St Ignatius of Antioch (c. A.D. 107)

Saint Ignatius, surnamed Theophorus or God-bearer, was possibly a convert and a disciple of St John the Evangelist, but we know little that is reliable concerning his earlier history. He seems to have taken charge of the church at Antioch about the year 69, and was condemned to death during Trajan's persecution.

Having prayed for the Church and commended it with tears to God, Ignatius joyfully submitted his limbs to the fetters and was hurried away by the soldiers to be taken to Rome. At Seleucia, a seaport about sixteen miles from Antioch, they boarded a ship which, for some reason unknown to us, was to coast along the southern and western shores of Asia Minor, instead of proceeding at once to Italy. The numerous stoppages, however, gave the saint opportunities of confirming in the faith the various churches near the coast of Asia Minor. At Smyrna, he had the joy of meeting his former fellow disciple St Polycarp, and hither came also Bishop Onesimus at the head of a deputation from Ephesus, Bishop Damas with envoys from Magnesia, and Bishop Polybius from Tralles. One of the deputies, Burrhus, was so useful that St Ignatius asked the Ephesians to allow him to stay with him as a companion. From Smyrna, the saint wrote four letters: to the Ephesians, to the churches of Magnesia and Tralles and to the Christians in Rome.

The guards were in a hurry to leave Smyrna in order that they might reach Rome before the games were over-for illustrious victims of venerable appearance were always a great attraction in the amphitheatre-and Ignatius himself gladly acquiesced. They next sailed to Troas, where they learnt that peace had been restored to the church at Antioch. At Troas he wrote three more letters: to the Philadelphians, to the Smyrnaeans, and to St Polycarp.

As the saint approached Rome, the faithful are said to have come out to meet him, rejoicing at his presence in their midst but grieving that they were to lose him soon. As he had anticipated, they were desirous of taking steps to obtain his release, but he entreated them not to hinder him from going to the Lord. Then, kneeling down with the brethren, he prayed for the Church, for the cessation of persecution, and for charity and unanimity among the faithful. According to legend he arrived in Rome on December 20, the last day of the public games, and was brought before the prefect of the city, to whom the emperor's letter was delivered. In due course the soldiers hurried him off the amphitheatre, and we are told that two fierce lions were let out upon him, who devoured him immediately, leaving nothing but the larger bones.


From Butler's LIVES OF THE SAINTS, HarperOne, 1956, pp. 341-342 (originally published in 1756-9)