THE MARTYRS

Under Commodus (180). Until the end of the 2nd century, it seems that Christian of Africa had enjoyed of peace and a relative freedom. It is toward 180, the, first year of Commodus' reign, that the popular fanaticism unleashes itself against them and that the magistrates begin to apply them the Roman laws that prohibited the exercise of the Christian cult. Homes where Christians were meeting had been fired, and their cemeteries desecrated, the faithful mistreated and even dragged before the courts by the populace in fury. The first martyrs known are the martyrs of Scilli (a small unknown township). The Scillitains had refused to sacrifice to the emperor's divinity: then their heads were cut off in Carthage where had been built later a basilica in their honor. According to their names which have been well kept for us we find out that most of them were Punic: Speratus, Narzalus, Cittinus, Veturius, Felix, Aquilinus, Caelestinus, Donata, Hestia, Januaria, Generosa,... .

Under Septimus Severus (202). After some pacified period, the persecution recommenced in 202, with reference to the decree by which Septimus Severus forbade the pagans, to take up Christianity. Accused of being made themselves instructed, six inhabitants of Tebourba were arrested and jailed in Carthage: slaves Revocatus and Felicitas; Vibia Perpetua, of noble birth; Saturninus, Secundulus and Saturus whose condition is unknown. Refusing to come back to the Paganism and baptized in jail, five are put to death in the amphitheater of Carthage (Secundulus had died in jail). Their memory had been always a big honor in Carthage and in all the Africa. Their relics were placed in one of the big basilicas of Carthage, the Major Basilica, where the White Father Delattre recovered the tile of marble which regained their body. The narration of their martyrdom was read publicly in the churches, and Saint Augustin pronounced several times their eulogy. More or less to the same time, suffered for their faith: Jocundus, Saturninus, Artaxius, Aemilius, Castus, the virgin Guddene, burnt alive. Dead Quintus in jail and so many others whose names have not been kept. In 212, Scapula, proconsul of Carthage, sends to the death by the sword and by fire a big number of Christians, not only in the Proconsularis Africa but also in the Numidia and the Mauretania. Among them, Mavilus of Sousse, Celerina, who had a basilica in Carthage with the Scilitains martyrs.

Under Decius (249) . In 249, emperor Decius put the Christians in default to give up their faith or to be punished severely. Those who refused to obey were exiled, condemned at the mines or put in jail; a big number died of hunger.

Under Valerianus (257). In 257, emperor Valerianus enjoined the members of the clergy, bishops, priests and deacons, at the risk of exile, to sacrifice to the empire's divinities. It is whereas St. Cyprianus, bishop of Carthage, was exiled in Korba, on the oriental coast of Tunisia. In Numidia, the imperial legate, after having made them beaten by verges, condemns to the mines of Sigus (southeast of Constantine) some bishops, priests, deacons and even some virgins and simple faithful. From his exile, St. Cyprianus sent to these unfortunates some letters of encouragement and material help. In 258, Valerianus threw a second edict which aggravated the first; it was executed in all the Africa with the biggest rigor. A big part of the episcopate and the clergy was victim of the persecution, from which the faithful paid for a large tribute. At Carthage, St. Cyprianus had head sliced; other bishops and a big number of clerks and faithful shared his fate, such as other Lucius, Montanus, Flavianus, Julianus, Victor that probably belonged to the clergy,. Leucius, bishop of Tébessa, Libosus, bishop of Beja, priest Victor, three members of the same family, Quartillosa, her husband and her son, Primolus, Renus, Donatianus, still catechumen. To Beja are brought a group of Christian arrested at Lambèse, at Timgad and elsewhere. They are martyrized on 10th June 259 at Boseth Amphoraria (unknown locality). At Hippona, bishop Theogenes was executed with thirty six companions. At Utique, a multitude of Christians was immolated together and buried in the lime from where the expression of "Massa Candida" (White mass), by which they are designed. At Lambese perished Jacobus and Marianus arrestd around Constantine with a Roman knight, Aemilianus, clerks, simple faithful; among them two young women, Antonia and Tertulla. At Cherchel, Severianus was burnt alive with his wife Aquila.

Under Maximilian (295) After some thirty years of tranquillity, the persecution restarted in 295 under emperor Maximilian. It had a character special one: the Christian soldiers or officers were victims and condemned to death less to have made profession of Christianity than to have refused to obey the military laws.

Under Diocletianus (303) Finally, the most terrifying of the persecutions was the one of Dioclétien. Induced, one says, by his colleagues Galerius and Maximianus, he promulgates in 303 and in 304 four edicts of an exceptional rigor against the Christian: the places of worship, had to be demolished, the Holy Books burnt, all Christians obliged at the risk of death to sacrifice to the empire's idols. These edicts made thousands of martyrs in the Christian Africa. At Carthage, gave their life to remain faithful to the Christ: Agileeus, to whom was dedicated a basilica, deacon Catulinus whose tomb might be in a basilica of the city, Felix, bishop of Thibiuca (vicinity of Tebourba), with one of his priests and three readers, the forty eight inhabitants of Abitinae, (close to Medjez-El-Bab) with their priest Saturninus. The proconsul of Carthage, Alinus, governed himself at Thuburbo (Tebourba or Bridge-of-Fahs) the condemnation of two nuns, Maxima and Donatilla and a noble young girl, Secunda. At Thebessa, he ordered to appear before him and to be executed immediately Crispina, big lady of Thagura (vicinity of Souk Ahras). In the other parts of the Proconsularis and Byzacena some groups of Christians around thirty, fifty and more, were killed, according to the decrees of Diocletianus, specially at Radès, at Medjez-El-Bab, at El-Alia (close to Utique), at Thelepte and at Sousse.

In the 4th century. At the beginning of the 4th century numbers of pagans was greater than the one of the Christians. As well, here and there, in empire, serious fights sometimes exploded time to time between pagans and Christians; they made many martyrs. So perished in 399 the sixty martyrs of Sbiba who had wanted to reverse Hercules' statue. Saint Augustine tells us that the Donatistes also murdered Nabor, one of their deacons, who became converted to the Catholicism.

Under the Vandals (428). Even if the official persecution only began in 437, the church of Africa had got a lot to suffer long before this time. Since the first days of the invasion, it counted many martyrs and gave to the world most admirable examples of faith and Christian heroism. The contemporary historians show us the Vandals "crossing in all senses this beautiful and flourishing Africa, ravaging, depopulating, burning and slaughtering all. They didn't even have mercy, one says, on the fruit trees. Their furious cruelty occurred again the same everywhere; no place was safe from their attacks. It is especially on the churches of the saints, the cemeteries and the monasteries that their cruelty raged more... What a lot of famous prelates, remarkable priests they made perish by thousand manners in order to get their private fortune or goods of the church. "One of them, Victor, bishop of Vita (perhaps Béni Derradj close to Saint Marie du Zit) mentions his predecessor Pampanius consumed under the action of iron blades blushed to fire, Mansuetus, bishop of Urusi (Hr. Sougda), burnt alive. The number of the victims of the Genseric official persecution was considerable. We can only remind here the most famous names: four Spaniards of the king's setting, Arcadius, Probus, Pascasius and Eutycianus exiled then set to death in the middle of horrible tortures; the count Sebastian, firstly Genseric's very listened advisor, Armogaste, officer of prince Theodoric, son of Genseric, cruelly tortured, then convicted to keep the beastly, very near of Carthage. Huneric inaugurated its reign while stripping of their goods all Catholic civil servants of the court, then he exiled them Sardinia and to Sicily. More of five thousand people all age and all condition intermingled, among which a big number of bishops, of priests and of deacons are by his order assembled in the Kef and Lorbeux. From there they were driven in the desert of the south, to the country of the Getuli. At Carthage are tortured the seven monks of Gafsa, deacon Boniface, the subdeacons Servus and Rusticus, the abbot Liberatus, the monks Rogatus, Septimus and Maximus. They nailed them on the bridge of a ship filled of faggots of dry wood; then they pushed the ship off-shore after having put fire. But the flame immediately died out and cannot be relighted. Elated of fury, Huneric made them stun with oars. Their bodies rejected miraculously on the beach, were collected by the clergy of Carthage and buried in the monastery of Bigua, close to the basilica of Saint Celerina. In this city, said a contemporary, one can meet to every instant some crippled people, some of them lost their hands, others their eyes, others their feet, the ears or the nose. Let's mention again among the victims: Proesidius, bishop of Sbeitla, cruelly struck of verges, Servus noble character of Pont-du- Fahs, and the twelve readers that the church of Carthage called "its twelve apostles." But the most famous of all the Vandal persecution's martyrs are certainly the famous martyrs of Tipasa (close to Cherchel). In fact, some Catholics remained in this city after the arrival of the Vandals and used to meet attending the celebration of the Holy Mysteries. The Arian bishop denounced them to Huneric. Immediately the order arrived from Carthage to tear their tongues out and to cut off their right hands. The order was executed before a considerable crowd, but after the torment the victims spoke as well as before. This prodigy made an immense noise: it is reported by several contemporary authors . Emperor Justinien himself affirms to have seen in Constantinople" these venerable men who had their tongues cut until the root and who however, marvelous thing, had kept the faculty to talk about their torment."

The Byzantine Africa (523). In 523, Hildéric put an end to the persecution against the Catholic church. However, the Arianism remained religion of state and the Catholicism, which was merely tolerated, didn't regain goods, nor buildings, nor objects of cult of which it had been stripped. The armies of Hildéric having been defeated by the Moorish in the South of the Byzacène, a small son of Genséric, Gélimer, took opportunity of the discontent that this defeat had produced in all the Vandal Africa. He succeeded in seizing Carthage (531) and made to throw Hildéric in jail. The persecution was going to restart. It is whereas emperor Justinien, happy to find a pretext, to reconquer North Africa, sent Bélisaire to the help of Hildéric. Bélisaire presented himself like a liberator to the Catholic populations, as well he was welcomed as such by the clergy since sound landing in the Short Kaboudia and in his walk on Carthage. The successors of Justinien continue his politics and during more of four eighty years the Catholic church of Africa enjoys of the favor of the Byzantine emperors.

From Arabian conquest (647) to the hilalian invasion of the 12th century One had to deplore the apostasy in mass of the populations of the South who had been hastily and imperfectly converts to the Christianity, especially at the end of the Vandal period and during the Byzantine period. A certain number of Christian succeeded in leaving the country: they crossed the sea and took refuge in Italy, in the islands of the, Mediterranean and even in Orient. Others of Berber race, it seems, found a shelter in the mountains of the Aurès and Kabylie. A big number, one believes remained in the country, and resisted heroically. There were certainly a lot of martyrs, especially in the first incursions, before the definitive conquest of the country, but their names are unknown for us.

In the 16th century There were many martyrs among the religious that had come to preach Jesus Christ or to deliver the Christian slaves in the Moslem countries of Africa. At Tunis, in 1272, in spite of the treaty signed a short time before between Philippe Le Hardi (The Audacious) and the Sultan, twelve French Trinitairs, ; in 1283, two religious of the order of the Mercy.

From the 16th century to 1830 Only God knows the number and the name of the Christian captives that poured their blood to remain faithful to the faith of their baptism. They were certainly very numerous; numerous were also the priests and religious that found the martyrdom in Moslem Africa . Among others in 1460, at Tunis, the blessed Antoine Neyrot, Dominican.