The Martyrs of Lyons and Vienne
By 177, a number of the Christians in the area of Vienne and Lyons were Greeks from Asia. Before the actual outbreak of violence, Christians were forbidden from the marketplace, the forum, the baths, or to appear in any public places. If they did appear in public they were subject to being mocked, beaten, and robbed by the mob. The homes of Christians were vandalized. (Hist. Eccl., 5.1.5,7). The martyrs of Lyons were accused of "Thyestean banquets and Oedipean intercourse," a reference to cannabalism and incest.
How long all of this lasted is not indicated, but eventually the authorities seized the Christians and questioned them in the forum in front of the populace. They were then imprisoned until the arrival of the governor.
According to Eusebius (Hist. Eccl.,5.4), while yet a presbyter or elder, St. Irenaeus was sent with a letter, from certain members of the Church of Lyons awaiting martyrdom, to Eleutherus, bishop of Rome.
When the governor arrived at Lugdunum, he interrogated them in front of the populace again, mistreating them to such a degree that Vettius Epagathus, a Christian and man of high social standing, requested permission to testify on behalf of the accused. This request was refused and instead the governor arrested Vettius Epagathus when he confessed to being a Christian (5.1.9-10).
These Christians endured torture while the authorities continued to apprehend others. Two of their pagan servants were seized and, fearing torture, falsely charged the Christians with incest and cannibalism (Hist. Eccl., 5.1.12-13).
What followed was the torture of the captive Christians by various means. In the end, all were killed, some of whom had recanted but later returned to the faith (Hist. Eccl., 5.1.45-46).
There were 48 victims at Lyons, half of them were of Greek origin, half Gallo-Roman. The elderly Bishop Pothinus, first Bishop of Lyons, was beaten and scourged, and died shortly after in prison.
A slave, Blandina was subjected to extreme torture. She was initially exposed, hung on a stake, to be the food of the beasts let loose upon her. As none of the beasts at that time touched her; she was brought back again to the prison, before being cast in a net and thrown before a bull.
Also martyred at this time were Attalus, Epipodius and Alexander, Maturus, Saint Ponticus, a fifteen-year-old boy, and Sanctus, a deacon from Vienne. 1
From Bible Hub
Many other martyrs suffered in various parts of the empire under the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Among the most famous of these are the martyrs of Lyons and Vienne, in the south of France (or Gaul, as it was then called), where a company of missionaries from Asia Minor had settled with a bishop named Pothinus at their head. The persecution at Lyons and Vienne was begun by the mob of those towns, who insulted the Christians in the streets, broke into their houses, and committed other such outrages against them. Then a great number of Christians were seized, and imprisoned in horrid dungeons, where many died from want of food, or from the bad and unwholesome air. The bishop, Pothinus, who was ninety years of age, and had long been very ill, was carried before the governor, and was asked, "Who is the God of Christians? " Pothinus saw that the governor did not put this question from any good feeling; so he answered, "If thou be worthy, thou shalt know." The bishop, old and feeble as he was, was then dragged about by soldiers, and such of the mob as could reach him gave him blows and kicks, while others, who were further off, threw anything which came to hand at him; and, after this cruel usage, he was put into prison, where he died within two days.
The other prisoners were tortured for six days together in a variety of horrible ways. Their limbs were stretched on the rack; they were cruelly scourged; some had hot plates of iron applied to them, and some were made to sit in a red-hot iron chair. The firmness with which they bore these dreadful trials gave courage to some of their brethren, who at first had agreed to sacrifice, so that these now again declared themselves Christians, and joined the others in suffering. As all the tortures were of no effect, the prisoners were at length put to death. Some were thrown to wild beasts; but those who were citizens of Rome were beheaded: for it was not lawful to give a Roman citizen up to wild beasts, just as we know from St. Paul's case at Philippi that it was not lawful to scourge a citizen (Acts xvi.37).
Among the martyrs was a boy from Asia, only fifteen years old, who was taken every day to see the tortures of the rest in the hope that he might be frightened into denying his Saviour; but he was not shaken by the terrible sights, and for his constancy he was cruelly put to death on the last day. The greatest cruelties of all, however, were borne by a young woman named Blandina. She was slave to a Christian lady; and, although the Christians regarded their slaves with a kindness very unlike the usual feeling of heathen masters towards them, this lady seems yet to have thought that a slave was not likely to endure tortures so courageously as a free person; and she was the more afraid because Blandina was not strong in body. But the poor slave's faith was not to be overcome. Day after day she bravely bore every cruelty that the persecutors could think of; and all that they could wring out from her was, "I am a Christian, and nothing wrong is done among us!"
The heathen were not content with putting the martyrs to death with tortures, or allowing them to die in prison. They cast their dead bodies to the dogs, and caused them to be watched day and night, lest the other Christians should give them burial; and after this, they burnt the bones, and threw the ashes of them into the river Rhone, by way of mocking at the notion of a resurrection. For, as St. Paul had found at Athens (Acts xvii.32), and elsewhere, there was no part of the Gospel which the heathen in general thought so hard to believe as the doctrine that that which is "sown in corruption" shall hereafter be "raised in incorruption;" that that which "is sown a natural body" will one day be "raised a spiritual body" (1 Cor. xv.42-44). 2