June 30: The feast of the *First Martyrs of Rome*
Today, June 30, we celebrate the feast of the *First Martyrs of Rome* (died 64-68), brave and courageous Christians who suffered for their faith, *who were known as Protomartyrs of Rome.*
Following the Ascension of Christ, the disciples had preached the Gospel, spreading throughout the region. Some, as we have read, settled in Rome, where they continued to convert and baptize in the name of Jesus. This was most unsettling to the Emperor, as it led to conflict between the majority of Rome’s citizens—Jews—and the new Christians.
In approximately 49 A.D., the historian Suetonius recorded that Christians were expelled from Rome by the Emperor Claudius, due to disturbances that he attributed to Christ. However, it appears likely that after the Emperor’s death, the Christian citizens of Rome returned, only to be persecuted in a much crueller and vindictive manner by Emperor Nero.
In July of 64 A.D., a large fire broke out in Rome, destroying nearly half of the city. The fire was blamed on the Emperor, who is said to have wanted to enlarge his palace. Nero quickly blamed the Christians, who he accused of “hatred of the human race” and likened to modern-day terrorists.
As a result, public outcry was minimal when Nero ordered thousands to be put to death— some were covered with the skins of animals and thrown to wild dogs to be torn apart; others were crucified and at sunset were covered in oil and used as human torches to light the path of the Emperor’s chariot. Saints Peter and Paul were among those martyred.
Needless to say, eventually the good people of Rome took offense to Nero’s rampant persecution of Christians, and following a revolt by the military, he took his own life in 68 A.D.
Wherever the Good News of Jesus was preached, it met the same opposition as Jesus did, and many of those who began to follow him shared his suffering and death. But no human force could stop the power of the Spirit unleashed upon the world. The blood of martyrs has always been, and will always be, the seed of Christians.
*Protomartyrs of Rome, pray for us.*