John Joseph Kilpin Fletcher.

The sign of the cross in Madagascar; or, From darkness to light online

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Ultimately, nine of the Christians were selected
by the queen for execution, and the time and
place were appointed. The old man, Paul, whose
testimony had been so powerful, was one of them.
Another was Joshua, who had rendered much
service to the church as a teacher.

Worn out with their journeyings and their re-
peated fastings, some of the condemned Chris-
tians were unable even to walk to the place of ex-
ecution. They were, therefore, slung on poles and
borne by soldiers to the spot. Once again the
heathen crowds gathered to witness the final tes-
timony of the Christians to their faith in their
Lord. And once again the hearts of the heathen
were filled with admiration at the inward peace
and the outward joy revealed by those appointed
to death. As the crowd moved forward to the
fatal spot — singularly named the " Village of
God " — the voices of the condemned ones were
heard praying for pardon for their enemies, and
pointing their foes and persecutors to the " Lamb
of God, who taketh away the sin of the world."
Then on the " Village of God " they proved them-
selves faithful unto death, and by angel hands
were borne upward to the home of God.

It is recorded, that at the moment of their exe-
cution, the hearts of the superstitious around were
filled with great alarm.

Out of the Jaws of Death 195

It had been arranged that, as a signal for the
executioner to strike the fatal blow with his spear,
a cannon should be fired. This was done ! But
the charge of powder rent the cannon in pieces,
and the man who discharged the gun was serious-
ly injured. Many of the onlookers interpreted
this event as a sign of Jehovah's anger, and a
prophecy that boded ill to the cause of the idols.

a queen's infatuation

If the blood already shed, and the sufferings
already inflicted, had not served to appease the
queen's anger and the thirst for vengeance of the
priests, neither had it succeeded in creating fear
in the hearts of the Christians ; nor even in check-
ing the progress of Christianity in the land. Rath-
er, the fiercer the persecution became, the more
numerous and fearless grew the ranks of the

Two men, whose acquaintance we have already
made, must never be forgotten. They were the
two soldiers who displayed sympathy with the
fugitives, and, by not searching under the bed,
permitted Rafaravavy to escape. These men had
become outright Christians, and had taken a stand
against the idolatrous practices and teaching
around them.

In other parts of the island the persecutions of
the Christians, and the truths gleaned from occa-
sional fugitives, had been creating an interest in
this new religion; and news came that a great
tribe — the Sakalava — were earnestly desiring that
some would come and instruct them in the Gospel.
These soldiers volunteered to go on the mission,

A Queen's Infatuation 197

and were sent on their way by the church. After
making known Christ to these people, and return-
ing home, news of their action was brought to the
queen. Filled with wrath that soldiers in her
army should thus challenge her authority, and
dare not only to profess, but to preach Christ, she
had them arrested and tried. As bravely as they
had served her in the past, so bravely did they
now confess Christ. The sentence was death!
And in order to make their punishment a more ef-
fective warning, they were condemned to die in
their native village. Thither they were taken, and
on a Sunday morning led forth into the market
place, and in presence of a great crowd of sorrow-
ing friends and relations, and of sympathetic
heathen, they were executed — professing with
their dying breath their joyous expectation of be-
ing that day with their Lord in Paradise.

Other events also served to show the queen that
she had not succeeded in her purpose of extermi-
nating the Christians. It soon became evident
that even in the palace, the new doctrine was
making rapid headway. Ramaka, fearless of the
wrath of the queen, went on in the work of hold-
ing Bible readings right in the capital, and it be-
came the more difficult for any to hinder him,
because at least two members of the royal family,
and others in positions of influence, supported his

Indeed, such was the influence of his work that
under his teaching Prince Ramon j a became a

198 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

Christian, and made confession of his faith. Ra-
kota-Radama, the queen's own and only son, also
became favorably disposed toward the Christians ;
while a nephew of the prime minister constituted
himself the friend and champion of some of the
persecuted ones. It was natural that such events,
happening in the palace precincts, should make
the queen somewhat careful as to what steps she
took. At the same time it seemed to exasperate
the feelings of the priests, and to make them the
more anxious to hold their ascendency over the
councils and acts of the queen.

During the season of comparative quiet and
freedom from persecution, the Christians sought
earnestly to strengthen their position. Their
numbers were increasing, and calls were coming
from many parts for teachers and for copies of the
Scriptures. The people wanted to know what
was the faith for which men and women were
thus dying. At the same time most of their
Scriptures and papers had been seized and burnt.

However, they busied themselves in writing out
copies of the Gospel, and sending them abroad to
enlighten those who were seeking knowledge.
And these Scriptures were fondly cherished by
those into whose hands they came. Many of
them, in after days of darkness, were hidden in the
thatch of houses, or buried in holes in the ground,
or secured in forest caves ; and after many years
were once more brought out into the light. The
torn leaves of some of them are to be seen to-day,

A Queen's Infatuation 199

tied together with cords of bark and stained with
the tears which fell from the eyes of the perse-
cuted ones, as they sought to draw comfort from
those pages in the solitary dens and caves in
which they hid from their pursuers.

But the lull could not last long. Indeed, a few
years of such steady effort on the part of the
Christians, and all hope of saving idolatry would
have been demolished. An occasion soon pre-
sented itself for the queen's resolve to be renewed.
One morning the people of Antananarivo awoke
to find that a placard had been affixed to the palace
walls on which was the following passage from
the Scriptures, " Woe unto you, scribes and Phar-
isees, hypocrites ; for ye shut up the kingdom of
heaven against men, neither suffer ye them that
are entering to go in."

That was more than Ranavalona or the priests
could endure, and, although they had not any
idea who had put up the warning, they ordered
the arrest of a young Christian named Raharo,
and he was condemned to drink the tangena.

Some of the church members made a strong ef-
fort to save him from the ordeal, but they were
seized and executed, and their bodies cut up into
small pieces of flesh and burnt. Raharo was
compelled to drink the poison, and died from the
effects. This was sufficient to satisfy the queen
and her counsellors that the Christians had deter-
mined to defy her to do her worst, and she re-
solved once again to strike a blow.

200 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

Another great kabary was called, and to the as-
sembled multitudes the queen's proclamation was
announced. One sentence in that proclamation
revealed alike the bewilderment and the spiritual
darkness of the queen: " I have killed some; I
have made some slaves till death ; I have put some
in long and heavy fetters, and still you continue
praying. How is it that you cannot give up

The queen did not seem to realize that a more
pertinent question would have been : " How is
it that I have not succeeded in turning you from
your course ? " Unintentionally the phrase used
correctly expressed the truth which formed the
only answer the Christians could give, viz. : " We
cannot give up that." As before, the proclama-
tion called upon the Christians to accuse them-
selves, and, if anything, more terrible were the
penalties to attach to any who should still prove
obstinate in their refusal to renounce Christianity
and return to the worship of the idols.

What now will the Christians do? The die is
cast ! the queen's speech has been read. Will the
Christians dare provoke the anger of the govern-
ment by confessing Christ? That proclamation
of the queen's, which was meant to sound in their
ears like a death warrant, seemed to come to them
as a trumpet voice from the very gates of heaven :

A Queen's Infatuation 20 1

" Ye that are men, now serve Him,
Against unnumbered foes ;
Your courage rise with danger,
And strength to strength oppose ! "

This was the spirit displayed by these loyal
ones. The enemy had grown bold and deter-
mined; jealousy had increased to rage, and rage
to mad infatuation. And on the other hand, love
had been purified, faith multiplied, and fears
wholly vanquished. Firm as the hills that stood
around their city were these persecuted, yet not
forsaken, servants of Christ. Again they en-
couraged one another with prayer and testimony,
and the Word of God; and thus, though they
knew the penalty was death, with boldness and
cheerfulness they confessed to the judges that
they were followers of Christ. And even the
judges and the queen were amazed to find the
number of those who thus accused themselves,
and braved her anger and power ; amazed also at
the inroads of the Christian faith in the palace,
and the rank of some who now declared them-
selves on the Lord's side.



The scenes which were witnessed in the court-
room of the palace, when the Christians were
brought to trial, were such as to fix themselves
immortally on the minds of all who were present.
Gaze for a moment upon the scene — a scene often
enacted in other lands and in other ages ; a scene
recalling the days of the apostles and the early
Christian Church, when the followers of the Naz-
arene were dragged before magistrates and rulers,
were beaten and tortured, and then led out to die.

Rumors had gone abroad that the Christians
arrested at this time formed a notable company.
And, although the names could not be learned it
was whispered that more than one noble family
would be represented among those who should
stand at the bar of judgment to answer for their
lives. This fact alone created universal interest
in this trial, and widespread anxiety in many
heathen homes. So that, long before the hour
for opening the court, the chamber was crowded
with all classes of the community. The families
of the nobles, dressed in their silk lambas, mixed
with the poorer classes and even the slaves ; dis-
tinctions were for the moment abolished — or rath-

In the Judgment Hall 203

er forgotten — in the all-absorbing anxiety to know
just who the accused were, and the eagerness to
hear the defence they would make.

Slowly, and with outward show of sternness
and dignity, the prime minister and the judges
took their seats on the bench , and immediately or-
ders were given to have in the prisoners. While
the orders were being executed the judges went
aside for a few minutes to settle the course of pro-
cedure, and so they did not witness the excitement
engendered by the entrance of the accused.

When the procession reached the door, under
escort of a company of soldiers, the pent-up feel-
ings of the onlookers found vent in exclamations
of surprise and indignation ; or in sighs of sym-

The expressions of anxiety on many faces in-
side the court-room turned to looks of consterna-
tion, as, in the line of accused Christians, one and
another recognized some of their loved ones- Dis-
regarding all semblance of order, or of respect for
the legal procedure, many pushed their way to
the front and began to weep, and to intercede with
their friends to renounce their faith. If for no
other reason, than for the sake of their loved ones,
let them worship the idols and so save their fam-
ilies the disgrace and sorrow which seemed to
threaten them. But bribes, entreaties, tears,
were alike unavailing. These noble Christians
remained fearless and undaunted — as faithful
confessors as ever confronted persecutors.

204 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

The court at length was ready to proceed with
the business of the hour. In the centre sat the
prime minister ; on either side a judge ; while the
queen herself sat so near as to be able to speak
in the ears of the judges. Beside her stood Kel-
azapa. Suddenly the prime minister was seen to
tremble. His face blanched, and he clutched at
the parchment that lay on the table before him;
for, in casting his eye slowly along the line of
Christians, he discovered his own son, Rainiharo,
standing at his bar, charged with a capital of-
fence. For a moment it seemed as if he would
rise and leave the court-room. But after a few
moments' conversation with the judges he seemed
to regain control of his feelings ; and with a stoi-
cism worthy of the days of old, the order was
given to call the roll of the accused and proceed
to examine them. One by one the Christians re-
sponded to their names, and when called upon to
renounce Christ, firmly refused to do so. More
than once was the refusal to worship the idols
coupled with such passages of Scripture as,
" From Heaven did the Lord behold the earth ; to
hear the sighing of the prisoner; to loose them
that are appointed unto death," or " In Thee, O
Lord, have I put my trust ; let me never be con-
founded ;" or, " Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of His saints." At length, the name
of Ranivo was called, and immediately the con-
course in the hall was filled with emotion. Ranivo
belonged to a noble family and was widely con-

In the Judgment Hall 205

nected. She was, besides, young and beautiful;
and many a heathen heart beat rapidly under the
emotions awakened by the sight of one so pure,
lovely and youthful standing, as it were, under
the shadow of the executioner.

Suddenly the queen was seen to lean forward
and whisper something to the judges ; and at once,
making some excuse for her on account of her
youthful folly, they were about to order her re-
lease. But she was instant with a bold confes-
sion of her faith in Jesus.

So strong and invincible was her spirit that the
effort to release her was a fruitless one, and her
trial went forward. But again the queen, eager
to spare the beautiful noblewoman, leaned for-
ward and whispered; and one of the judges, ris-
ing, declared her release since it was evident,
from her conduct, her reason had become de-
throned, so that she was not responsible for her

Standing in the presence of the multitudes,
Ranivo resumed her testimony ; and so calm and
Christ-possessed was her spirit that, when she
at last declared, " though I should die with
Christ yet will I not deny Him," it was evident the
judge's statement was merely a subterfuge to
spare her.

The command went forth to bind her, and she
was held for sentence. If the queen's heart was
filled with pity for Ranivo it was equally stirred
with anger and resentment when, presently, the

206 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

name of Fantaka was called, and there stood forth
the relative of Rafaravavy, who had so success-
fully evaded the soldiers and escaped to England.
And now it fell to the lot of another to try to se-
cure clemency for this accused one. That friend
was found in Prince Ramon j a, to whom Fantaka
was betrothed. The Prince was actuated by a
double motive — his own personal love for Fan-
taka, and his loyalty to the Christ whom he also
had begun to serve. All fear forsook him as he
sought to withstand the storm breaking over the
head of his loved one, and indeed of all the Chris-
tians. Yet not till the sentences should be pro-
nounced could he know with what measure of
success his intercession would be rewarded. It
was not to be expected that testimonies such as
were given that day should fail of having some
effect on the minds of the heathen. And already,
when Rainitraho was called on to declare him-
self, there were many who looked on the Chris-
tians with a kindlier eye than had been their wont
of late. Still these feelings were deepened, and
something akin to real sympathy was created, by
the fervor, the simplicity, the grandeur of his
confession. "Where is your God?" asked a
judge. " He is in the heavens ; and hath done
whatsoever He would among the children of men.
According to the greatness of His power He is
able to preserve them that are appointed unto
death." "What is your opinion of the gods of
this land?" was asked him. "Their idols are

In the Judgment Hall 207

silver and gold, the work of men's hands." " Why
will you not worship the idols of your country ? "
was then demanded. " Because they can neither
see, nor speak, nor hear; neither can they de-
liver any. You may trust in them; but we will
trust in the Lord from this time forth for ever-
more." " But why will not you yield to the queen's
command, bow to the idols, and save yourselves
from the death that surely awaits you." To
which, Rainitraho, recalling the words of the three
brave Jews, replied : " We are not concerned to
answer you in this matter. Our God, whom we
serve, is able to deliver us from the burning fiery
furnace ; and if he will not, be it known unto you
that we will not serve your gods. Does not our
own proverb say, ' It is better to be held guilty by
man than to be condemned by God ' " ? From
the crowded court room came sounds and move-
ments which seemed to the judges dangerously
near to open approval of the answers of Raini-
traho; and even Kelazapa was filled with alarm.
Leaning forward he said to the judges: "Take
my advice and close this examination. If not,
before you have finished all the. people will de-
clare for the Christians." Thereupon the course
of the examination was hastened ; and one by one
the Christians, on indicating their confession of
loyalty to Christ, were handed over to the guards
to await sentence.

It was near nightfall when the trial ended ;
and while the crowd of spectators betook them-

208 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

selves homeward with strangely mingled feelings,
the Christians returned, under escort of the jail-
ors to spend a night of prayer and patient wait-
ing for the morrow, and sentence, and — death?
One night of suspense and the morning would
bring their condemnation. That night, in many
a lonely spot, little groups of Christians who were
still free, gathered to pray for their friends —
many of whom, they feared, were soon to pass
through the gates of a cruel death to the martyr's
crown. And here and there groups of Chris-
tians, even in the slavery to which they had been
consigned, knelt and prayed for their brethren and
sisters who were placed in such deadly peril. To
all of these the watches of the night wore wearily
away, while yet they would gladly have length-
ened that night into years if so be their friends
might have been saved.

It was a night of anxious planning and purpose
on the part of the queen and her officers. It had
not taken long to arrive at the decision as to what
penalties should be inflicted. Some must die:
others be sentenced to degradation or slavery.
The most anxiously discussed question was how
to make the infliction of the death penalty so fear-
ful as to strike terror to the hearts of the heathen,
and add to the reproach and humiliation of the
Christians. The night was far spent ere the in-
genuity of the queen and her advisors had de-
vised methods which seemed to them sufficient to
accomplish their purpose. But at last these plans

In the Judgment Hall 209

were formed, and a few hours of quiet succeeded
the night of anger — or rather preceded the day
of doom. So, under the dark mantle of the over-
hanging night, a short truce separated the Chris-
tians and their foes. The former were praying;
the latter had despatched soldiers to prepare for
the bloody scenes of the day to follow.



The streaks of early dawn were just appearing
across the hill-tops which towered to the eastern
horizon, and the soft, low voice of Simeon, the
devout, was breathing a prayer for special
strength and much of the Saviour's presence to be
vouchsafed to those so soon to suffer for His
name — a prayer coupled with petitions for pro-
tection and grace to their brethren, who, though
still at large, were in danger, and for mercy on
their foes and persecutors — when a dull, sullen
roar resounded over the city and plain ; and the
mouth of the cannon announced that the most no-
table day in the history of Madagascar had come.

With the grey dawn the city began to be astir ;
while inside the prison walls, those who expected
that day to enter the joy and glory of their Lord
were tenderly encouraging one another; and
praise and prayer mingled with the sound of mov-
ing soldiers and the increasing hum and buzz of
palace officials.

To the condemned Christians the terror of
death seemed past, and their demeanor was more
like that of men and women who were to be
crowned with victors' diadems.

Faithful unto Death 1 1 1

Early in the day the crowds began to gather;
and all around the prison courts, and through the
streets of the city, were to be seen large groups
of eager and excited people. Some were hazard-
ing opinions as to the penalties that would be in-
flicted; others were anxiously questioning the
wisdom of the course pursued by the government ;
some were secretly sorrowing for the persecuted
who had been the best friends many of them had
possessed ; while not a few openly expressed their
sympathy with the Christians, their admiration
of their spirit and bearing, and their opinion, that
the religion that made them so noble must be a
purer and grander religion than that which in-
spired the cruelties of their persecutors.

The sun had not risen high, when a messenger
arrived and summoned the Christians to appear
before the judges and receive the sentences to be
pronounced against them. Hastily preparing to
answer the call, the Christians appeared in the
courtyard ; and while they stood there, carefully
guarded by the soldiers, the judges stood up in
the porch of the judgment hall and pronounced
the final resolve of the queen and her court in re-
gard to them.

Upon eighteen of the Christians the death sen-
tence was passed — the execution of the sentence
to take place in a few hours. So that the expec-
tation of many was to be realized. Their last
morning on earth had dawned. Before night
thev would be with their Lord in Paradise. Yet

212 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

was there neither weeping, nor sign of astonish-
ment, nor semblance of fear. Rather, if anything,
many of those reserved for milder punishment
seemed almost to envy their friends the joy set
before them, although it had to be reached by
enduring the cross and despising the shame.

The remaining, more than two thousand Chris-
tians, were sentenced chiefly in groups. Hun-
dreds of the gentle and refined, irrespective of sex
or condition, were doomed to be publicly flogged.
Many hundreds more were condemned to life-
long labor in chains. Large numbers of those
who had means were sentenced to pay heavy
fines to the government; while those who had
held positions of dignity and influence were se-
verely degraded.

Amongst the latter were Prince Ramon j a and
Rainiharo. Their positions were so exalted, and
their efforts in behalf of the Christians so pub-
licly made, that it was determined to make a
special example of them. Upon Ramonja, two of
whose houses had already been destroyed by fire,
was inflicted a fine that absorbed the greater part
of his property ; and, in addition, he was deprived
of his military rank and compelled to perform
the most menial work of a common soldier.

The prime minister having, by his hatred of the
Christian faith, become deadened to parental feel-
ings, urged the infliction of the death penalty
upon Rainiharo, his son. But the shrewder. wit
of the queen led her to decide otherwise, and

Faithful unto Death


Rainiharo was banished from home and tribe, to
become a wanderer and exile amongst the heathen
tribes around.

Amongst those sentenced to slavery was Fan-
taka. She had looked forward to death, not ex-

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Online LibraryJohn Joseph Kilpin FletcherThe sign of the cross in Madagascar; or, From darkness to light → online text (page 11 of 17)