ROME -- Pope Francis canonized more than 800 Catholics in Saint Peter’s Square Sunday – the largest number to be elevated to sainthood at once in the history of the Catholic Church.Read the rest here.
The choice of some of the new saints was also striking, touching on the already-fragile relationship between Christianity and Islam.
The new saints included hundreds of laymen from the southern Italian port town of Otranto who were slain in the 15th century by the invading Ottoman Turkish army after they refused to convert to Islam.
In 1480, after conquering Constantinople – modern day Istanbul - the Ottoman Sultan Mohammed II planned to invade Rome, and Otranto became his army’s port of entrance into Italy.
The local population fought back in a week-long siege, putting up a brave but hopeless resistance. When Ottoman soldiers finally overrun the town, they were ordered to kill every man over the age of 15 who refused to convert to Islam.
More than 800 resisted, locking themselves up into the town’s Cathedral. Their ringleader, local shoemaker Antonio Primaldo, was first to be beheaded. According to local legend, his headless body remained standing until the last of his fellow townspeople was killed.
Since then, Primaldo and his townsfolk, who chose to die rather than betray their Catholic faith, have been hailed as martyrs. Their bones and skulls – proudly on display behind glass walls in the Cathedral of Otranto – are well-known Catholic relics and a popular pilgrimage destination.