Saturday, February 20, 2010

Blandina: A Martyred Saint of the Second Century

I read the account of the martyrdom of Blandina recently and realized that I had heard the name since I was a child but never knew who she was. The reason I am familiar with the name is because my mother grew up in a house on Blandina Street in Utica, New York and I had heard the street name mentioned many times when I was a child and also later on whenever my Mom or someone else mentioned it in reminiscing. I guess the street was named after the memory of the martyr, since there were and are many Italian Catholics in Utica who would be familiar with the famous saints.
Stories like these are encouraging, though they are hard to read, because they show us how Christ helps His saints to conquer death as He did Himself, if they 'put on Christ' and wholly trust in Him and not on their own strength. In our mostly pampered society here in the United States, we need to remember this and remember the saints of old times who suffered so much. We need to remember those who suffer similar things even now all over the world, and pray for them as we would hope the saints will pray for us when our time comes.
I read one account and then did a search and found others. Following is an excerpt from the first account and a link for another.
A terrible persecution broke out against Christians in Gaul under the reign of Marcus Aurelius (AD 138-161). Eusebius Book V, ch. 1 gives a full account of the martyr Blandina from accounts written by Christians at Lyons and Vienna to the saints in Asia and Phrygia. "Blandina, also, in whom Christ made manifest that the things that appear mean and deformed and contemptible among men are esteemed of great glory with God on account of love for him, which is really and powerfully displayed, and glories not in mere appearance. For while we were all trembling, and her earthly mistress, who was herself one of the contending martyrs, was apprehensive lest through the weakness of the flesh she should not be able to profess her faith with sufficient freedom, Blandina was filled with such power that her ingenious tormentors who relieved and succeeded each other from morning till night, confessed that they were overcome and had nothing more that they could inflict upon her. Only amazed that she still continued to breathe after her whole body was torn asunder and pierced, they gave their testimony that one single kind of the torture inflicted was of itself sufficient to destroy life, without resorting to so many and such excruciating sufferings as these. But this blessed saint, as a noble wrestler, in the midst of her confession itself renewed her strength, and to repeat, 'I am a Christian, no wickedness is carried on by us,' was to her rest, refreshment and relief from pain. . ."

When led into the amphitheater to die, "Blandina was bound and suspended on a stake, and thus exposed as food to the assaults of wild beasts, and as she thus appeared to hang after the manner of the cross, by her earnest prayers she infused much alacrity into the contending martyrs. For as they saw her in the contest, with the external eyes, through their sister, they contemplated Him that was crucified for them, to persuade those that believe in him, that every one who suffers for Christ will forever enjoy communion with the living God. But as none of the beasts then touched her, she was taken down from the stake, and remanded back again to prison to be reserved for another contest, so that by gaining the victory in many conflicts, she might render the condemnation of the wily serpent, irrefragable, and though small and weak and contemptible, but yet clothed with the mighty and invincible wrestler Christ Jesus, might also encourage her brethren. Thus she overcame the enemy in many trials, and in the conflict received the crown of immortality."

The Christians were tortured and martyred for several more days, "After all these, on the last day of the shows of gladiators, Blandina was again brought forth together with Ponticus, a youth about fifteen years old. These were brought in every day to see the tortures of the rest. Force was also used to make them swear by their idols and when they continued firm and denied their pretended divinity, the multitude became outrageous at them, so that they neither compassionated the youth of the boy nor regarded the sex of the woman. Hence, they subjected them to every horrible suffering and led them through the whole round of torture, ever and anon striving to force them to swear, but were unable to effect it. Ponticus, indeed, encouraged by his sister, so that the heathen could see that she was encouraging and confirming him, nobly bore the whole of these sufferings and gave up his life.

"But the blessed Blandina, last of all, as a noble mother that had animated her children and sent them as victors to the great King, herself retracing the ground of all the conflicts her children had endured, hastened at last, with joy and exultation at the issue, to them, as if she were invited to a marriage feast and not to be cast to wild beasts. And thus, after scourging, after exposure to the beasts, after roasting, she was finally thrown into a net and cast before a bull, and when she had been well tossed by the animal, and had no longer any sense of what was done to her by reason of her firm hope, confidence, faith and her communion with Christ, she too was dispatched. Even the Gentiles confessed that no woman among them had ever endured sufferings as many and great as these."

From this account, we see that the woman Blandina was recognized by this group of Christians as their greatest martyr. She not only endured more than all the others, but she continually encouraged and prayed for them. As a spiritual mother, she strengthened them to remain steadfast for Christ by her exhortations and example. Blandina's example was a witness to the persecutors and the crowd of her leadership and faith in Christ.

Here is a link for another account of Blandina from a website that also has accounts of other famous historical women.
UPDATE: There is also an account of Blandina in Foxe's Book of Martyrs under the section titled 'The Fourth Persecution, Under Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, A.D. 162'.

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