First Franciscan Martyrs

Saint Berard and Companions

Feast Day: 16th January

In 1219 St. Francis sent Berard and companions to preach the Gospel to the Moslems in Morocco. They were six in number, but one fell ill and was unable to accompany the other five. Like the apostles, they left without money and food, but full of faith in God. In journeying to Morocco they arrived at Seville, then a Moslem town. While there, they tried to enter a mosque, immediately there was an uproar among the indignant Saracens. So they then showed themselves at the palace gates, saying that they had been sent as ambassadors from the King of kings, Jesus Christ. Seeing that they were expounding matters of the Catholic faith with a view to his conversion the king was angry and ordered them to be, beheaded. But later, on the advice of his ministers, he sent them on to Morocco.

Once in the city, they began immediately to preach to the Moslems in the market place. When the king heard of it he clapped them in goal for twenty days without food and drink. The
king was further incensed when he heard that they were still trying to spread their faith and had them subjected to various tortures including scourging. They were then bound hand and foot; a rope tied around their necks and dragged along the ground, flaying them so that their entrails were almost visible. Then they proceeded to pour boiling oil and vinegar on the open wounds and roll them on straw bedding littered with broken pottery.

The king had them brought before him. They were stripped, their bodies covered with blood from the flogging. When the king found them immovable in their faith he ushered everyone out of the room and had women brought in. He made a proposal, “Become converts to our faith and I shall give you these women for your wives, with enough money and a respected place in my kingdom.” The friars were ready with their answer. “”We don’t want your women or your money. We despise all things for Christ’s sake.” This made the king even more furious; he had them separated from one another, took his sword and one by one split their heads open through the forehead. It took three swords to sever their necks. With his own hand he put them to death with such savage ferocity.

Their martyrdom inspired Anthony of Padua to leave his congregation and enter the Franciscan Order.

What inspiration do they have for us? Their lives tell us that they were so committed to Jesus that nothing, not even the cruellest torture could deter them for following Him. We have many pressures in our lives, which are not comparable to the tortures they endured, and yet we lack the courage to resist those pressures. We take the easy option. God is the giver of all strength. He gave courage to Berard and his companions. We ask Him to give us courage too, so that we will always stay close to Him.