It was the year 177 AD in the town of Lyons, France (then called Gaul). The Roman Emperor was Marcus Aurelius. Christianity had arrived in Lyons 25 years earlier through the missionary Pothinus, who became the First Bishop of Lyons. As the church grew, however, so too did persecution.
It began with Christians being beaten, forced out of business and discriminated against in other ways. Next, false accusations of cannibalism and incest were brought against the Christians by non-Christian slaves in exchange for their freedom. Christians were arrested, tortured and ordered to deny their faith in Christ.
The Roman authorities ordered that those Christians holding Roman citizenship and refusing to deny Christ should be beheaded, but for those who did not hold Roman citizenship, such as slaves, no prolonged torment was considered too cruel. A day was appointed when these Christians would provide a spectacle for the general population by facing wild and hungry beasts in the town’s arena.
Blandina, a Christian slave girl of a Christian family, was one who was arrested in the expectation that under torture she would provide accusations of illegal practices against her master and mistress. Slight in stature, it was thought she would very quickly make such confessions in exchange for her freedom. On the first day of her torture Blandina was subjected again and again to the rack, but the only confession she would make was:
“I am a Christian, nothing wicked is done among us.”
Enraged that this insignificant and seemingly weak woman could cause them such frustration, the authorities subjected her to even more horrendous tortures but still she would only repeat “I am a Christian, nothing wicked is done among us.” During this time those in the church of Lyons who had not been arrested prayed fervently for Blandina and the other Christians, that they would stay strong and faithful to Christ.
Eventually the torturers gave up and reported that they could extract no false confession from her. It was then decided to bring Blandina to the arena to witness her fellow Christians, male and female, being torn apart by beasts. It was expected that under such duress she would soon renounce her faith and make false accusations against others.
Wrong again! Rather than weakening at the brutality she was forced to watch, Blandina strengthened her fellow Christians, calling out encouragement to them to stand fast in the faith and forgive their tormenters. Realising her presence among the Christian martyrs was only helping them, the guards pulled her away from the arena and began to prepare her for her own death.
Blandina was first tied to a stake, her body cruelly contorted, and placed before the lions and other beasts in the arena to be torn apart. However, as she quietly prayed for her tormenters, the animals refused to go near her.
Furthermore, the other Christians were greatly strengthened by the sight of her as to them she appeared to be hanging on a cross, reminding them of Christ, the one for whom they were about to die.
Blandina was then forced to watch as a fifteen year old Christian youth, Ponticus, was brought out before the beasts. She fearlessly called out her encouragement to him strengthening him to trust Christ as he died. Next, Blandina was entangled in a net and thrown before an enraged bull, which furiously and repeatedly gored and tossed her. Amazed at the courage of this woman, the crowd called for her torment to end and Blandina was finally put to death by the sword.
There were 48 martyrs among the Christian victims at Lyons, including the 92 year old Bishop Pothinus. It was Blandina, the slave girl, whose amazing courage and faithfulness strengthened the other martyrs as they endured torture and violent death. Her remarkable story was preserved for us by the early church leader Eusebius in his book Historica Ecclesiastica.
It can be difficult for us in this present age to imagine such horrific events as Blandina and the other martyrs of Lyons endured in those early days of Christianity.
With Christian persecution on the rise worldwide once again her story is a reminder of Jesus timeless warning in John 15:18: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”
May the true story of Blandina, the slave girl of Lyons, continue to encourage us in the knowledge that the grace of Jesus Christ is sufficient for every situation we may face because we bear His Name.
Christian History Institute: http://www.captivefaith.org/earlychurch/blandina.php
Telling the Stories That Matter: http://www.ttstm.com/2013/06/june-2-blandina-of-lyon-martyr-slave.html