The canonization concerned Antonio Primaldo and his 800 companions. The Christian inhabitants of the town of Otranto in Apulia, in southern Italy were victims of a bloodbath by Ottoman troops during a raid on 29 July 1480. They killed more than 800 fishermen, craftsmen, farmers, merchants, peasants simply because of their faith.
A Turkish fleet appeared off the coast of Puglia in 1480
On that day in mid-summer in the early hours of the morning, a Turkish fleet appeared of 90 galleys and 66 other vessels. The fleet transported an army of 18,000 soldiers under the command of Gedik Ahmed Pasha, a commander of Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror, who in 1451 at the age of only 21 years, took over the reign of the Ottoman Empire.
In1453, he was successful at the head of an army of 260,000 soldiers in the conquest of Constantinople and the destruction of the Eastern Roman Empire. The largest church in the "Second Rome" and the entire East, Hagia Sophia was desecrared and turned into a mosque. Since then Mehmed II had pursued the goal of conquering also the first Rome and turning St. Peter's Basilica in Rome into a stable for his horses.
Mehmed II took aim at Rome after the conquest of Constantinople
In June 1480, he directed his work of conquest against the real Rome after the conquest of the island of Rhodes with the stubborn and heroic resistance of the Knights of St. John (now Malta) had failed The Turkish fleet sailed westwards and targeted Otranto on the southern Adriatic. The southeastern city of Italy with about 6,000 inhabitants at that time was an important port between East and West.
During the attack, the population had to abandon their city and took refuge in the fortified castle, where they simply found only 400 soldiers, who were left to their own devices with the people.
Turkish massacre cost 17,000 lives: men executed, women and children enslaved
After a fifteen day siege the Turkish attackers on 11 August succeeded through concentrated artillery fire to breach the defensive wall, through which they could enter the castle. Gedik Ahmed Pasha ordered the killing of all the male inhabitants over 15 years, while women and children were enslaved. Some of the inhabitants managed to take refuge before the massacre with the clergy in the city's cathedral. There the Turks met Archbishop Stefano Pendinelli with the Cross in his hand raised towards them who asked the attackers to spare the lives of the people in the house of God, and accept Christ as their Saviour. He was killed in a particularly brutal manner, his head cut off, and this was carried on a spear as a trophy through the streets of the city. The commander of the Castle team was sawn in two while still alive.
Archbishop beheaded - 800 Christians found refuge in cathedral
Gedik Ahmed Pasha demanded the at least 800 Christians in the cathedral to convert to Islam, for which he gave them a night to think. On 12 August, all refused, among them the elderly tailor Antonio Pezzulla called Primaldo. He gave Gedik Ahmed Pasha the response of the trapped: "All of us who believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and our Savior, are ready to die a thousand times for him."
The Turkish warlord then gave orders to put all in chains. The cathedral was converted into a stable. On 14 August he had all the prisoners taken to a hill outside the city.
The 800 rejected conversion to Islam and were beheaded.
The craftsman Antonio Primaldo who had supported the others in these difficult times was to be executed first. Immediately prior to the beheading he called to the others, they should not lose heart, he had just the heaven which awaited them. Then the executioner of the Pasha decapitated him. As the tradition says, he remained miraculously standing after his beheading. His headless body stood still, until the last one of Otranto's Christians had been executed.
The chronicles give details of one of the Muslim executioners, named Bersabei who was converted by the boldness with which the Christians went to their deaths for their faith. He pleaded loudly for Christ and was also beheaded. Overall, in the city and the surrounding area, 17,000 people were killed by the Turks.
Thirteen months later, Alfonso of Aragon managed to free Otranto. On 13 October 1481, a mass grave was found of the 800 who had been beheaded. Their bodies were not decomposed and were transferred to the cathedral. From 1485, some of the martyrs were brought to other churches. Some are in the Church of Santa Caterina a Formiello of Naples kept under the altar of the Madonna of the Rosary, which commemorates the victorious Battle of Lepanto, when the Turks were defeated by the Christians.
1771 beatified - recognized in 2007 as martyrs for the faith
The canonical beatification process was initiated in 1539 and completed in 1771. Pope Clement XIV acknowledged the 800 martyrs as blessed and allowed her veneration in Otranto. Since then, they have been the patron saints of the city and the Archdiocese.
A few years ago, the Archdiocese of Otranto requested the resumption of canonization process . On 6 July 2007, Pope Benedict XVI gave the canonical recognition of their martyrdom, as they were killed in odium fidei- in hatred of the faith. On 20 December 2012, the Pope recognised a miraculous healing of a nun, Francesca Levote at the intercession of the Blessed Antonio Primaldo and companions and signed the decree for the canonization.