An early 17th-century prayer card to the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. According to hagiographical sources, the Forty Martyrs were elite soldiers in the fearsome Thundering Legion, so named because their feet pounded the earth with such tremendous force when they were on the march. In the final surges of persecution under Licinus, Constantine’s rival to imperial power, they refused to renounce their faith, even in the face of certain death. When entreaties failed to persuade them to abandon their God, the forty comrades-in-arms were stripped naked and exposed to extreme conditions on a frozen lake. In order to break their resolve, bonfires and warm baths were prepared for them a short distance from where they floated in the freezing water. One of the cohort deserted the ranks and crawled on his knees to the safety of the bathhouse, but a guard compelled by the unflinching courage of the soldiers took his place in the icy ranks. Thus, there remained a martyr’s head for each of the forty crowns that began to descend, miraculously, from heaven.
A meditation from Cyprian on patient suffering reads, Charity is the bond of brotherhood, the foundation of peace, the steadfastness and firmness of unity; it excels both good works and suffering for faith; and, as an eternal virtue, it will abide with us forever in the kingdom of heaven.
This meditation is followed by an injunction to pray for the whole body of the church.