Mercurius experienced numerous visions, and after his death, he reportedly appeared to a man and specified the place of his burial.

5. St. Antipas (Baked in a Bronze Bull)

religious saints

A disciple of the holy Apostle John the Theologian, Antipas was bishop of the Church of Pergamum during the reign of Emperor Nero. Because of his unwavering faith and devout lifestyle, he gradually began converting the people of Pergamum to Christianity. Concerned and angered that Antipas was leading people away from their ancestral beliefs, the pagan priests demanded he stop preaching about Christ and offer sacrifices to the idols instead. When Antipas refused, the enraged pagan priests dragged Antipas to the temple of Artemis and placed him in a large, hollow bronze statue of a bull set over a fire and roasted him alive (a method of torture devised in ancient Sicily whereby a system of tubes and pipes converts the horrifying sound of the person’s screams into the bellows of a bull). Later that evening, Christians took the body of Antipas, which was reportedly untouched by the fire, and buried him at Pergamum. Over the years, his tomb has allegedly been the site of numerous miracles. end

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