Twelve years before Christopher Columbus discovered a New World, 800 men and boys of Otranto laid down their lives for Christ. The city of Otranto, at the heel of the boot of Italy, was seized by the Turks under Gedik Ahmed Pasha, grand vizier of the Ottoman Empire. Archbishop Stefano Argercolo de Pendinellis was murdered in his cathedral by the Turks and the garrison commander was sawn in half. Following a massacre of most of the population the Turks offered some 800 men and boys the choice between conversion to Islam or death. Led by an elderly tailor, Antonio Pezzulla, the men and boys chose death rather than apostacy, and were beheaded on the hill of Minvera outside the town on August 14, 1480, their families forced by the Turks to help in the executions.
Christian forces under Alfonso of Aragon, a son of the King of Naples, retook the city in 1481, and the bodies of the martyrs were found to be uncorrupted. The process of canonization was begun in 1529, the martyrs were beatified in 1771 and the martrys were canonized on May 12 by Pope Francis. In his homily the Pope recalled Christians today who suffer persecution for their faith: