There is something in the region of 10,000 saints and the three most recent Popes have been highlighted for creating more than the sum total of their predecessors of the last 500 years. It is known that many died horrifically (though not all) and were executed for their faith. Here is a list of some of the most violent ways in which future saints were executed.
Who: Saint Peter
Crucifixion was a common form of execution for political dissidents under the Roman Empire. Spartacus and his followers suffered it and were displayed along the Appian Way. Jesus died by this method and many of his immediate followers also suffered in this manner. Peter would suffer the same fate but he would request to be crucified upside down as he considered himself not worthy to die by the same method as Christ. He died in Rome (it is believed) upon the spot where St. Peter’s Basilica now stands.
Who: Joan of Arc
Her trial was as complex and as event-riddled as her life. The most famous trial in history saw the captive young woman on trial for heresy by and English backed court in France. Answering complex questions of doctrine with clever yet evasive questions, she was eventually convicted for refusing to stop her claims of having visions. She was given the opportunity to claim that she had lied about these. She refused, was found guilty of heresy and burnt alive. A later hearing exonerated her and she was later canonised.
3. Hacked to Death
Who: St Thomas the Martyr
Also known as Saint Thomas Becket and Saint Thomas of Canterbury, he was a close personal friend and advisor to King Henry II and the pair clashed on many issues. After the king was crowned elsewhere, a breach of Canterbury’s rights, Becket excommunicated many of his opponents within the church for supporting it. Outraged at this, Henry famously proclaimed ‘Who will rid me of this troublesome Priest?’ and a group of four knights rushed to Canterbury Cathedral where Thomas was promptly hacked to death.
Who: St Thomas the Apostle
Despite that there are many legends about his final years, the Saint Thomas that met Jesus and was with him on his final days is said to have been impaled by many spears. He travelled to modern day Syria to meet with King Misdai and converted his son and his wife. For this he was condemned to death, led to a hill and continually stabbed with spears until he was dead. The hill became sacred to the Christian faith. One other folklore tales speak of him surviving until old age and other claims that he was accidentally shot with an arrow in a hunting accident.
5. Stoned to Death
Who: James the Just
There is some debate over whether the ‘Brothers of Jesus’ (of which James was one) were blood relatives or whether it was a designation of the wishes over succession of the Christian movement. Either way, the man known as James the Just (or James the Lesser) was subject to judgement of a hastily arranged court between the appointments of provincial Roman governors. Stoning was the highest form of execution in Jewish culture at the time and he was tried and convicted of breaking Mosaic Law.
Who: St. George
The Patron Saint of England, Georgia, Bulgaria and many other countries around the world lived in the third century and was a Roman soldier from the province of Palestine. Under the rule of Diocletian, it was proclaimed that all Christians within the Roman armies should be arrested and made to make offerings to the Roman gods and surrender their Christian faith. St. George went to meet the Emperor to proclaim his religion openly. Diocletian attempted bribery and threats before George was arrested, tortured and then executed by beheading.
Who: St. Nicolaas Poppel
The Reformation was a bloody and violent time. As the ideas of Luther, Calvin and Zwingli spread forth across the German countries and then across Europe, there would inevitably be violent conflicts ‘ in many cases, those who stuck to the old ways would be persecuted, especially when the new faith became dominant. This is what happened to a number of Priests. One of the so-called nineteen ‘Martyrs of Gorkum’, Nicolaas was convicted of Papism by Calvinists and refusing to stop believing in the Real Presence at the Eucharist. He and his eighteen colleagues were hanged.
8. In the Colosseum
Who: St. Ignatius
Being fed to lions was not as common as it has been led to believe; nor was it a punishment especially reserved for Christians. Political dissidents regularly died in the arenas of Rome, and quite often this might involve animals (wolves, tigers lions etc). However, what was just as likely was to die in combat in the arena ‘ we know this was a popular form of entertainment and execution. It is known that Ignatius died in the arena. The popular image is that he was fed to lions ‘ though this is not certain.
9. Hung, Drawn and Quartered
Who: Saint Augustine Webster
During the early 1530s, Henry VIII was desperately seeking a divorce from the Pope. However, the Pope kept stalling for time and eventually denied it. Henry broke from Rome, proclaiming himself the head of the English Church and demanded that all clergymen sign a declaration agreeing that he was now the head of the church. Many disagreed and their fate was to die by this method reserved for those guilty of High Treason. The process was to first string up the victim by a rope purely to choke them (hung), they were then taken down, disembowelled and castrated (drawn) and finally left for dead and chopped into four pieces (quartered).
Who: Saint Margaret Clitherow
Pressing was a curious form of execution reserved for those who refused to enter a plea in a criminal trial. It involved laying the accused on a floor or a slab and continually adding weight until they pleaded one way or the other. A victim who never entered a plea would eventually be crushed to death. Saint Margaret Clitherow was arrested and accused of giving sanctuary to Catholic priests following her conversion (having been born to Protestant parents). She refused to enter a plea and was placed on the floor with a small, sharp stone underneath her. She died of a broken back.
The lengths that some people would go to protest their innocence or proclaim their faith was often met with the most violent executions. The above represent some of the most common as well as some of the most unusual methods by which Catholic figures would eventually pass into sainthood.