The setting: Lyons, the capital city of Gaul. In the year 177, a celebration was to be held in that city, a reminder of the greatness of Rome. The governor was to sponsor this event, and a customary bloodbath was to be the main form of entertainment. Gladiators, beasts, chariot races—all of these were staples of Roman events. Yet the expense made the governor flinch, until he remembered— the Christians.
Now known as France, the country of Gaul had a tempestuous history. Second in influence only to Rome in the earliest days of the church, Lyons was persecuted less than many other cities (like Smyrna). Its bishop in 177 was the first of the young church, Bishop Pothinus. The church was small, but in 174, it received a bit of a leeway from persecution from the authorities. All of that was to change in 177, when forty-eight Christians were rounded up and brought to prison in preparation for the celebration on August 1.
Among the Christians arrested on this day was Blandina, a young woman probably in her teens. She was a slave to a Christian mistress, who feared that Blandina would be unable to withstand the horrific tortures that would befall her upon their capture. Not much is known of Blandina’s early life, but her death should serve as an inspiration for all believers.
Forty-eight Christians were executed for the crowds. To stand up for the Lord and refuse to recant the name of Christ was to be tortured in the worst ways imaginable. After enduring unthinkable horrors, Blandina was taken into the arena and hung on a stake for the wild animals. For an entire day she hung there for the crowd to watch, and yet not one of the animals dared touch her. Eventually she was taken back inside and thrown back into prison.
On the day of her death, she was taken once again to the arena with a number of other Christians. Accounts differ as to who she was with when she was given to the mercy of the wild animals — it is generally agreed that it was a young boy named Ponticus, although some say that was her brother. Either way, he was no more than fifteen, and she was not much older. These two young people were tortured beyond belief before being thrown to the beasts; he died first and then she was put in a net and thrown to a wild bull. Despite the terror of this situation, she did not renounce her Lord, holding firm to the painful end.
Some martyrs are difficult to connect with, simply by virtue of how far removed from us they may seem. Blandina, however, should be an inspiration for every young Christian (and every older one). An average young woman expected to renounce her faith when facing the tortures, she held firm to the very end, entrusting her life to Christ’s hands, and abiding in the truth that to enter eternity would be worth the torment she endured to get there.
Even the small, the young, and the weak can stand for Christ, for he has used the foolish and weak of the world to shame the wise (1 Cor. 1:27). He is worth it in the end. Blandina knew that, and we are called to do the same, whether it be death in an arena or a day-to-day death to self.