STANDING FOR THE FAITH: Blessed Antonio Primaldo, the Saint Who Stood to the End (UPDATED)

On December 20, Pope Benedict XVI–amid a flurry of 23 decrees including the much-touted proclamation of Pope Paul VI as “venerable”—advanced the cause of canonization of Blessed Antonio Primaldo e Compagni.   With the recognition of the miraculous healing of Sister Francesca Levote, which has been attributed to the intercession of Blessed Antonio and his Companions, the way has been paved for their eventual canonization.

It’s been a busy week, what with the holidays and all—but I thought Blessed Antonio worthy of mention, if only because of the unusual circumstances surrounding his death.

Blessed Antonio was a tailor in the city of Otranto, Italy, in the 1400s.  In 1480 the city was invaded by Turkish Moslems, their 150 ships and 18,000 troops greatly outnumbering the 6,000 inhabitants of the town.  The conquerors executed the elderly bishop, Archbishop Stephen Pendinelli, and took the women and children into slavery.  They rounded up all the men between the ages of fifteen and fifty—some 800 men in all.  The Ottoman captors threatened to kill all the men, but promised to grant their lives and the freedom of their women and children if the men would simply renounce Christ and become Muslim.

Blessed Antonio remained firm, and encouraged his fellow citizens to stand strong in their faith.  “My brothers,” he said, “until today we have fought in defense 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 the 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.”

Blessed Antonio was the first to be beheaded, followed by 799 others.  Tradition holds that Blessed Antonio’s headless body remained standing and could not be knocked down by the Turkish soldiers.  Only when the last of the men was slain did his body collapse of its own accord.  One of the Muslims, seeing this miracle, was converted and professed his faith in Christianity—after which he was immediately impaled upon a scimitar by his own comrades-in-arms.

Relics of the Blessed Martyrs of Otranto in the Cathedral crypt

The relics of the 800 martyrs are revered in a number of churches throughout Italy and Spain.  Here, a number of the relics are enshrined in the Cathedral city.

UPDATE:  It’s official!  The canonization of Blessed Antonio Primaldo and the 800 Italian laymen killed by Ottoman soldiers will occur on May 12, 2013 in St. Peter’s Square.  It will be the first canonization carried out by Pope Francis since his election in early March.


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