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The Story of Old France by  H. A. Guerber
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THE FIRST CHRISTIAN MARTYRS

DURING the second century of our era, a great change took place, not in the government, but in the religion, of Gaul. The Romans had fancied that the time would soon come when their religion would entirely replace that of the Druids, but Christianity was about to overthrow both kinds of pagan worship.

The new religion was first preached by Jesus and his disciples in the first half of the first century. The earliest Christian church in Gaul was founded at Lyons, about a hundred years later, by the good bishop Pothinus, who preached the Gospel and won many converts, not only among the rich and learned, but also among the poor and ignorant people of the town. For the first time, religion now taught that rich and poor, master and slave, are equal in the eyes of God, so the poor and unhappy welcomed it as gladly as their more fortunate fellow-citizens.

[37] As the Romans generally did not care what religion the people practiced, so long as they obeyed the laws, they did not trouble the Christians in Gaul, until a converted soldier once refused to join in pagan rites in their temple. This refusal made the Romans inquire into the new belief, and what they learned made them so angry that they wished to end it at once. The Emperor, therefore, ordered his people to worship none but the old Roman gods in future.

The Christians could not obey this order; so about thirty years after the first church was founded in Lyons, the first persecution was begun there. Christians were beaten and tortured in many horrible ways. Some were beheaded, others stoned to death, and many were exposed in the arena, to be torn limb from limb and eaten by wild beasts, while the heathen Gauls and Romans applauded.

Still, in spite of all persecution, the Christians would not give up their faith. The founder of the church at Lyons, now more than ninety years old, was stoned to death; but he was no truer or more steadfast than the poor little slave girl Blandi'na, who, after being horribly tortured in all manner of ways, was finally torn to pieces by lions and tigers. But throughout these tortures, whenever urged to save herself by cursing Christ, she firmly answered: " am a Christian, and no evil is done among us."

This brave slave girl has been honored by the Catholic church, and has received the title of saint, which had never before been bestowed upon any person born in Gaul. Her name therefore stands first upon the roll of French saints and martyrs, and a church still stands on the spot where her bones were buried.


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