Top 10 Most Violent Ways That Future Saints Were Matryred

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The progression of becoming a Saint is almost as long and complicated as filling out a tax form with multiple attachments.  There is a process called canonization, in which the church (usually Catholic, but not always) considers the life and death, of a person who has given themselves up to God.  Canonization usually takes decades, sometimes centuries, and takes into account those miracles attributed to the person after their death.

So when you see a picture of a Saint, it is often with their hands raised toward the heavens as inspiration. The truth is, however, most Saints were martyred and died horrible deaths in the clutches of the infidels. Here are 10 saints who paid the ultimate (and incredibly brutal) sacrifice in the name of God.

10. Brazen Bull

st-eustace-death

Fact: The Brazen Bull existed.  It was a torture device in which a person was locked inside of a giant metal bull statue.  A fire was started, and the unfortunate captor was baked alive, in a similar fashion to how an animal is cooked in an oven.

Famous Martyred Saint:

Saint Eustace – Legend has it that St. Eustace and his family were burned alive inside of a Brazen Bull, due to Eustace’s refusal to take part in a pagan ceremony.  But as the years have passed, the historical existence of Eustace has been questioned.

9. Impalement

St-Thomas-death

Just typing the definition of impalement makes me queasy.  For it is described as the “traumatic penetration of a person by an elongated foreign object such as a stake, pole, or spear.”

Famous Martyred Saint:

Saint Thomas the Apostle – While spreading word of the miracles of Jesus Christ outside of the Roman Empire, the natives in India gave him a less-than-friendly reception (by spear).

8. Beaten to Death

death-of-James-the-just

Probably the oldest form of murder known to mankind, the simple act of beating another man to death with your bare hands, or with a nearby blunt object to speed things along.

Famous Martyred Saint:

James the Just – Jesus’ brother was sentenced to death by stoning but, during the execution, he knelt down and prayed for those throwing the stones.  One of the priests bearing witness to the execution demanded that it be stopped, but someone from the crowd came in and beat James to death anyway.

7. Burning at the Stake

joan-of-arc-burning

Pole erected with kinder spread around it.  Secure victim to pole, light match.  Differing degrees of suffering depended on the atmospheric conditions.

Famous Martyred Saint:

Saint Joan of Arc – Being burned at the stake in the 1400’s was not necessarily a spontaneous affair.  St. Joan of Arc was actually tried for treason in a French courtroom and found guilty (she was later found innocent on appeal, but a number of years after the damage was done).  At this time in history, being burned at the stake was a legitimate sentence for crimes against the government.  Not only was she burned alive but, after her death, the executioners returned to the stake, found her carcass, and burned it again and again until nothing remained but ashes.

6. Beheading

st-catherine-death

Another means of capital punishment in the Middle Ages, it was the simple act of removing one’s head from the rest of one’s body.  Whether that punishment came from the sharpened edge of a guillotine, or at the tip of an executioner’s sword, probably depended on what country and what time period in which you lived.

Famous Martyred Saint:

Saint Catherine of Alexandria – After converting thousands to Christianity, Saint Catherine was sentenced to die via the Breaking Wheel by Roman Emperor Maxentius.  Miraculously the wheel broke, but the Emperor just moved on to the next instrument of death at his disposal, and had her beheaded.  Interestingly enough, the Breaking Wheel is now sometimes referred to as the Catherine Wheel.

5. Hanging

saint-luke

This one’s simple and to-the-point: a rope is tied around your neck and you swing from it. Depending on the time and place, you would either slowly suffocate to death, or be dropped down full-speed, and have your neck snapped immediately. Also depending on the time and place, this could be a legal form of capital punishment, or a spontaneous lynching by an angry mob.

Famous Martyred Saint:

Saint Luke The Evangelist – This physician/Apostle authored one of the most famous Gospels in the Bible, The Gospel According To Luke. He lived a full life, at least until it came to an abrupt end when, around 150 AD, he was tortured by Greek idolaters for his belief in Christ, and hung from an olive tree. The manner of hanging is unknown but, when a tree is involved, it’s usually a slow suffocation. He was 84 at the time of his martyrdom, which somehow makes his agonizing death even more brutal to hear about.

4. Eaten by Lions

saint-ignatius-of-antioch

The Romans not only tortured the condemned to death, but they made a sport of it. Spectators were seated in the Roman Coliseum to watch lions chase down and eat many a Christian dissident in the early days of the Church.  If, for some reason, you could outsmart the beasts, the soldiers would come in and finish the execution, making this the ultimate no-win situation.

Famous Martyred Saint:

Saint Ignatius of Antioch – Arrested far from Rome, he had the indignity of being transported across the Roman Empire with both the animals and the soldiers who would be responsible for his death.

3. Stoning

Saint-Timothy-death

Community mob finds rocks, and throws them at the victim until death.  There are multiple references to being stoned in the Bible.  Even though you could be sentenced to death by stoning as a punishment for a crime, most stonings were spontaneous acts inspired by the irrational.

Famous Martyred Saint:

Saint Timothy – He was taken from his house late in his life, dragged down the street, and stoned to death.

2. Crucifixion

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Jesus was the most famous person to be hung from a cross, but many of his disciples suffered the same fate.  The Romans, in the early days of Christianity, used crucifixion as the most shameful and disgraceful way to die.  The victims were nailed, or tied, to a large wooden cross.  As opposed to hanging, which took seconds, to minutes, crucifixion took hours, and sometimes days.  Multiple cultures also used different platforms besides the cross, including just a single stake, and wooden beams in the shapes of an X and of a Y.

Famous Martyred Saint:

Saint Peter – He was sentenced to die at the hands of Emperor Nero. Feeling unworthy of dying the same way that Jesus had, Peter was crucified upside-down, at his own request.

1. Flaying

saint-Barthlomew

The process of flaying is very common.  People remove the skin of the animal, preferably intact, to prepare it to be eaten. That way the skin can still be used for other practical purposes.  The practice of actually flaying a human being is very rare though, and almost always done to scare and to intimidate your enemies.  Nothing frightens your adversaries more than seeing their countrymen filleted and hanging outside of your fortress.

Famous Martyred Saint:

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Saint Bartholemew – After surviving unbearable amounts of torture, the 12th Apostle of Jesus was flayed alive, then crucified upside-down, just as Peter had done.


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16 Comments

  1. So let me get this right… Mother Teresa was an 87-year-old woman whose death was hastened by exorcism and demonic possession… and that’s somehow more violent than being roasted alive in a brazen bull?

        • Our editor already replaced it but sawing is horrendous. It looks like being sawn in half was not confirmed, but still a possibility for Simon the Zealot: “One tradition states that he traveled in the Middle East and Africa. Christian Ethiopians claim that he was crucified in Samaria, while Justus Lipsius writes that he was sawn in half at Suanir, Persia. However, Moses of Chorene writes that he was martyred at Weriosphora in Caucasian Iberia. Tradition also claims he died peacefully at Edessa.” – Wikipedia.

  2. The Brazen Bull was tested for the first time on the guy who invented it (Perillos of Athens), which is kind of ironic. 🙂

  3. Well it’s a bit to compare horrifying deaths since most people don’t experience several of those and rarly come back to testify which one was the worst. 🙂
    In any case, i always thought that being Hanged, drawn and quarteredwas probably really awful. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quartered

    Couple of things i wanted to mention
    -You can’t compare beheading by a sword or axe with Guillotine, the 1st two were usually pretty painful while the guillotine was conceived to be less painful and more “humane” (as much as a capital punishment can be) way to execute people. Also Guillotine was created at the end of the 18th century so really not the middle ages 🙂

    -I may be wrong but i always read that people condamned to be burned at the stake usually died of asphixiation long before being burned, anyone could confirm.

    • 1. The official guillotine was developed during the 18th Century, it was based on much earlier machines, such as the Scotish Maiden (16th Century) or the Halifax Gibbet (ditto).

      2. People who were burned at the stake died from a variety of ways. People who pleased (aka paid off) the executioner or judicial officials may have had the benefit of being strangled prior to being burned. Otherwise, it would depend on how big the fire was. Big fires meant big smoke meant smoke inhalation. Smaller fires meant less smoke meant sizzling to death via heatstroke, blood loss, or shock. Skilled executioners could make this process last for up to 2 hours. In later years, in England, hangings prior to burning became standard and when that was not possible, the victim would be coated in a chemical to make the process go more quickly.

      • Well thanks those explanations.
        BTW my point about the guillotine was mostly that it was conceived during what historians call Modern History, a period of time that starts around renaissance (end of 15th century / beginning of 16 th century); meaning the sentence “Another means of capital punishment in the Middle Ages” to talk about Guillotine doesn’t make sense 🙂

  4. well Thomas was told that he was welcome to preach to the jews and discuss his religion openly, but when he started preaching that Christ was the only god and the hindu gods were fake…well its like walking into a bull pen, slapping a bull and then blaming it for goring you.

  5. Freethinker9761 on

    A disgusting example of man’s inhumanity to man, also a good example of the harm the religion does to humankind.

  6. “Fact: The Brazen Bull existed.”
    Fact: It’s not a fact. There’s scarse written evidence. Though it would not be strange that no original bull was ever found since such a large bronze object would be remolten as soon as it had no use anymore.
    Most likely it was -as shown in the picture- a large pot decorated with bull desings, not the complicated device described in ancient death. Boiling someon in a large pot was no completely unknown punishment in Rome.

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