Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome

By Donald G. Kyle | Go to book overview
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For it seems to me God has made us apostles the last act in the show, like men condemned to death in the arena, a spectacle to the whole universe-to angels as well as men.

(1 Corinthians 4.9, Oxford Study Bible)

At the village of St Ignace, Simcoe County, Ontario, Canada, in 1649 Jesuit Fathers Jean de Brébeuf and Jerome Lalement, missionaries to the Hurons, were captured and tortured to death by an Iroquois raiding party. First the Iroquois stripped both priests naked and bound each to a post. They tore out their fingernails, and beat them with sticks all over their bodies. Brébeuf inspired his fellow captives (Hurons) by saying that God was watching and would reward them with glory. In an unusual addition to the torments, a Huron rebel who had been baptized by Brébeuf but had now joined the Iroquois mocked and abused the priest by pouring a vessel of boiling water on his head three times, saying 'Go to Heaven, for thou art well baptized.' Brébeuf next had to bear a collar of red-hot hatchet heads bound together about his neck, a torment used on other prisoners. Then the Iroquois put a belt of bark, resin, and pitch on him and set fire to it. Brébeuf astonished the Iroquois by standing firm, apparently insensitive to the fire, preaching and trying to convert his tormentors, which enraged them so that they cut out his tongue and cut off his lips. Next they stripped flesh from his legs, thighs, and arms, and put it on to roast before him in order to eat it. They mocked him verbally, saying that he should be grateful to them for the glory that he would gain from God for their efforts. Brébeuf was then scalped alive, and as he was about to die one Iroquois cut out his heart, roasted it, and ate it. Other Iroquois drank of his blood saying that they wanted to acquire his bravery. 1 Filtered through a common cultural heritage, such accounts of the martyrdom of missionaries by 'savages' are strikingly reminiscent of descriptions of Amerindian ritual violence (see ch. 4 above), and many of the motifs are first found in Christian accounts of martyrdoms under Rome.


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Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome


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