The Early Church Martyrs
The Early Church

A term for those who died for the sake of the Christian faith.

Scene of martyrdom

This title was originally used for all witnesses to faith in Jesus Christ. It was later applied to those who had suffered during the persecutions and was finally restricted to those who gave their lives for the sake of the faith. In the early church martrydom was accorded high honor and martyrs were sometimes thought of as having experienced a second baptism in blood. The practice of commemorating martyrs on the day of their deaths led to considerable elaboration of the liturgical calendar. Martyrs were often thought of as able to intercede for the living and this was a powerful impulse in developing the cult of the saints. Places associated with the death and burial of martyrs early became shrines and places of pilgrimage. Relics of martyrs were greatly prized, a development which led to the increasing veneration of relics in the middle ages and later. Polycarp of Smyrna, Justin Martyr, Perpetua, and Felicity were among the prototypical martyrs of the early church.

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Photo courtesy of Craig Koester.