Otranto Cathedral Houses Bones of 15th Century Martyrs

The Otranto cathedral in Italy is a macabre reliquary displaying the bones of 800 martyrs slaughtered by Turk invaders in the 15th century.
Otranto cathedral reliquary filled with the bones of martyrs beheaded by Ottoman troops in 1480

The small Italian harbor town of Otranto is home to a macabre memorial: A cathedral filled with the remains of 813 people brutally slaughtered by Ottoman soldiers in the 15th century. On the altar of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Annunziata is a statue of the Madonna and child. She protects five large glass reliquaries behind her filled with the bones of martyrs.

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Legend says that when the Turks sailed into the Otranto harbor, they stormed the town walls after a 15 day siege and began a bloody crusade to conquer its people. As the story goes, a tailor named Antonio Primaldi led 800 martyrs in a stand against the savage Muslim forces. When they refused to convert, they were taken to the Hill of Minerva, now known as Martyr Hill, and beheaded while their families were forced to assist.

Killing stone inside the Otranto cathedral
Killing stone believed to have been used in the beheadings

It is said that after decapitation, Primaldi’s body remained standing until the last of his people were mowed down. One of the soldiers, an Ottoman Turk named Bersabei, was so astonished that he converted to Christianity on the spot, and was subsequently impaled by his comrades.

The Madonna watches over the remains of 800 beheaded martyrs in the Otranto cathedral

Though there seems to be some scholarly disagreement with the validity of these accounts, Pope Francis conducted the venerable rite for the canonization of saints for the Martyrs of Otranto in 2013.

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