Most were shocked by the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians along the shores of the Mediterranean by Islamic extremists in early 2015.
But this was not the first time, Muslims beheaded Christians for their faith.
Six centuries ago, Muslims beheaded 813 Christian men in Otranto, Italy because they refused to convert to Islam. The Muslim Ottoman Empire had for decades being trying to take Europe and at one point controlled most of Spain.
After conquering Constantinople (today called Istanbul, Turkey) in 1453, the Muslims set their sights on Southern Europe and ultimately Rome.
Though many want us to focus on how horrid the Christian crusades were, they pale in comparison to he hundreds of battles initiated by the Muslims in their effort to conquer Europe.
On July 28, 1480, over 130 Ottoman galleons and ships with 18,000 troops on board sailed into the Otranto harbour, today a quaint village on the southern coast of Italy, population 5,670.
The castle that guarded the city in the 1400s still stands today.
According to historians Arnaldi and Scirocco, the Muslims, led by Commander Gedik Ahmed Pasha began bombarding the city.
Four hundred soldiers guarded the castle and sometime during the siege 350 of them fled, leaving just 50 soldiers along with the towns few thousand citizens to repel the invaders.
Despite their efforts, it was a quick fight. The Ottoman army broke through the wall on August 11, 1480. They rushed through the city and finding the archbishop in the city’s cathedral beheaded him at the altar and sawed the priests in half.
The Ottoman soldiers killed the men and chained the women and children (boys under the age 15) to sell them into slavery.
However, a special fate awaited 813 men. Three days after the town’s fall, they were marched up a hill and told if they converted to Islam, not only would they be spared but their wives and children would not be sold into slavery.
Can you imagine the pressure on these men, realizing their decision not only affected them but the futures of their families?
These were shopkeepers and tradesmen. Their spiritual and political leaders were gone. But one rose up, a tailor named Antonio Primaldo. He rallied the terrified men saying:
“Now it is time for us to fight to save our souls for the Lord. And since He died on the cross for us, it is fitting we should die for him.”
All 813 men stood strong and the Muslims beheaded on the spot that is today called Martyrs hill. According to Turkish historian Ibn Kemal, the Muslims did this to strike fear in the hearts of those who tried to resist them.
A year later, the city was retaken and the Muslims driven out. It was then the story of the martyrs came to light.
The Catholic church has bestowed an award on these men. In 1771, Pope Clement X!V beatified the men. Beatification is the third of four steps in declaring a person a saint. When the Catholic church beatifies a person, they are officially recognized as being in heaven and can now intercede for people who pray to them.
The last step is Canonization when the Roman Catholic church includes them in its official list of saints. Normally, people must perform some type of miracle after they died before this process can happen, however the Catholic church waives this for martyrs. Pope Francis canonized these men on February 11, 2013.
But this is all based on Catholic tradition. Nowhere does the Bible state that we should pray to men to have them pray for us. It says that only Jesus intercedes on our behalf:
34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. (Romans 8:34 NASV)
It further adds there is only ONE mediator between God and man, not multiple:
5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 2:5 NASV)
And finally because of Christ’s death, Christians have direct access to the throne room of God. We can petition God ourselves:
16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 NASV)
But the Bible does speak of a special award for people who are martyrs and especially those who were beheaded. And this is the one that counts.
In the Book of Revelation, a vision of the end-times, the Apostle John saw a special reward given believers who were beheaded for their faith.
4 Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. (Revelation 20:4-5 NASV)
Those who were beheaded and did not take the Mark of the Beast would be resurrected first. Whether these 813 Otranto martyrs are included in this list, I can’t be sure.
Whether what John saw refers to the beheading of Christians by Muslim extremists is also uncertain. But obviously at some future time beheadings were going to be so prominent that it would warrant a special mention.
Are beheadings a sign of the times?