“For me to live is Christ; to die is gain,” says Paul (Phil 1:21), who was beheaded for the faith in Rome. In fact, all the disciples were violently killed except for John. Still the message spread. And martyrdom never stopped. Today, 322 Christians are killed for their faith every month, not counting the other violent acts perpetrated on Christians (according to Open Doors, www.opendoorsusa.org).
What follows are just over 20 women martyred for the Gospel. We hope their stories will inspire you to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph. 4:1) and to be renewed in taking up your cross daily no matter what it might cost you.
20 Christian Women Who Died as Martyrs
Before the conversion of Constantine and his Edit to stop persecutions in 313, and with the ultimate adoption of Christianity as the formal religion of the Empire by Theodosius I in 381, Rome was vicious toward this new faith. Certainly, this starts with the hope of killing off Jesus and stomping out the Truth at the first. An empty tomb and a swell of followers made this impossible, even with the death of Peter and Paul in Rome. Though not designed for torture alone, the Roman Empire had more than 250 amphitheatres across its vast territories. These venues would be the site for many Christian deaths.
What follows are just over 20 women who were martyred for the Gospel and their incredible stories. Click To Tweet
Felicitas (101 – 162)
Her life is celebrated on November 23 by both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. She and her seven sons were all martyred in Rome. Her tremendous conversion efforts were noticed by the pagan priests who then notified the Emperor. Before being martyred, she witnessed the death of each of her sons. The authorities gave her the opportunity to recant her witness after each son’s death, but she refused.
Cecilia (~ 176)
Cecilia was a noblewoman in Rome who vowed with her newfound faith to a life of celibacy. That was not her father’s plan and she was forced to marry instead. Her martyrdom came under Emperor Marcus Aurelius. First, both her brothers were arrested and killed for refusing to sacrifice to the gods. After Cecilia was found to have converted more than 400 people, she was condemned to die by heat (or suffocation) in the Roman baths. The fires were struck and after a full day she didn’t even sweat. An executioner came to behead her. He tried three times but could not complete it. After three days she bleed to her death but never recanted her faith.
Blandina (162 – 177)
Blandina also died during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the city of Lyon in Asia Minor. Blandina was arrested along with other Christians. She was a slave and not a Roman citizen. This is important because if she were a Roman citizen her death would not include torture. A quick beheading should be her fate. Instead, she withstood so much torture that it is said the perpetrators became tired under her strength. Finally, she was taken to an amphitheatre and bound to a stake. Wild animals were let loose. However, they did not touch her. Days past and finally, she was killed by throwing her in front of a wild steer.
Perpetua (- 203)
Perpetua died in modern day Tunisia in Northern Africa (Carthage at the time). It was Emperor Septimius Severus’s son’s birthday and Perpetua was one of several new Christian converts rounded up to celebrate the special day in a display of horrible violence. It’s not known whether Severus was even involved. We do know that he put forward laws against conversion to Christianity. Perpetua ultimately died by directing the gladiator’s sword to her neck after being trampled and gored by bull did not work.
Catherine of Alexandria (287- 305)
At only 18, Catherine was converting hundreds to Christianity. And, when a persecution of Christians broke out, she tried to use her influence as the daughter of the Alexandrian governor to persuade the emperor. She goes to the emperor and accuses him of cruel acts. He can’t believe her boldness and calls for 50 of the best pagan philosophers to debate her over her Christian beliefs. She wins and her fine crafted arguments even converts some of the listeners. She’s imprisoned. 200 visitors come to see her including the emperor’s wife. All are converted to Christianity. She’s condemned to die by the breaking wheel but when she touches it falls to pieces. In frustration, she is finally beheaded.
Lucia of Syracuse (283 – 304)
The Diocletianic Persecution is also called the Great Persecution because it was the worst. Emperor Diocletian had the goal of wiping away Christianity forever. Lucia was one of thousands and thousands of people killed for their faith between 303 up until the toleration verdict by Constantine in 313. Lucia refused to burn incense in worship of the governor of Syracuse so she was sentenced to die. When the guards came to take her, they couldn’t move her. They tried using an ox but she would not budge. Then, they attempted to light her on fire where she sat, assembling straw around her. She wouldn’t burn. Finally, she died by sword.
Yes, there are centuries between these two entries. Many records of martyred women during this long period are difficult to locate with specificity. No doubt, whole swaths of Christians were killed for their faith during moments of conflict and persecution. As the Reformation unravels the Church, there is also martyrdom perpetrated from one Christian group to another.
Magdalene of Nagasaki (1611- October 16, 1634)
Magdalene would follow her parents as a martyr. Her parents died in 1620. During this period in Japan, Christianity was outlawed and the penalty was death. Since she was only 9 when she lost her parents, she received much counsel from two Augustinian friars who were also martyred. At the age of 23, she decided to surrender to authorities and publicly declare herself a follower of Jesus. After 13 days of torture, she was strangled to death in a hole upside down.
Narcissa Prentiss Whitman (March 14, 1808 – Nov 29, 1847)
Narcissa served as a missionary to the Oregon territory. She was the first white woman to make the journey. She wanted to bring the message of Jesus to the native Cayuse and Nez Perce tribes in what is now Walla Walla Washington. There was already a fort near their mission site and she and her husband Marcus, a doctor, were to care for and evangelize the tribal people. They spent 11 years in ministry. They ended up dying by the hand of Tiloukaikt and his men because of their suspicion of the white people not dying of measles like his people, something that was more than unfortunate since immunity due to past exposure had everything to do with the reason.
Lucy Yi Zhenmei (December 9, 1815 – February 19, 1862)
Lucy was born to a Catholic family in China. She committed her life to Christ at a young age and worked to support her family as well as teaching the women at her parish. She was enthusiastic about evangelism despite the dangers she knew about if the authorities discovered her fervor. In 1861, she worked with Father Wen Nair to establish a mission in Jiashan Long. In that area, the provincial governor began to arrest Christians and ask them to renounce their faith. Father Nair and others in the mission, including Lucy, were arrested and sentenced to death without a trial. They all were beheaded the next day.
Edith Stein (October 12, 1891 – August 9, 1942)
As a German Jew who converted to Christianity during the tumultuous time of World War II, Edith soon knew the dangers of her ethnicity and her newfound faith. She became a nun and taught school in Speyer. By 1933, the Nazis passed laws that prohibited any non-Aryan person from civil service. Edith and her sister were moved to a Netherlands monastery for their safety, but in 1942, the Nazis arrested them and sentenced both women to Auschwitz. They died seven days later in the gas chambers.
Esther John (December 14, 1929 – February 2, 1960)
Esther served as a nurse in Pakistan. She was born into an Islamic family in British India but converted at age 17 because of her reading Isaiah in Christian school. Her family moved to the new country of Pakistan in 1947. Fearing an arranged Muslim wedding, she left home and changed her name. She began work with orphans and then at a mission hospital, evangelizing in the nearby villages. She was found murdered at her home. Though no one was arrested for the crime, the suspicion is that Esther’s brothers found her and killed her because of her Christianity and disobedience to Islam.
Two in Pakistan ( – September 22, 2013)
In Peshawar, Pakistan, stands All Saints Church, a church sharing the love of Jesus since 1883. On September 22, 2013, two Islamic suicide bombers entered the church. 81 Christians were killed in one of the deadliest attacks ever on the Christian community in Pakistan. The two sisters pictured were among the victims. They were new to the family of God, only recently accepting faith in Jesus after receiving a copy of “The Story of Jesus”, a booklet that explained the Gospel.
Mary Sameh George (- March 28, 2014)
Mary traveled to Cairo, Egypt, to help a poor family with their basic needs. On March 28, 2014, this Christian service brought the ultimate sacrifice. “Once they saw that she was a Christian [because of the cross hanging on her rear-view mirror], they jumped on top of the car, to the point that the vehicle was no longer visible,” an eyewitness said, as reported by The Voice of the Martyrs. “The roof of the car collapsed. When they realized that she was starting to die, they pulled her out of the car and started pounding on her and pulling her hair, to the point that portions of her hair and scalp came off. They kept beating her, kicking her, stabbing her with any object or weapon they could find.” It is also known that Mary was shot and her car burned.
Sufia (Unkown – April 2014)
Sufia, a young Christian woman in Somalia, was killed in Mogadishu. She was dragged from her home by armed men who shot her and fled. Her only offence was her Christian faith. According to The Voice of Martyrs, Somalia is second only to North Korea as the worst persecutors of Christians. In fact, a Muslim group in Somalia with allegiance to al qaeda has sworn to rid their country of all Christians. So, certain death will come even if a piece of Christian literature is found associated with a person. So, Sufia is not the real name of this Christian woman who died for her faith, in case the perpetrators uncover others associated with her.
Seija Järvenpää and Kaija Liisa Martin (- July 24, 2014)
Seija and Kaija, both from Finland, worked for International Assistance Mission (IAM), an international Christian organization that has served the people of Afghanistan through health and economic development since 1966. They both had more 15 years of service with the ministry, Seija with mental health patients and Kaija with low income women in business development. In July of 2014, because of their work and identity, they were both killed in Herat by ISIS.
Shama and her husband Shehzad Masih (- November 4, 2014)
The village of Kot Radha Kishan in Punjab province of Pakistan saw great violence the night a mob came for Shama and Shehzad. There was a rumor that this Christian couple burned a copy of the Quran. It was a grievance that the owner of a local kiln knew he could make when a dispute arose about them owing him money. The angry mob came for them even though their Christian witness was without repute. Shama also was pregnant with their fourth child. They were burned alive in the kiln at such a high temperature nothing remained. Their three children are now with relatives and the 10 other Christian families in the village have fled, seeking some retribution against similar accusations.
Neima Abiad Idris (1965 – November 6, 2014)
Known as the Peace Singer in her Sudan village of Kadir, in the Nuba Mountains, Neima wrote songs, leading a choir of ladies singing songs in her native Koliib, that expressed peace and forgiveness, faith and perseverance. She didn’t run away even though genocidal terror was targeting her and her family in the warzone that she called home. Even though it would be easier to flee to a garrison city, she sought reconciliation with the Islamic warring factions by demonstrating a Christian witness of her word and witness. She died from a bomb that hit her home.
Kayla Mueller (August 14, 1988 – February 6, 2015)
Kayla went to Jordan as a humanitarian worker. From Prescott, Arizona, Kayla didn’t expect that her faith would be tried and ultimately strengthened through an ordeal of capture, sexual torture and ultimate death. Held by a ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, she sheltered two other girls from additional harm and when a chance for escape came she decided to stay, telling the other two that her American appearance would endanger them. Soon afterwards, she was killed. She wrote in a letter, “I have surrendered myself to our creator b/c literally there was no else….+ by God + by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall.”
Depayne Middleton-Doctor (49), Ethel Lee Lance (70), Myra Thompson (59), Sharonda Coleman-Singleton (45), Susie Jackson (87), Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd (54), ( – June 17, 2015)
The Bible study group was happy to invite in Dylann Roof into their group that night at Emanuel AME Church. The church has been a beacon for the love of Jesus since 1816 and even through the tragedy of their guest returning to kill 9 parishioners, including these six women and the senior pastor, it’s with complete confidence that we can say God will continue to use the church for his greater glory. The reaction of the church community is testimony to this, for as others might viciously hate the killer and everything he represents, they’ve asked for forgiveness and renewal in the life of the community at large.
(Wikipedia was helpful with the information from centuries gone by. The Voice of the Martyrs http://www.persecution.com, a site we’d encourage you to visit, was helpful in uncovering today’s recently martyred)
Zach Kincaid is a part of the Sharefaith Editorial Team. He managesworkoutyourfaith.com and has written on C.S. Lewis, G.K Chesterton, and general Christian thought for more than 15 years. He is a husband, father, and collaborator on a variety of Christian outreach projects including films and educational resources.