OTRANTO TOWN’S PAST/HISTORY…Monday, May 13, 2013
The Martyrs of Otranto…800 beheaded for refusing to convert to Islam
Pope Francis on Sunday gave the Catholic church new saints, including hundreds of 15th-century martyrs who were beheaded for refusing to convert to Islam, as he led his first canonization ceremony Sunday in a packed St. Peter’s Square.
The “Martyrs of Otranto” were 813 Italians who were slain in the southern Italian city in 1480 for defying demands by Muslim Turkish invaders who overran the citadel to renounce Christianity.
Text from page Radio Vaticana of the Vatican Radio website….
The year was 1480 and the fateful day July 28 when a fleet of 128 Muslim Ottoman ships reached the city of Otranto, then part of the Kingdom of Naples. It was the beginning of the Ottoman wars (1453-1683) in Europe and invader Mohammed II had conquered Constantinople just 28 years earlier. The garrison and the citizens took cover in the Castle of Otranto but as it had no cannons for defense, it was soon conquered and the garrison killed.
On August 12, 800 citizens were taken to the hill of Minerva, now called the Hill of the Martyrs, and beheaded because they refused to renounce their Catholic faith. Their remains were taken to the cathedral and the skulls preserved in the altar piece as a prominent reminder of these 800 martyrs.The Religion of “Peace” had no interest in letting Christians in Italy live in peace. There were over 10,000 Christian casualties in defending Malta from an Islamic invasion.
Their approval for sainthood was decided upon by Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, in a decree read at the ceremony in February where the former pontiff announced his retirement.
Shortly after his election in March, Francis called for more dialogue with Islam, and it was unclear how the granting of sainthood to the martyrs would be received.
These were the Martyrs of Otranto. Dr. Donald Prudlo, associate professor of Medieval History at Jacksonville State University, Alabama, spoke with Christopher Wells about their dramatic story:
“Mehmed II was one of the most powerful and successful emperors in Ottoman Turkish history. He had taken the impregnable city of Constantinople in 1453, and had pacified the Balkan regions. By the 1470s Mehmed ‘The Conqueror’ was preparing a death blow to Europe. His fleet sailed the Mediterranean without challenge. Having taken ‘New Rome’ he set his sights on ‘Old Rome.’ In order to test the resolve of Christian Europe he sent an exploratory raiding party in 1480. Its target was the small maritime town of Otranto in far south Italy. During this expedition thousands of people were massacred, in what was really an attempt to instill terror into the inhabitants of the peninsula. After the city fell, its civil and religious leaders were either beheaded or sawn into pieces. Eight hundred men of the town were offered the choice between conversion to Islam or death. Led by the tailor Antonio Primaldi, acting as spokesman for the group, they were beheaded, one by one, on a hill outside town while their families watched.
“The significance of their sacrifice was clear. Antonio and his townsmen had, in reality, saved Europe – their bravery gave Christendom time both to regroup, and to realize the gravity of the threat. Mehmed II died the next year, at the age of only 49, frustrating Ottoman plans for expansion.
“The Martyrs of Otranto are an exceptional testimony of fidelity to Christ, even in the midst of terrible sufferings. Simple lay Christians, defeated, leaderless, yet bound by their profession of faith in a hostile world, the Martyrs will receive the greatest honor bestowed by the Church, canonization as saints this Sunday, 12 May.”