Pope Benedict is calling a consistory to vote on the Causes of eight hundred and two Beati which will see the way clear for their canonisation later this year. Two of the Beati are nuns, but for once the holy nuns are outnumbered with the advancing of the Cause of Blessed Antonio Primaldo and his 799 companions, the Martyrs of Otranto.
Blessed Antonio was a tailor, a man advanced in years we are told, when the city was invaded by Muslims in 1480. The men of the city were promised their lives if they converted to Islam, but encouraged by Blessed Antonio, they remained firm. After the fall of the city following a brutal siege, they barricaded themselves into the cathedral and prepared for martyrdom. The siege and this further inconvenience for the Muslims actually helped save Italy as news of the invasion had time to get out and armies could prepare for battle as the Turks tried to ferret out the men. In the end, the cathedral was breached, and the men taken to the Hill of Minerva where they were all beheaded. According to one account a Catholic priest helped the Turks and tried to persuade the men to abandon their Christian faith.
A contemporary document reports what happened, singling Blessed Antonio out for his heroism. Here is an extract:
And turning to the Christians, Primaldo spoke these words: ‘My brothers, until today we have fought in defence of our homeland, to save our lives, and for our earthly governors; now it is time for us to fight to save our souls for our Lord. And since he died on the cross for us, it is fitting that we should die for him, remaining firm and constant in the faith, and with this earthly death we will earn eternal life and the glory of martyrdom.’ At these words, all began to shout with one voice and with great fervour that they wanted to die a thousand times, by any sort of death, rather than renounce Christ.
Antonio, for his obstinacy was the first to die, but accounts say his headless body refused to fall to the ground and remained standing until the last person had been martyred despite attempts by Muslim soldiers to pull it to the ground. As another account relates:
All of them repeated their profession of the faith and the generous response they had given at first, so the tyrant commanded that the decapitation should proceed, and, before the others, the head of the elderly Primaldo should be cut off. Primaldo was hateful to him, because he never stopped acting as an apostle toward his fellows. And before placing his head upon the stone, he told his companions that he saw heaven opened and the comforting angels; that they should be strong in the faith and look to heaven, already open to receive them. He bowed his head and it was cut off, but his corpse stood back up on its feet, and despite the efforts of the butchers, it remained erect and unmoving, until all were decapitated. The marvelous and astonishing event would have been a lesson of salvation for those infidels, if they had not been rebels against the light that enlightens every man who lives in the world. Only one of the butchers, named Berlabei, believed courageously in the miracle and, declaring himself a Christian in a loud voice, was condemned to be impaled.
The relics of the 800 martyrs are enshrined in the cathedral in Ortanto. We do not know the names of the other martyrs so the cult will probably be centred on Antonio as the main representative of the group. I see Wikipedia offers names for a few others: Archbishop Stefano Agricoli who was the Archbishop of Otranto, Bishop Stefano Pendinelli, and Count Francesco Zurlo who was the commander of the garrison.
During his visit to Otranto, as he honoured the martyrs on the site of their deaths, now renamed the “Hill of Martyrs”, Blessed John Paul II, reflecting on their sacrifice, remarked: “Let us not forget the martyrs of our times. Let us not behave as if they did not exist.”
In news today. I am constantly amazed at coincidences when it comes to the government and controversial legislation. In the past few years the various reports on child abuse have an uncanny knack of being released at inopportune moments for the Church. Take the release of the report on the infamous Magdalen Laundries –which is due to be released tomorrow, and you’ll never guess what is also happening tomorrow – according to the Irish Independent, the proposed changes to the abortion laws goes before the Cabinet! Isn’t that just amazing? Now I would never presume to think that all this is planned, after all those who govern our country are paradigms of virtue and integrity, they keep their promises and there is not an opportunistic bone in any other their bodies. As they would no doubt confirm, this is all just one big coincidence.
Interesting news from the UK: the bones found beneath a car park in Leicester are indeed the remains of King Richard III. His physical handicap, denied by some historians, has been confirmed. One question has been solved: Where was his grave? However others remain unanswered – did he kill the princes in the tower? Was he as bad as he is painted?
Some are also asking: will he be given a funeral according to his faith? Richard was a Roman Catholic, but he will be buried in an Anglican cathedral probably with an Anglican service: is this appropriate? Some think not – they believe he should be given a Catholic Requiem Mass and burial according to Catholic Rites. I would be inclined to agree with them. We cannot alter history – just as we could not give Martin Luther a Catholic reburial, since he was a Lutheran at this death, Catholic Richard should not be given a Protestant reburial. No offence intended to the Church of England, but it would be best to respect the beliefs of the deceased.
Finally, it seems David Cameron’s days may well be numbered. The forthcoming vote on gay marriage may well see the majority of his party (180 MPs including four members of his cabinet) vote against it, and perhaps may lead to another vote on his leadership. William Oddie has an interesting article on this issue here. We should commend the courage of the members of the Conservative Party for their steadfast position on marriage. It would be great if members of the Fine Gael party here, both elected representatives and grassroots members, took such a stand against Enda Kenny as he seeks to legalise the killing of the unborn. We can but pray and hope.