Renaissance Martyrs Canonized

Pope Francis has canonized the 800 Martyrs of Otranto, who were supposedly executed by Ottoman forces after the southern Italian town of Otranto surrendered in 1480.


Otranto was caught up in maritime and naval conflicts during the Renaissance, as the Ottoman Empire expanded rapidly across the Mediterranean and up the Balkan peninsula after taking Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453. An Ottoman naval and military force landed near Otranto in 1480 and besieged the town. When the garrison fell, many inhabitants of Otrantro were allegedly executed when they refused to convert to Islam. Catholic and Turkish sources disagree about the extent of the executions and whether or not an atrocity actually occurred.

The memory of the Otranto martyrs was quickly incorporated into Renaissance Christian  apocalyptic preaching. Some Latin Christian clergy cited Otranto in their calls for a crusade against the Ottoman Empire and against Islam in general.

The Otranto martyrs were placed on Pope Francis’s first list of canonizations, which also included several 20th century nuns. The BBC reports on the canonizations.

For a historical view of the siege of Otranto and its aftermath, see Nancy Bisaha, Creating East and West: Renaissance Humanists and the Ottoman Turks (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 157-161.

Northern Illinois University students in HIST 420 The Renaissance and HIST 458 Mediterranean World, 1450-1750 will be interested in this story.

This entry was posted in Civilians and Refugees in War, Early Modern Europe, Early Modern World, Empires and Imperialism, European History, European Union, Italian History, Mediterranean World, Religious Violence, War, Culture, and Society, Warfare in the Early Modern World. Bookmark the permalink.

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