National Geographic : 2012 Mar
• one couple who held back a portion of their donation to the community. In its earliest days the movement was too insigni cant to attract wide-scale persecution, and Christians, as they came to be called, had more friction with neighboring Jewish sects than with the Roman Empire. e faith's rst martyr, according to the Bible, was St. Stephen, a young Christian leader who enraged a Jewish commu- nity by suggesting that Christ would return and destroy the Temple of Jerusalem. A er he was tried for blasphemy, around the year 35, his ac- cusers dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death while he prayed for them. The young Saul---who would soon become Paul in his celebrated conversion on the road to Damas- cus---observed Stephen's execution, minding the cloaks of those who stoned him. In the year 44 King Herod Agrippa I impris- oned and beheaded James the Greater, the rst of the Apostles to die. In 64, when a great re in Rome destroyed 10 of the city's 14 quarters, Em- peror Nero, accused by detractors of setting the re himself, pinned the catastrophe on the grow- ing Christian movement and committed scores of believers to death in his private arena. e Roman historian Tacitus wrote: "An immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of ring the city, as of hatred against man- kind... Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the ames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired." In the year 110 Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, was arrested by the Romans under Trajan, shipped to Rome, and condemned to death ad bestias---by beasts---at the public games. Bloody episodes like this would recur sporadi- cally for the next two centuries. Tradition holds that 11 of the Twelve Apostles were martyred. Peter, Andrew, and Philip were crucified; James the Greater and Thaddaeus fell to the sword; James the Lesser was beaten to death while praying for his attackers; Bar- tholomew was ayed alive and then cruci ed; omas and Matthew were speared; Matthias was stoned to death; and Simon was either cru- ci ed or sawed in half. John---the last survivor of the Twelve---likely died peaceably, possibly in Ephesus, around the year 100. , Columba Stewart, a Bene- dictine monk and historian at Saint John's Abbey in Minnesota, told me, "the organizational struc- ture, the great institution of the church---signi ed for Roman Catholics today by the Vatican and its complex hierarchy---simply wasn't there. ere was an apostolic band of followers. ere were missionary e orts in major centers, rst in Jeru- salem, then Antioch, then Rome, but certainly no sense of a headquarters. Instead you had this tiny, vulnerable, poor, o en persecuted group of people who were on re with something." e Apostles were the movement's cutting edge, spreading the message across the vast trade network of the ancient world and leaving small Christian communities in their paths. "To study the lives of the Apostles," Stewart said, "is a bit like what we've been doing with the Hubble telescope---getting as close as we can to seeing these earliest galaxies. is was the big bang moment for Christianity, with the Apostles blasting out of Jerusalem and scattering across the known world." omas the Apostle went east, through what is now Syria and Iran and, historians believe, on down to southern India. He traveled farther than even the indefatigable Paul, whose journeys encompassed much of the Mediterranean. Of all the Apostles, omas represents most pro- foundly the missionary zeal associated with the rise of Christianity---the drive to travel to the ends of the known world to preach a new creed. Mark the Evangelist too spread the word, bringing Christ's message to Egypt and founding the Coptic faith. But for some Catholics, Mark represents most emphatically the saint as political symbol, powerfully linked with the identity of Venice. Although a gure from the ancient past, he retains a stronger grip on the consciousness Andrew Todhunter is at work on a book about St. Mark and early Venice. Frequent contributor Lynn Johnson traveled to six countries for this story.