Exiles of the Cebenna

Book cover: 'Exiles of the Cebenna'
John Mason Neale
2 147 483 647
Paidea Classics
Number of pages: 
132 pages

I came across this little gem of a story from the 19th century while visiting the Paidea Classics website. This is a website with resources for Eastern Orthodox home schooling families. If you are studying the time period of the early Church you will find a lot of primary sources and resources there.

Exiles of the Cebenna was originally written in the 19th century and pretends to be the long lost journal of a priest from the 3rd century. The language is delightful and the story very moving. It takes place at the time of the persecution by Decius, a particularly brutal time of martyrdom. The people of Arles, France have been told that they must appear at the arena to give sacrifice to the Roman gods. If they refuse, they will be tortured and killed. A small group of Christians under the leadership of the priest telling the story plan an escape through a secret tunnel. The Bishop however, must stay behind.

On the day of his appointed appearance, the Bishop quails under the torture and makes the sacrifice. He is utterly devastated that he could not bear witness to his faith and has failed his people. Hearing of this, his daughter who was one of the escapees, tries to return to see her father and comfort him. Since the tortures, the people and officials are subdued by the horrific spectacle, and the Christians feel that it is now safe to travel in the open. They are recognized however and taken to the prison. The daughter is told that she must sacrifice. She refuses, and in the most moving scene in the book begins her torture. Her life is spared at the last moment, but she does eventually die from her wounds. Her death indeed helps her father to proclaim his faith, and, according to the epilogue, he is also eventually martyred.

Although, a student may have trouble getting into the language of the story at first, it does become more readable and draws the reader in. The ending is worth every word of the rest of the book. It gives a truly inspiring image of the trials and glory of the martyrs.

Recommended for 7th grade and up.

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