Martyrs of Scillitan
The martyrs of Scillitan were twelve Christians who were martyred during the final days of the persecution against Christians under the reign of Marcus Aurelius.
Though Marcus Aurelius died in March of 180, his persecution against Christians continued on for several months until Commodus brought an end to the killings. Their story is recorded in the Acts of the Scillitan Martyrs, one of the earliest documents of the Church of Africa and the earliest specimen of Christian Latin. The group was arrested in Carthage and their trial held under the proconsul Publius Vigellius Saturninus. This proconsul is notable as Tertullian recorded him being the first persecutor of Christians in Roman Africa. The twelve Christians were five women and seven men:
Of the group Saint Speratus served as spokesman. He explained during the trial that they had all lived a quiet and moral life, always paying their dues and taxes and doing their best to do no wrong to their neighbors. The trial reached it's apex when the proconsul asked him to swear by the name of the emperor. His reply was recorded as:
"I recognize not the empire of this world; but rather do I serve that God whom no man hath seen, nor with these eyes can see."
When asked what Saint Speratus held in his satchel at the time of his arrest he replied:
"Books and letters of Paul, a just man."
Towards the end of the trial, the proconsul explained to them that he harbored no personal resentment and was instead imploring them to comply with the Emperor's law. When they refused again, he granted them 30 days to reconsider but all twelve again declined. All twelve were publicly executed by beheading with a sword.
The Archbishop of Lyons, Agobard, would write many years later that the relics of the martyrs were translated from Carthage to Lyons by order of Charlemagne. Today their feast is celebrated on July 17th, the date of their executions in 180 AD at Scillium.