The Coliseum and the Martyrs

No tradition existed in Rome in the Middle Ages which associated the martyrs in any way with the Coliseum. It was only in the 17th c. that this amphitheatre came to be regarded as a scene of early Christian heroism.

It were pious personages like Carlo Tomassi and several popes (Clement X, Benedict XIV) who first closed the exterior arcades and made the Coliseum become a sanctuary.
It is a fact that when the Coliseum stood in grave danger of demolition it was saved by the pious belief which placed it in the category of monuments of the early Martyrs.

But are there real historical grounds for regarding it so?
In the Catholic Church the specialists of the acts of the Saints and Martyrs are the Bollandists, they are Jesuits and have strong links with Belgium where they started and continue their hagiographical work.

According to father H. Delehaye, a famous Bollandist, it is probable that some of the Christians were killed by wild beasts in the Coliseum but there is just as much reason to suppose that they met their death in one of the other places dedicated to the cruel amusements of imperial Rome: the Circus Flaminius, the Stadium of Domitian, etc.

Little attention was paid by the Christians of the first age to the actual place of a martyr's sufferings so that historical evidence is inconclusive.




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