Twelve Martyrs at Scilli
TWELVE CHRISTIANS—seven men and five women—stood before the Roman administrator of North Africa, Proconsul Saturninus. They had spent the previous day in the stocks. The proconsul was inclined to deal lightly with them. All they had to do, he told them, was swear that the Emperor was divine—called “swearing by his genius”—and they could go free.
The Christians, while deferential, were stubborn. One, named Speratus, spoke for them all: “We have never done ill, we have not lent ourselves to wrong, we have never spoken ill, but when ill-treated we have given thanks; because we pay heed to Our Emperor.”
“We too are religious, and our religion is simple, and we swear by the genius of our lord the Emperor, and pray for his welfare, as you also ought to do,” replied the proconsul.
Speratus offered to expound true simplicity of worship, but the proconsul brushed him off, saying he would not listen to evil spoken against the sacred rites of the Roman Empire. “Swear by the genius of our lord the Emperor,” he commanded.
“I don’t know the empire of this world,” responded Speratus. “Rather I serve that God whom no man has seen, nor can see with these eyes. I haven’t stolen anything; but if I have bought anything I pay the tax, because I know my Lord, the King of kings and Emperor of all nations.”
Calmly but courageously, each Christian stood their ground. One of the men asserted he feared only God. “Honor to Caesar as Caesar, but fear to God,” a voice among the women added in agreement. Another said she wanted to remain a Christian. Perplexed, Saturninus offered them time to think it over.
Speratus replied that the case was so straightforward no time was needed.
Still, Saturninus urged they consider the matter for thirty days. When the twelve insisted they were Christians, he issued his decree: “Speratus, Nartzalus, Cittinus, Donata, Vestia, Secunda and the rest having confessed that they live according to the Christian rite, since after opportunity offered them of returning to the custom of the Romans they have obstinately persisted, it is determined that they be put to the sword.”
Speratus rejoiced. “We give thanks to God!”
Nartzalus agreed. “Today we are martyrs in heaven; thanks be to God.”
On this day, 17 July 180, Roman soldiers beheaded the twelve martyrs of Scilli.