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December 28 Saints of the Day – The 20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia and the Holy Innocents

On this day in 1869, William Finley Semple of Mount Vernon, Ohio, patented chewing gum, intended to clean the teeth and promote jaw strength. It was not for the faint-of-heart — suggested ingredients included chalk and charcoal. Good-tasting chewing gum had to wait for the discovery of the double mint.

The 20,000 Martyrs of NicomediaThe 20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia (IV cent.) suffered under Emperors Diocletian and Maximus in Nicomedia, then the eastern capital (Ironic) (or maybe Doric) of the Roman Empire. Our story starts with Domna, a pagan priestess who somehow landed a copy of Acts+Paul (it fought hard but she played it a long time). Her heart burned within her, so she and her faithful eunuch sidekick Indes found the bishop, who catechized them (as opposed to cauterized them — the aforementioned burning was only metaphorical) and baptized them.

Domna then gave her riches to the poor, and she and Indes also gave away the food the Emperor sent their way. The head of the eunuchs (not Linus Torvald) discovered they weren’t eating their food, and had them thrashed and thrown in prison, intending to starve them. Fortunately they were fed by an angel (best catering service ever, but limited menu), and when Domna pretended to go insane, they were allowed to go. They went to a monastery, where the abbess cut Domna’s hair, dressed her in men’s clothes, and sent the two of them on their way. The authorities destroyed the monastery and sent the nuns to a brothel, but angels protected them, and they were not defiled, although they were killed.

Ultimately the officials torched the cathedral, while 20,000 people were inside, praying. All perished (the worshipers, not the officials) (alas). Domna was hiding in a cave at the time; when she came out, she mourned over the ruins of the church, then went down to the shore, where fishermen were pulling the bodies of martyrs (who died in non-flammable ways) from the water. One of the bodies they recovered was Domna’s faithful servant Indes. She buried them all, but did not leave them. She took up her abode on Indes’ grave, burning incense, sprinkling fragrant oil, and lamenting her beloved servant. Eventually she was caught and beheaded.

Massacre of the InnocentsThe Holy Innocents (ca. 2 BC(E)?) were the children slaughtered by Herod in chapter 2 of Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew tells us that after the Magi (Wise Men) (Them Three Kings (of Orient Tar)) (actually, Matt does not give their number) left Jerusalem by the back door, Herod was so furious that he ordered the slaughter all of the children in Bethlehem and environs two years old and under (as per the time the Magi said the star had appeared).

Joseph had been warned by an angel in a dream some three verses prior that something like this was coming, and was told to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt. Their flight to Egypt is called the “Flight to Egypt” (this does not refer to El Al 472, as is foolishly believed by nobody), and it is depicted in art as a man (Joseph) and a boy (James) walking, and a woman (Mary) holding a baby (Jesus), riding on a donkey (sadly, we don’t know what the donkey’s name was).

The Innocents are mentioned in the Protoevangelium of James, although neither it nor Matthew give the number of the children killed. The Orthodox church gives the number at 14,000; the Syrians count 64,000; and many medieval authors posited 144,000. Modern scholars, reckoning from the population of Bethlehem at the time (about 1,000), estimate the number at about 20, which is certainly 20 too many. The slaughter is not mentioned by contemporary historian Josephus, causing some to say it didn’t happen, and others to say the numbers were so low that it hardly seemed worth writing down given Herod’s other crimes. (A lot of others have their own theories but time presses.)

Although not Christians, the Innocents are counted as martyrs for Christ because of the circumstances surrounding their deaths. They are patron saints (en masse, one presumes) of all manner of children, choir boys, altar boys, babies, and especially foundlings; and against ambition and jealousy.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

This Day in History for 28th December
William F. Semple (Wikipedia)
20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia (OCA) – Main source
20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia (Wikipedia)
Nicomedia (Wikipedia)
Illumination of the 20,000 martyrs from the Menalogion of Basil II (985) (detail) via Wikimedia Commons (Public domain according to this rule).
The Bible (There are many great Bible resources online; my favorite is Bible Gateway .) – Main source
The Protoevangelium of St. James
Holy Innocents (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Massacre of the Innocents (Wikipedia)
Holy Innocents (SQPN)
Photo of mosaic of the Massacre of the Innocents in Chora Church in Constantinople (detail) © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) license . Use does not imply approval of image owner of this page or this use.


About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

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