1.) St. Perfectus
The first martyr of this age was the aptly-named priest Perfectus, who served at the basilica of St Acisclus, just outside the city walls of Cordoba. One day on his way to market he was stopped by a group of Muslims. Seeing that he was a priest, they asked him to explain his faith and to share with them his opinions about Christ and Muhammad. Fearing that he would only provoke his audience, Fr Perfectus declined. But when the Muslims swore to protect him, he proceeded, in Arabic, to denounce Muhammad as one of the false prophets foretold by Christ and as a moral reprobate who had seduced the wife of his kinsman.
Though angered, the Muslims respected their oaths and let Fr Perfectus go on his way. But a few days later the priest ran into some of the same group, who no longer felt constrained by their earlier promise. Seizing him, they took him before the magistrate and testified that he had disparaged Muhammad. As they led him to prison to wait out Ramadan, he realized that his fate was sealed and he repeat his denunciation of Islam. On Easter Sunday, 18 April 850, Fr Perfectus was beheaded before the crowds that had gathered to celebrate the end of their fast.
2.) St. Isaac
The next, and probably most politically prominent, of the martyrs of Cordoba was Isaac. His noble birth and training in Arabic contributed to his rise within the local government to one of the highest positions to which a non-Muslim could aspire: that of secretary to the emir, or, as St Eulogius called him, exceptor republicae. Sometime later, he gave up his post and retired to the monastery at Tabanos, located in the mountains some seven miles north of Cordoba.
Isaac remained at Tabanos for three years. Then one day he left his retreat and returned to Cordoba. Approaching the emir’s palace where he had once been employed, he asked the Muslim magistrate for some instruction in the fine points of Islam. No sooner had the official begun to elaborate on the life of Muhammad when the monk stated that its ‘prophet’ was languishing in hell for misleading the Arabs.
The magistrate was dumbfounded. His first reaction was to hit Isaac, but he restrained himself when his counsellors reminded him that Islamic law protected the accused from physical harm prior to sentencing. At the suggestion that he must either be drunk or mad to disparage Islam in the presence of a magistrate, Isaac assured him that the ‘zeal of righteousness’ compelled him to speak out against Islam and that he was prepared to face martyrdom for his indiscretion. After arresting Isaac and reporting the case to the emir, Abderrahman II, the magistrate sentenced the monk. On 3 June 851, and aged only twenty-seven, Isaac was beheaded and suspended upside down for public viewing on the opposite bank of the river Guadalquivir. His body was then cremated and its ashes cast into the river.
3.) St. Sanctius
Just two days after the monk’s death, a young Christian soldier, named Sanctius, was beheaded for the same crime. Born in Albi in southern France, Sanctius had been captured as a boy and raised to serve in the Cordoban army, perhaps in the palace guard established by the emir’s father.
4.) Sts. Peter, Walabonsus, Sabinian, Wistremund, Habentius and Jeremiah
More explicit are the connections between Isaac and six Orthodox who were martyred forty-eight hours later. Peter, a priest from Ecija, thirty miles south-west of Cordoba, and the deacon Walabonsus from Elche on the south-east coast of Spain, had come to Cordoba to study. At the time of their deaths, they were serving in a convent dedicated to the Mother of God just west of Cordoba in the village of Cuteclara. Sabinian from Fronianus, a small mountain village twelve miles northwest of the city, and Wistremund, another native of Ecija, had recently entered the monastery of St. Zoilus, some thirty miles north of Cordoba. Joining these four were Habentius, a native Cordoban from St. Christopher’s monastery just down river from Cordoba, and Jeremiah, an elderly kinsman of Isaac and a founder of the monastery at Tabanos.
All six presented themselves together before the authorities and made their intentions and inspiration very clear: ‘We abide by the same confession, O magistrate, that our most holy brothers Isaac and Sanctius professed. Now hand down the sentence, multiply your cruelty, be kindled with complete fury in vengeance for your prophet. We profess Christ to be truly God and your prophet to be a precursor of Antichrist and an author of profane doctrine’. Their martyrdoms brought the total number to eight in less than a week.
As a result, the emir swiftly ordered the arrest and detention of all the clerical leadership of the local community, among them the priest Eulogius, the future chronicler of the heroic martyrdoms of the Cordoban Orthodox. It was in prison indeed that he managed to finish the first part of his three-part chronicle of the martyrs Memoriale sanctorum and that he composed his Documentum martyriale. The purpose of this latter work was to encourage the resolve of those who faced martyrdom.
5.) St. Sisenandus
A month after the clergy had been imprisoned, three more Christians set out on the increasingly well-worn path to martyrdom. The deacon Sisenandus had, like Peter and Walabonsus, come to Cordoba to study, in his case from Beja, in the southwest corner of the peninsula. Inspired by their example and by a vision in which the two martyrs beckoned him to join them, he was martyred on 16 July. Sisenandus’ example in turn prompted a deacon named Paul, from the church of St. Zoilus, to sacrifice himself a few days later. Within a week a monk from Carmona, named Theodemir, added his name to the growing list of martyrs.
6.) Sts. Flora and Mary
After the death of Theodemir, the martyrdoms subsided for three months. The next victims were Flora and Mary, the first of nine females whose names appear in St Eulogius’ martyrology.
Mary’s father, a Christian landowner, had married a Muslim woman whom he had subsequently converted to the Orthodox Faith. Forced, as a consequence of her marriage and apostasy, to leave their family lands in Elche, the couple came with their two children to live in the village of Fronianus. Shortly afterwards, Mary’s mother passed on and her father decided to live in penitence. So he arranged for his son, Walabonsus, to study at the local monastery of St. Felix and his daughter to go to the convent in Cuteclara. The two siblings were later reunited when Walabonsus was appointed to serve as one of the convent’s priests.
The martyrdom of her brother in June had had a profound effect on Maria. This, combined with the fact that her Abbess, Artemia, had witnessed the execution of two of her sons, John and Adulf, thirty years before, no doubt contributed to her decision to follow in her brother’s footsteps. While praying for guidance at the church of St Acisclus, Mary met Flora. Flora was also the product of a religiously mixed marriage. Her mother, a Christian from the village of Ausianos just west of Cordoba, had married a Sevillan Muslim who had passed away while Flora was still quite young. Deprived of this paternal influence, the girl grew up as a Christian. Well aware that children of mixed marriages legally had no choice but to be Muslim, the mother and daughter worked together to keep Flora’s faith a secret from her older Muslim brother.
Ultimately the tension forced her to run away from home in the company of a sympathetic sister. Her hopes of practising her faith in peace were spoiled, however, when her brother, apparently an influential figure in Cordoba, began to put pressure on. the Orthodox, forcing Flora to return. When neither threats nor promises had any effect on her resolve to remain Christian, he turned her over to the authorities. Despite Flora’s defence that she had been a Christian from birth and was therefore innocent of the charge of apostasy, Flora was severely flogged and placed on probation in her brother’s custody. No sooner had her wounds healed, however, than she fled again, this time taking refuge in an Orthodox household before leaving town with her sister. Ultimately, however, she decided to return and suffer the consequences.
Although Flora and Maria had approached the Muslim magistrate and denounced Islam together, they were, in fact, guilty of two distinct crimes. Flora, as the daughter of a Muslim, was legally an apostate. Unlike her predecessors, she had been a fugitive long before she presented herself before the magistrate. Her subsequent treatment by the authorities reflected the special nature of her offence. In contrast to the ‘blasphemers’, whose fates were sealed from the moment they opened their mouths, she was given ample opportunity in prison to avert her sentence by renouncing Christianity and becoming Muslim.
7.) St. Gusemindus
Apart from Flora and Maria, only two other Orthodox were martyred in Cordoba between July 851 and July 852. Gusemindus had come from Toledo with his parents, who had dedicated him to the priesthood and arranged for his training at the basilica of St. Faustus, St Januarius and St Martialis. On 13 January 852, he and the monk, Servus Dei, who was associated with the same church, delivered their confessions before the authorities and were martyred.
8.) Sts. Aurelius, Sabigotho, Felix, Liliosa, and George
The six-month lull that followed the executions of Gusemindus and Servus Dei ended in July with the deaths of five more Orthodox: Aurelius, Sabigotho, Felix, Liliosa, and George. Aurelius’ father was, like Flora’s, a Muslim who had married a Christian. Apparently orphaned at an early age, the boy had been raised by a paternal aunt, who had directed his studies toward Arabic literature. But again like Flora, Aurelius harboured a secret longing for Christianity and began to seek out priests for his instruction. When he had come of age, his relatives selected what they thought to be a suitable spouse, not knowing that the young woman, Sabigotho, was also a secret Christian. In her case, both of her parents had been Muslims, but when her widowed mother remarried, she happened to pick a clandestine Orthodox who had succeeded in converting his new wife. At the time of Sabigotho’s marriage to Aurelius, she had long since embraced the faith of her stepfather.
Aurelius had a relative named Felix who, to make things even more complicated, had been born of Orthodox parents and converted to Islam, only to decide that he had made a mistake. In Muslim eyes, this also constituted apostasy, so he too had to practise his Christianity in private. But he managed to find sympathy in his spouse Liliosa, who, like Sabigotho, was also a secret Orthodox.
The two couples concealed their faith for some years, and perhaps would have continued to do so, had not Aurelius witnessed the flogging and humiliation of a Christian merchant, John, who had indiscreetly sworn by the name of Muhammad. Struck either by the injustice of the punishment or the fortitude of the victim, Aurelius decided that it was time to make public his faith regardless of the consequences. Together with Sabigotho, he adopted a regime of penitence in preparation for martyrdom. For one thing they transformed their marital relationship into a fraternal one so as to generate ‘spiritual offspring’ to match the two children they had produced in their previous life.
They also began frequenting the Cordoban prison where they visited not only the merchant John, but also sought advice from the imprisoned priest Eulogius, who was to become their biographer. More significantly, Sabigotho met Flora and Maria. In fact, she ‘frequently visited their cell...and stayed at night as if she herself were shackled, not only to console the two soldiers, but to confide in them her own intention to die’. Her devotion to the confessors paid off. During the vigil that Sabigotho kept after the execution of Flora and Maria, the two virgins appeared to her in all their newly-won martyrs’ glory, and promised that she would ultimately join them. Sabigotho’s time, they said, would be at hand, when a foreign monk arrived to share her fate.
With renewed vigour, Sabigotho and Aurelius readied themselves for what they now felt certain was their destiny. They sold all their worldly possessions and spent their last days at Tabanos, where they not only prepared for their deaths but arranged for the care of their children. Finally the promised sign appeared, in the form of a monk from Palestine named Fr George.
Born in Bethlehem, Fr George was a monk in the large and famous monastery of St Sabbas just south of Jerusalem. From there he knew not only Greek, Latin and Arabic but had engaged in ascetic sacrifices, which would win for him the unbounded admiration of, among others, Eulogius. The chain of events leading up to his arrival in Cordoba began when his Abbot had sent him on a mission to solicit donations from monasteries in North Africa. There George had found the church so ‘oppressed by the incursion of tyrants’ that he decided to turn to Spain. Again he had been surprised by the affliction he found. Leaving the city of Cordoba, he had proceeded north to Tabanos, where the Abbess Elizabeth, apparently recognizing him as a portent, referred him to Sabigotho. A dream had thus identified him as the one for whom she had been waiting, and henceforth the monk and the couple sought martyrdom together. Soon Felix and Liliosa, having sold all of their property, joined them as well.
When the day of their public profession arrived, the women entered a church with unveiled faces and were immediately detected and arrested as apostate Muslims. Meanwhile Aurelius, after making the final arrangements for his children, waited at home with Felix in anticipation of his own arrest. The soldiers came shortly afterwards and marched them all to the magistrate. At first, the guards ignored George. Their task had been to arrest the husbands of the apostates. But Fr George’s views on Islam sufficed to bind his fate with that of the others.
As in the case of Flora, the newly discovered apostates were granted every opportunity to change their minds, but remained unmoved: ‘Any cult which denies the divinity of Christ, does not profess the essence of the Holy Trinity, refutes baptism, defames Christians and denigrates the priesthood, we consider to be damned’. After a four day imprisonment, the captives still refused to relent. The authorities, who had not heard Fr George’s earlier views, gave him permission to leave. The monk responded with a new denunciation of Islam and on 27 July 852 five more Orthodox were martyred.
9.) Sts. Christopher and Leovigild
During that same summer, six more joined the ranks of martyrs. Fr Christopher was a Cordoban-born monk of the monastery of St Martin at Rojana in the mountains above the city. Learning of the other martyrs, he came forward to offer his confession and was immediately imprisoned pending execution. There he met Fr Leovigild, a monk from Granada who lived in the mountain monastery of St Justus and St Pastor, some fifteen miles north of Cordoba. He too denounced Islam and on 19 August was martyred along with Christopher.
10.) Sts. Emila and Jeremiah
The week before the death of the emir Abderrahman, on 22 September 852, brought with it four more cases of denunciation of Islam. Emila and Jeremiah, childhood companions who had been educated together at the church of St Cyprian, delivered an especially forceful denunciation of Islam in Arabic, one which served only to multiply the frustration of the dying emir.
11.) Sts. Rogelius and Servus Dei
As if to add insult to injury, a monk Fr Rogelius, from a village near Granada, together with a Syrian pilgrim, whose name in Latin is Servus Dei, entered the mosque in Cordoba. To the horror of the Muslim worshippers present, they preached the truth of the Gospel and the falsehood of Islam. Saved by the authorities from death at the hands of the irate crowd, the two were sentenced to a grisly punishment: their hands and feet were cut off before they were beheaded and their bodies were then cremated.
One of the first official actions of the new emir, Abderrahman’s son, Muhammad I, was to purge the Cordoban bureaucracy of Christians. He must have been pleased with the apparent effect of this change in policy: the next nine months passed without incident. But again, as the following summer approached, a new parade of martyrs stepped forth.
12.) St. Fandila
Fandila, from the town of Guadixitist, east of Granada, had, like so many of the other martyrs, come to Cordoba to study. Living first at Tabanos under Abbot Martinus, Fandila became a priest, serving the needs of the monks of the nearby monastery at Pinna Mellaria. It was Fandila’s confession which, according to Eulogius, pushed the emir to the point of considering drastic measures for silencing the Cordoban Christians. He settled, however, for Fandila’s head on 13 June 853.
13.) Sts. Anastasius, Felix and Digna
The very next day, three more Orthodox were martyred. The priest Anastasius, who had been trained at the church of St Acisclus, turned to the monastic life before finally ‘descending to the forum’ to offer his confession. He was joined by the monk Felix, a native of Alcalá de Henares, fifty miles northeast of Toledo. Though of Numidian Muslim parentage, Felix was exposed to Christianity in Asturias, and later converted. The nun Digna from Tabanos, inspired by a vision of St Agatha and by the news of the double execution, added her own name to the martyrology before the sun had set. The following day, an aged laywoman, named Benildus, so moved by the martyrdom of St Anastasius, sacrificed her life as well. Her body was burnt and her ashes thrown into the Guadalquivir.
The fact that two of the first five Christians executed under the new emir had been associated with the monastery of Tabanos, which had already produced more than its share of martyrs, must have simplified Muhammad’s decision about where to begin enforcing new restrictions on church building. But the legacy of Tabanos as a seedbed for confessors outlived the monastery, which was levelled in the summer of 853.
14.) St. Columba
Columba, the sixth Orthodox to be martyred under Muhammad I, was the sister of Elizabeth and Martin, two of the co-founders of Tabanos. Having evaded her mother’s plan to give her away in marriage, Columba followed her siblings into their monastery. When the Muslims arrived to close Tabanos, she took up residence at the basilica of St. Cyprian, where she prepared herself penitentially for a martyr’s death. On 17 September that year she was beheaded.
15.) St. Pomposa
Columba’s example in turn prompted the nun Pomposa to seek martyrdom. Her parents had founded the monastery of St. Salvador at Pinna Mellaria which had already contributed the martyr Fandila. Now, three months later, Pomposa prepared to follow his example. Despite the efforts of her fellow nuns to dissuade her, she escaped to Cordoba where she was martyred on 19 September 853.
16.) St. Abundius
After Pomposa’s sacrifice, the executions became more sporadic. Fr Abundius, a parish priest from Ananellos in the Sierra Morena, was beheaded ten months later on 11 July 854, as the result of what Eulogius referred to as the ‘trickery of the gentiles’. His body was thrown to the dogs. Perhaps, like Perfectus, he unwittingly ‘blasphemed’ Muhammad. In any case, another ten months would pass before the next martyrdoms.
17.) St. Amator
The priest Amator, who had come to Cordoba from a village near Jaén to study, joined forces with the monk Peter from Pomposa’s monastery of Pinna Mellaria, and a layman, Ludovic, a brother of the deacon Paul who had been one of the earliest martyrs in the summer of 851. All three were executed for ‘blasphemy’ on the last day of April 855.
18.) St. Witesind
At some unspecified point during the same year another Christian was executed for apostasy. This was the layman Witesind from Cabra, thirty miles southeast of Cordoba, ‘who suffered a lapse of the holy faith’ and converted to Islam only to convert back again and thus find the crown of martyrdom.
19.) Sts. Elias, Paul and Isidore
Fr Elias, an elderly priest from western Spain, and two young monks and spiritual children, named Paul and Isidore, denounced Islam, and were martyred on 17 April 856.
20.) St. Argimir
Two months later, Argimir, a nobleman from Cabra who had served as Muhammad I’s censor, was martyred for the same crime, but under very different circumstances. Having, like Isaac, ‘retired from the administration of justice to inhabit the peace and quiet of a monastery’, he was accused by Muslims of having degraded the prophet and professed the divinity of Christ. The emir gave him a chance to save his life by embracing Islam, but Argimir refused and was hung up alive on a gibbet before being martyred on 28 June 856.
21.) St. Aurea
Three weeks later the virgin Aurea was martyred, again under quite unique circumstances. Her father had been a Sevillan Muslim, yet for more than thirty years she had lived with her mother Artemia as a nun in the convent at Cuteclara without the knowledge of her Muslim relatives. During that time she had seen her two brothers John and Adulf executed for apostasy in the early 820s, and witnessed the deaths of Peter, Walabonsus and Mary, who were associated with her convent in the early 850s. When some of her Muslim relatives came from Seville and recognized her, they brought Aurea to a judge for religious rectification. Offered the choice of renouncing her faith or suffering the penalty for apostasy, Aurea opted for the former and was freed. But bothered by her lack of fortitude, she continued to practise her faith, all the time preparing herself for her second encounter with the authorities. Finally discovered by her family to have relapsed, she was imprisoned and executed.
22.) Sts. Roderick and Solomon
He found what appeared to be a safe hideaway in the mountains above Cordoba, but one day he ran into his Muslim brother. Finding himself in front of the local Muslim judge, Fr Roderick denied the charge of apostasy on the grounds that he had never abandoned his Christianity in the first place. But his plea of innocence fell on deaf ears. The magistrate offered him the standard apostate’s choice: accept Islam or die. In prison Fr Roderick met Solomon, an Orthodox layman from some unspecified foreign land, who, like Felix and Witesind, had converted to Islam and then reconverted to Christianity. After three attempts to change their minds, the authorities martyred them on 13 March 857.
23.) St. Eulogius
Although this is where Eulogius’ accounts, which he had added to and updated continually throughout the decade, end, we know that the martyrdoms did not stop with those of Roderick and Salomon in 857. The layman Paul Alvarus now takes up the chronicle. He informs us that two years later the authorities arrested the virgin Lucretia for apostasy. ‘Born among the dregs of the gentiles’, Lucritia was introduced to the teachings of Christianity by a relative named Litiosa. At first no one had suspected that Lucretia’s frequent visits to Litiosa’s home were anything more than social. Even after her parents discovered the truth and tried to dissuade her, Lucretia refused to relent. But like Flora, Lucretia began to fear the spiritual consequences of practising her religion in secret.
Using messengers, she sought the advice of Fr Eulogius and his sister Anulo, who, like Litiosa, was also a ‘virgin dedicated to God’. Both encouraged her to leave home. So as to be able to depart without arousing suspicion, Lucretia made it appear as if she were attending a wedding. But no sooner was she out of sight than she hastened to meet Fr Eulogius and Anulo. Like Flora’s brother, Lucretia’s parents responded by applying pressure on the Orthodox community in an attempt to determine her whereabouts. But in this case the search efforts were hindered by Fr Eulogius who made certain that the girl never stayed in any one hiding place for very long. Fr Eulogius continued to meet Lucretia to instruct her in the Orthodox Faith. But after one of these sessions, her appointed escort failed to appear to lead her to her latest hiding place. A betrayal led the authorities to the house, where they not only arrested Lucretia for apostasy, but Fr Eulogius for proselytizing. On 11 March 859 Fr Eulogius, though given a chance to avert his execution, was beheaded. Four days later Lucretia met the same fate.
From St Eulogius’ writings: "Documentum martyriale" http://www.orthodoxengland.org.uk/oecordob.htm
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