While Christians often talk about the death (and resurrection) of Jesus Christ, they often don’t give much thought to the the deaths of his earliest followers. No doubt this is because of the centrality of Christ’s death and subsequent resurrection for Christian faith. Additionally, the historical sources for accounts of the deaths of the apostles are considerably less reliable than those attesting the final hours of the Lord Jesus’ life. Nevertheless, there are various traditions surrounding the martyrdoms and deaths of the apostles and earliest followers are Jesus which are worthy of our reflection. Below are short renditions of some of the more widely attested accounts of the testimonies of the martyrs (please remember– these are traditions, often put together with spotty and somewhat questionable sources).
Perhaps the most widely known tradition concerning apostolic martyrdom is that of Peter who is said to have been crucified in Rome upside down during the reign of the Emperor Nero (typically dated around 64 CE). According to tradition, Peter felt unworthy to die in the same manner as the Lord Jesus, and thus was apparently crucified upside down on an x-shaped cross.
James, brother of John (not to be confused with any of the other prominent James’ in the early church), was executed with the sword in Jerusalem, and is generally understood to have been beheaded. Some traditions hold that one of the Roman guards assigned to watch him was so overcome by James’ faith that he joined him in his execution. Continue reading