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7 Gruesome deaths of Catholic saints over the centuries


Renata Sedmakova | Shutterstock

Cerith Gardiner - published on 10/31/22

Forget scary ghost stories. Let the tales of these saints' deaths give you goosebumps.

It’s that time of year when children — and even many adults — love to share terrifying tales. And for fans of all things horrifying, in the Catholic Church there are some truly gruesome tales to be told involving some of our much-loved saints.

In fact, over the centuries many saints were killed in the most terrible manner because of their faith. Yet, their courage has gone on to inspire the faithful, and make us grateful that many of us can practice our faith without the fear of being beheaded or burnt at the stake.

So if you’ve got a strong stomach, take a look at how these holy men and women met their Maker, according to legend in some cases.

St. Lawrence

This 3rd-century saint was made one of the seven deacons in Rome under Pope Sixtus II. However, he was killed during the persecutions of the Roman emperor Valerian in 258, three days after Sixtus had lost his head under the same emperor.

While it is probable that Lawrence was also beheaded, legend has it that the poor saint was grilled to death. During his execution he is famously believed to have said: “Turn me over; I’m cooked on this side.”

While whether he was killed in this rather grisly fashion might be debatable, it certainly makes us look differently at our barbecues!

St. Stephen

This poor saint was also one of seven deacons, and lost his life in a manner that is sadly still used in parts of the world.

As a deacon, this first Christian martyr, who died in the year 36, was an evangelist who proclaimed Jesus to be the Son of God. This didn’t go down very well with the Sanhedrin, the supreme rabbinic court, and he was sentenced to death by stoning for blasphemy.

St. Margaret Clitherow

A lot of imagination went into the method of this English saint’s excruciating death during the reign of Elizabeth I.

The devout Catholic convert held Masses in her home, and sheltered priests at a time where such conduct was punishable by death. When her “crimes” were revealed, she was ordered to be pressed to death. This entailed laying a door on the condemned and placing an 800-pound weight on top. For St. Margaret, this led to a 15-minute ordeal before she finally succumbed to suffocation.

St. Bartholomew

As one of the 12 apostles, Bartholomew was a missionary in modern-day Iran, Turkey, Armenia, Ethiopia, and Mesopotamia. When the saint converted the Armenian king Astyages’s brother, he was sentenced to death.

Tthe actual manner of death of Bartholomew is not known for sure, but he is said to have been flayed, which would have caused an unimaginable agony. This involves ripping all the skin from the body, and to top it off, his head was chopped off at the end.

St. Cassian

There is something particularly upsetting about this poor saint who died at the hands of children.

The 4th-century Italian saint was a teacher during another period of persecutions. He refused to make sacrifices to pagan gods and was sentenced to death. Rather grotesquely, his executioners were his pupils, who hacked him to death. Unfortunately, to prolong the death, his student had only tablets and writing instruments at their disposal. Cassian encouraged them to be brutal so he could die for his faith.

St. Sebastian

This 3rd century saint’s execution method was not necessarily as brutal, but it was more the fact that he had a double death whammy.

Those persecutions in Rome led the Emperor Diocletian to sentence him to death by archers. As killings go, there are worse things than an arrow to the heart. However, when the archers tied him to a tree and carried out the sentence, they actually didn’t do the job properly. He was left for dead but survived the execution attempt.

St. Irene found the wounded Sebastian, and nursed him back to health. The devout saint went back to Diocletian and received another death sentence. This time he was clubbed to death and dumped in a Roman sewer.

St. Catherine of Alexandria

Most people have heard of the style of spinning fireworks known as Catherine wheels. But the actual story behind the sparkling wheels refers to the 4th-century Egyptian saint who famously converted people to the faith, much to the ire of Emperor Maxentius.

To make matters worse, her beauty and virginity frustrated the emperor and he had her brutally tortured. She was sentenced to death on a breaking wheel, however, when Catherine touched it, the wheel shattered. In the end, Maxentius had her beheaded.

While the beheading itself wasn’t quite as gruesome as other deaths, her torture was horrific, and no doubt caused her much agony. Thankfully the steadfast faith of Catherine and all of these saints will have given them the strength to undergo their painful demises in order to be with their heavenly father.

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