St Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage was martyred during the Emperor Decius’s persecution which was ordered to decrease the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire. Civil and private accounts of Cyprian’s trial and martyrdom survive.
St. Cyprian was guarded that night by the chief of the officers in a courteous manner, and his friends were allowed to sup with him. The next morning, which the conscience of the blessed martyr, says Pontius, rendered a day of joy to him, he was conducted by a strong guard to the prætorium or court of the proconsul, about a furlong from the officer’s house where he had passed the night. The proconsul not being yet sitting, he had leave to go out of the crowd, and to be in a more private place, where the seat he got was accidentally covered with a linen cloth, as if it were to be a symbol of his episcopal dignity, says the deacon Pontius; by which it appears that bishops had then such a badge of distinction, at least at the public divine service. One of the guards who had formerly been a Christian, observing that the sweat ran down the martyr’s body, by the length and hurry of his walk, offered to wipe it off, and to give him dry linen in exchange for that he had on, which was wet, linen garments being common in hot countries. This was the soldier’s pretence; his meaning was to get into his possession some of the holy man’s garments and sweat, as Pontius observes.
The bishop excusing himself, replied: “We seek to cure complaints, to which perhaps this very day will put a final period.” By this time the proconsul was come out, and being seated on his tribunal, he ordered the martyr to be brought before him, and said: “Art thou Thascius Cyprian?” The martyr answered: “I am.” Proconsul: “Art thou the person who hath been bishop and father to men of ungodly minds?” Cyprian: “I have been their bishop.” Proconsul: “The most sacred emperors have commanded thee to conform to the ceremonies of the Roman religion.” Cyprian: “I cannot.” Proconsul: “Consider better of thy own safety.” Cyprian: “Obey your orders. In so manifestly just a case there is no need of consideration.”
Upon this the proconsul consulted with his friends, and coming to the resolution to condemn him, said: “Long hast thou lived with an irreligious heart, and hast joined great numbers with thee in an unnatural conspiracy against the Roman deities, and their holy rites: nor have our sacred and most pious emperors, Valerian and Gallien always august, nor the most noble Cæsar Valerian, been able to reclaim thee to their ceremonies. Since thou hast been a ringleader in crimes of such an heinous nature, thou shalt be made an example to those, whom thou hast seduced to join with thee; and discipline shall be established in thy blood.” Then he read the following sentence written in a tablet: “I will that Thascius Cyprian be beheaded.” To which Cyprian subjoined: “Blessed be God for it.” The Christians who were present in crowds, said: “Let us be beheaded with him;” and they made a great uproar.
Tomorrow, The Martyrdom of St Cyprian