August 14, 1480
Following a 15-day siege, 813 men are beheaded for refusing to convert from Christianity to Islam
The siege began with Ottoman forces attacking Otranto, which was well equipped to guard against them, but only temporarily. Once the army was able to force their way into the city, the “archbishop was beheaded before the altar, his companions were sawn in half, and their accompanying priests were all murdered.” Women and older children were sold into slavery; infants, small children, and males over 15 years old were killed. Historical accounts estimate 12,000 were killed and 5,000 enslaved.
The forces then gathered 813 men and commanded them to either convert to Islam or be executed. One of the men, a tailor by the name of Antonio Primaldi, reportedly cried “Now it is time for us to fight to save our souls for the Lord. And since he died on the cross for us, it is fitting that we should die for him,” and was met with loud cheers from the other captives.
On August 14, the men were led to what is now called Martyr Hill and executed. Primaldi was the first to be beheaded. Witnesses claimed his headless body remained standing upright, despite efforts by the Ottomans to force it to lay prone, until all other martyrs were killed. At this sight, one of the men from the Ottoman forces was said to have converted to Christianity on the spot, only to be immediately impaled by his compatriots.
The bones of the martyrs were later gathered and placed in a reliquary (a container for holy relics) in the city’s cathedral. The martyrs were canonized in 2013.