Most of these died eventually, but it took them a while…
1) St. Denis
St. Denis was born in Italy in the 3rd century. As a man, he was ordained a bishop and sent to modern-day France to preach to pagans. He was apparently so successful in winning converts that pagan leaders arrested him sentenced him to be beheaded on the highest hill in Paris.
But after his head was cut off, something miraculous happened: he didn’t die. The story goes that he picked up his head and started preaching! The pagans were apparently dumbfounded and allowed the beheaded man to continue walking and preaching.
He made it 6 miles, but then the miracle wore off and he fell over dead. I guess a man can only walk so far with his head cut off…
2) St. John the Apostle
Early Church tradition tells us that St. John was the last Apostle to die, perhaps around A.D. 95 or so. Amazingly, he died of old age. All of the other Apostles died as martyrs (with the exception of Judas, of course). But that’s not because the Roman authorities didn’t try to kill him.
At one point, John was arrested and sentenced to death by the authorities. The method? Being plunged into boiling hot oil in front of a crowd of spectators at the Colosseum. But, miraculously, when John was dumped into the pot, he didn’t get burned. He was able to be in the oil just fine; he was totally unaffected. The story goes that everyone at the stadium was converted to the Christian faith.
Furious that he wouldn’t die, the Roman authorities instead banished him to the island of Patmos – where he would eventually write the last book of the New Testament, Revelation.
3) St. Polycarp
St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, lived from A.D. 80 to 167 and was a disciple of the Apostle John. He was arrested and taken to a stadium in Rome to be burned to death in a front of a crowd.
He was tied to a stake, the fires were lit… but then he wouldn’t burn. The writing The Martyrdom of St. Polycarp explains:
And as the flame blazed forth in great fury, we, to whom it was given to witness it, beheld a great miracle, and have been preserved that we might report to others what then took place. For the fire, shaping itself into the form of an arch, like the sail of a ship when filled with the wind, encompassed as by a circle the body of the martyr. And he appeared within not like flesh which is burnt, but as bread that is baked, or as gold and silver glowing in a furnace. Moreover, we perceived such a sweet odor [coming from the pile], as if frankincense or some such precious spices had been smoking there. (15)
So he even smelled nicely! Undaunted, however, the officials overseeing his execution ordered that he be stabbed with a lance, which a soldier was able to do successfully. But even then, there was a miracle:
And on his doing this, there came forth a dove, and a great quantity of blood, so that the fire was extinguished; and all the people wondered that there should be such a difference between the unbelievers and the elect, of whom this most admirable Polycarp was one, having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church which is in Smyrna. (16)
So they were eventually able to kill him, but God decided to make it hard…
4) St. Elijah the Prophet
Elijah was one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament. And as a true prophet of God who spoke the truth, he was hated by many people – especially the rulers.
At one point, he challenged the priests of the false god Baal to a duel: they would call on Baal to send fire from the sky to burn up a sacrifice, and Elijah would call on the true God to do the same. The priests of Baal call on Baal all day long and nothing happened. Elijah then doused his sacrifice with water (just to make it harder), called on God to send fire down to the sacrifice just once – and God sent the fire immediately. But this only made him that much more a target of the rulers to kill him.
But they never were able to kill him. Of course, at the end of his life, Elijah was taken up to heaven by a chariot of fire. So he never died. (Though we don’t know much about him, Enoch is another person mentioned in the Bible as having been taken up to heaven directly by God without dying; see Genesis 5.21-24.)
5) St. Daniel the Prophet
Daniel is another great prophet from the Old Testament. He was taken captive to Babylon with other Jews but quickly rose in the ranks of the government due to his intelligence and ability to interpret dreams.
Other Babylonian official didn’t like him and tricked the king into issuing an irrevocable decree that anyone who prayed to a god for 30 days straight would have be thrown into a den of lions. When Daniel continued to pray every day to God, he was arrested. Even though the king liked Daniel, he reluctantly followed his own decree and had Daniel locked in a den of lion’s overnight.
When the king awoke the next morning, he checked on Daniel, who was miraculously still alive! An angel had closed the mouths of the lions.
6) St. Catherine of Siena
St. Catherine of Siena is one of the greatest saints in the history of the Church. In addition to sainthood, she’s a Doctor of the Church, a mystic, and is also remembered for having (humbly and appropriately) called out a pope.
She wasn’t a martyr and no one tried to kill her. She’s on this list for a unique reason: save for receiving the Eucharist, she apparently ate very little (or nothing at all) for the last 19 years of her life. 19 years. And yet she miraculously continued on, serving the Church.
Albeit, she did die at the age of 33. But 19 years of fasting? That’s still pretty good.
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