Pope Francis is set to canonize an estimated 800 Italians, who were forced to choose between Islam or death during a 15-century siege by Ottoman soldiers.
When residents of a small port town called Otranto refused to surrender to the Ottoman army in 1480, the soldiers were ordered to massacre all males over the age of 15. According to the Catholic Herald, many were ordered to convert to Islam or die, but a tailor named Antonio Primaldo spoke on the prisoners’ behalf: “We believe in Jesus Christ, Son of God, and for Jesus Christ we are ready to die,” he said, according to John Paul II.
The skulls and other relics of the martyrs currently adorn the walls around the altar of Otranto Cathedral as a memorial to their sacrifice, the Catholic Herald reports.
The canonization will be the first carried out by the pontiff since he was elected in early March and will take place May 12 in St Peter’s Square.