December 28 – The 20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia; the Holy Innocents

The 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.

The 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, 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 the donkey’s name).

The Innocents are mentioned in the Protoevangelium of James, although neither it nor Matthew give a number. The Orthodox church says 14,000; the Syrians count 64,000; and many medieval authors posited 144,000. Some 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; others say the numbers were so low that it hardly seemed worth writing down given Herod’s other crimes. (A lot of others have other 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) of all manner of children, choir boys, altar boys, babies, and especially foundlings; and against ambition and jealousy.