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Pope Francis to canonise 800 Italians slain during historic siege

By on Tuesday, 30 April 2013

People view relics of the martyrs in the Cathedral of Otranto (Photo: CNS)

People view relics of the martyrs in the Cathedral of Otranto (Photo: CNS)

Pope Francis is preparing to canonise an estimated 800 Italian laymen killed by Ottoman soldiers in the 15th century. The canonisation service will be on May 12 in St Peter’s Square and it will be the first carried out by the Pontiff since he was elected in early March.

The killing of the martyrs by Ottoman troops, who launched a weeks-long siege of Otranto, a small port town at the most eastern tip of southern Italy, took place in 1480.

When Otranto residents refused to surrender to the Ottoman army, the soldiers were ordered to massacre all males over the age of 15. Many were ordered to convert to Islam or die, but Blessed Antonio Primaldo, a tailor, spoke on the prisoners’ behalf. “We believe in Jesus Christ, Son of God, and for Jesus Christ we are ready to die,” he said, according to Blessed John Paul II, who visited Otranto in 1980 for the 500th anniversary of the martyrs’ deaths.

Primaldo inspired all the other townspeople to take courage, the late Pope said, and to say: “We will all die for Jesus Christ; we willingly die so as to not renounce his holy faith.” There were not “deluded” or “outdated,” Blessed John Paul continued, but “authentic, strong, decisive, consistent men” who loved their city, their families and their faith.

The skulls and other relics of the martyrs currently adorn the walls around the altar of Otranto Cathedral as a memorial to their sacrifice. According to the archdiocese’s website, popular tradition holds that when the soldiers beheaded Primaldo, his body remained standing even as the combatants tried to push him over. Legend has it that the decapitated man stood until the very last prisoner was killed, at which point Primaldo’s body collapsed next to his dead comrades.

In 1771, the Church recognised the validity of the local veneration of Primaldo and his companions and allowed them to be called Blessed. In 2007, retired Pope Benedict XVI formally recognised their martyrdom and, in 2012, he recognised a miracle attributed to their intercession. Martyrs do not need a miracle attributed to their intercession in order to be beatified. However, miracles must be recognised by the Vatican in order for them to become saints.

The miracle involved the late-Poor Clare Sister Francesca Levote. She was suffering from a serious form of cancer but was healed after a pilgrimage to pray before the martyrs’ relics in Otranto in 1980, a few months before Pope John Paul’s visit in October. She died in February 2012 at the age of 85.

In a letter published in December 2012, Archbishop Donato Negro of Otranto said that the martydom of the townnsfolk must represent a “purification of the memory of the Catholic Church and a rooting out of every possible lingering resentment, rancor, resentful policies, every eventual temptation toward hatred and violence, and every presumptuous attitude of religious superiority, religious arrogance, moral and cultural pride.”

Remembering Christian martyrs is an occasion to examine one’s own life and make sure it corresponds with the Gospel call to love and forgive, he added.

  • Ostrorog

    And unfortunately at the same date, Christians (Spanish Portuguese) also regularly enslaved Africans and (just a little later) Aztecs and Incas. They did it with the approval of the church. Would you prefer to have been a citizen of Otranto in 1480 or of Peru in the 1530s?

  • Ostrorog

    To the voters down:

    You reject the message of the Early Christians to meekness and persuasion not force? And you believe in denouncing our Catholic bishops as ‘fools’ and ‘morons’?

    What a wonderful brand of Catholicism we have here.

  • Matthew Holder

    To have seriously compared the Holy Scriptures with Nigella Lawson’s cookery books, in order to further one’s argument that Catholics should not be sceptical about the myth of evolution, is exquisitely Pooteresque.

  • Ozgur Erhan

    Yes or rather devşirme — and of course the people you call ‘Islamic terrorists’ at Otranto were all janissaries.

  • Old Badger

    Sorry mate that’s low grad verbiage. Catholics don’t regard science as God and for that matter neither do scientists, not even Prof Dawkins.

  • Jeffrey van Zuiden

    A beautiful expression of the Love for Christ. This example alone, should inspire every Catholic to begin living their’ faith, and spreading the Gospel of Christ.

  • PaulF

    Emmet, the canonization of martyrs honours God in the first place, because martyrdom is not possible without the grace of Christ.
    To talk of martyrdom in antichristian causes is the height of confusion. The energy is coming from a different source altogether.

  • Jonathan West

    You have not the faintest idea what you are talking about. If you did know what you were talking about, you would not make the absolutely fundamental error of getting evolution mixed up with abiogenesis.

    This is certainly not an error you would have made if you were telling the truth about the extent of your scientific studies.

    Does God really require that you lie on his behalf?

  • Ostrorog

    Obviously as a Catholic, I reject the teaching of Islam and hold to that of the Church. What makes you think otherwise? I am not sure however whether it is useful to throw around terms like Antichrist. Or to advocate ideas like ‘the best means of defence is attack’, citing the Crusades as a successful precedent.

  • Ostrorog

    I wonder if the ‘spitballig’ and ‘way to go’ types below who advocate ‘holy anger’, denounce archbishops as ‘fools’ and ‘morons’, and implicitly press for a pre-emptive new crusade based on ancient resentments and a very defective knowledge of history, might consider the following words from the First Letter of St. John, chapter 2, in this morning’s Divine Office?

    The man who claims to be in light,
    hating his brother all the while,
    is in darkness even now.
    The man who continues in the light
    is the one who loves his brother;
    there is nothing in him to cause a fall.
    But the man who hates his brother is in darkness
    He walks in shadows,
    not knowing where he is going,
    since the dark has blinded his eyes.

  • PaulF

    I agree with you that we should avoid being unduly provocative in dealing with those who reject the faith. It is my practice so far as I can do it not even to mention the names of other religions, because Scripture tells us not to mention the names of other gods (Exodus 23:13 and Joshua 23:7).
    The idea that the religions that reject the truth about Jesus are worshiping the same God that we do is sadly all too common in our church at all levels. However, it is in sharp conflict with what the word of God teaches. ‘Jesus’ = ‘Yeshua’ in Hebrew = ‘Yahweh shua’ = ‘Yahweh saves.’ Thus Jesus is Yahweh of Israel come in the flesh. It is no longer possible to approach God except by him.
    Sorry you dislike the term ‘Antichrist.’ It is mentioned frequently in the NT. Its meaning is particularly clear in the writings of the apostle John. See, eg 1 John 2:23,24. My understanding is that in the present age there is a struggle going on between two kingdoms, one ruled over by Satan or Antichrist, the other ruled over by Jesus. To fudge the distinction between the two is to run counter to core NT teaching.

  • Omar

    Let’s not forget about the thousands of Muslims and Jews that were murdered when the Crusaders took over the Holy Land.

  • Matthew Holder

    Aside from Catholics and Prof Dawkins, how about someone like Aldous Huxley? Was he not very critical of the modern worship of the false god of science?

  • lydig

    Would take too much time to argue in full here, for those interested in the subject, read for example the article “first crusade” om wikipedia for information about Christian/moslem conflicts. The first crusade was aimed at turks, not Arabs. Turks had recently concquered Jerusalem from Arabs and part of Anatolia from Byzants, thus threatening the Byzantine state and Christian pilegrims to Jerusalem, who possibly, or as the story goes, were more tolerated by Arabs.

  • Luisa Navarro

    Aztecs and Incas were NEVER enslaved (that is why negroes were brought to the New World).

  • Toshi quaraba

    I find your statement regarding “Protestant” martyrs as being “stupid” for dying for their beliefs very disturbing. They died for the Faith which is based on the Scriptures alone and not on tradition. This attitude of derision, patronizing towards our separated brothers will not contribute to dialogue between Protestant and Catholics, but just fuel more arguments. We should never , even if we disagree with the ideas, belittle the sacrifice of human life for a peaceful cause. We must never sanction terrorism.

  • licjjs

    You have misunderstood me. I said someone MIGHT be stupid to die for his or her beliefs and I certainly do not deride anyone who chooses to die for a cause. I say that a martyr is recognised by the Church as one who dies for Christ. If a non-executive director of The Catholic Herald votes in favour of ‘gay marriage’ is it simply equivalent to one who votes against it in the name of defending the truth about marriage and the Church’s teaching on the matter? Should the Church honour them both in the same breath for their ‘sincerely held beliefs’? Sincerity is not the same as truth.