The 5 Most Gruesome Female Martyrdoms in Early Christianity. Part One: Eulalia

We have all had to queue for something. Whether its queuing for the checkout at Aldi (or Tesco if you’re fancy), at the bar or even the toilet, queuing is just an accepted part of life. But would you queue to get humiliated, tortured and brutally killed? No? Me neither, it doesn’t sound like the best way to spend a Saturday. But, believe it or not, when Christian martyrdom became a thing, it became so popular that people began to queue up to get themselves killed. It became so popular in fact that Roman officials around the empire were closing up their martyrdom shops early and telling customers to come back tomorrow for a better chance at facing certain death. For some, the chance at martyrdom became a chance of gaining celebrity and fame and the Church even had to get involved to tell the crowds to stay home, stay quiet and protect the ‘real martyrs.’

However even after this, martyrdom was a big draw for early Christians. But why? After all martyrdom wasn’t exactly fun and games, quite the opposite in fact. Imprisoned, tortured and eventually killed, the process was drawn out for entertainment and educational purposes, serving as a real and brutal warning to Christians in the Roman Empire. It was basically the emperor’s way of saying “don’t mess with us or else.” It was brutal, humiliating and designed to be the most painful it possibly could be and it got pretty gruesome. Female martyrdoms in particular were incredibly violent, more so than their male counterparts, with the women subjected to the most unimaginably awful tortures. Weirdly intrigued? Read below for the martyrdom of Eulalia, the first of five articles which will discuss the most gruesome female martyrdoms in early Christianity.

Relief of Eulalia in the Church of Saint Eulalia, Barcelona. Image taken from Wikipedia

Eulalia was born into a noble family in around 290 A.D and lived near modern day Barcelona. She is described by the Christian author Prudentius as being a serious child, stoic and quiet who didn’t enjoy having fun or making friends, so a bit of a loner really. She also knew she was never going to marry, vowing from an early age that she would die a virgin. Her mother, knowing her daughter was heavily invested in Christianity, hid her away from the public eye as much as possible, lest Eulalia get herself into trouble during the Diocletian persecutions. However when Diocletian sent a governor to the city to persecute the Christians there, Eulalia escaped and marched into the jaws of the Romans and her martyrdom began in 304 A.D

Eulalia confronts the governor and according to Prudentius, delivers eloquent speeches in favour of Christianity, denouncing the Roman religion. Despite her best efforts however, her persecutor retaliates to her defiance by stating “heap tortures on her” and proceeds to list what will be done to her body. He says that her limbs will be torn slowly from her body by wild animals and that she will be burned until she suffocates where she will then be beheaded. Pretty violent stuff right? Well, what apparently happened to her isn’t much better.

Prudentius writes that her body was torn into by metal hooks as two executioners stripped away her flesh, cutting her right to the bone. He then describes the “roseate streams” of blood which spurted from her wounds and flowed down her body. They then set her breasts on fire and watched as she was engulfed in flame, her whole body burned until she suffocated, breathing in the fire until she eventually died.

File:Bernat Martorell - Martyrdom of Saint Eulalia - Google Art Project.jpg
Martyrdom of Eulalia by Bernat Martorell. Image taken from Wikipedia.

Other accounts of her martyrdom exist however which list even more brutal ways in which she was killed- if you can believe it.

These accounts state that she was imprisoned in a tiny cell where she was then whipped. After this she was made to walk on burning embers and her wounds were rubbed at with rough hot stones. Her breasts were then cut off, she was branded with cast iron, with boiling oil and molten lead thrown at her whereupon she was then submerged in burning lime. It isn’t over yet! She was then apparently locked in a box full of fleas and after this, rolled down a hill, naked, in a barrel full of knives, swords and broken glass so that her body was in tatters. After enduring all of this she was then crucified and eventually decapitated. Some accounts also say that she was crucified and whilst her body was hanging there, was beaten, whipped, burned and lacerated all from her position of vulnerability on the cross.

The martyrdom of Eulalia is made infinitely worse by the fact that she is meant to be only 12 years old at the age of her death.

Although the accounts which document the martyrdom of Eulalia all differ and their accuracy, like any ancient document, is called into question, I think we can all agree that any of these tortures would have been horrific to endure. However it is the fact that Eulalia may have had to endure around 13 tortures in total before she died that make her martyrdom one of the most gruesome in early Christianity. Her body was mutilated beyond recognition, she was humiliated and tortured, her death drawn out to make sure she endured the most pain possible. This and the fact she was only 12 years old make her story heart-wrenching, her death unimaginably bloody and her fate one of the most horrific in early Christian history.

Tune in next Monday for another gruesome martyrdom tale!

P.S the bust in the featured picture has nothing to do with Eulalia I just liked it!

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