John Joseph Kilpin Fletcher.

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

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pecting that any pleadings of her friends could
possibly save her from the fierce wrath of the
queen. Her escape from death was one of those
singular instances where fear, or policy, mode-
rates the hatred of the persecutor, though the
reason or the method may never be explained.

To Prince Ramon j a the announcement of Fan-
taka's sentence brought a great relief. Long, and
earnestly, had he pled in her behalf ; and even the
heavy penalty that had fallen upon himself, large-
ly as the result of his intercession, seemed almost
a joyous circumstance, since it had saved the life
of one who was so dear to him.

The eighteen Christians who were condemned
to death were taken back to their chains and firm-
ly secured. Rude placards were posted at the
palace gates and in prominent parts of the city,
announcing that, in the course of the day, eighteen
of the accused Christians would be executed.

The news spread with lightning-speed — " The
Christians are to die." Soon the sky became over-
cast, and rain began to fall. Indeed, all through
that eventful and solemn day showers of rain fell
at intervals. But the powers of darkness could
not tarry for fine weather and brilliant sunshine.
Presently the roar of cannon once more called the

214 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

heathen to the scene of execution and gave the
signal to prepare the Christians for the final
stages of their earthly journey.

Gathered in the court-yard, and surrounded by
a half-maddened, half-sympathetic throng, the
soldiers quickly made their preparations. The
Christians were first stripped of their clothing,
and ragged garments placed upon them. Then
their hands and feet were bound with cords, and
they were slung upon long poles. Soldiers came
around and filled their mouths with dirty rags, so
as to prevent their speaking or singing. And
then, the poles being lifted upon the shoulders of
bearing soldiers, the gates of the palace yard were
thrown open and the mournful procession set
forth. But rags and frowns, and heathen com-
mands, could not prevent the joy in the hearts
of those Christians finding expression. Neither
could the ragged robes, nor the degrading car-
riage, detract from the nobility of their bearing
as they were carried forward to the place of death.

In the rear of the condemned Christians came
the palanquins, in which were borne the judges
and officers of state, carrying with them the
queen's proclamation and the warrants of execu-
tion. The journey to the great plain must have
created anxious questionings in the minds of those
who were responsible for the day's events. It
had been anticipated that the tens of thousands
of heathen would pronounce, with loud acclaim,
their approval of the rigor with which the Chris-

Faithful unto Death 215

tian faith was being persecuted ; and it was in the
hope of receiving the public applause that the
judges had assumed their places at the close of
the long procession. But their minds must have
been undeceived before they had gone very far.
For, instead of signs of eager approval of their
course, the heathen multitude allowed the proces-
sion of doomed Christians to pass in almost re-
spectful silence — broken perhaps here and there
with some expression of contempt; broken more
often by some deep drawn sigh of sympathy ; and
marked by the look of pitying admiration.

Arrived at length upon the plain, the Chris-
tians were placed upon the ground, while the
queen's proclamation was read. That proclama-
tion declared that an express revelation had been
made by the gods, and, especially, by the spirit
of Radama, to Ranavalona as to the punishment
to be inflicted on the Christians. Eighteen had
been selected for the severest penalty of death,
and the other thousands to fines, banishment or
slavery. Of the eighteen who were to die, four
were nobles ; and therefore it was becoming that
there should be a difference made in the form of
the death inflicted on them, and that of the com-
mon people.

The will of the gods was, that these four nobles
should be burnt at the stake, and the remaining
fourteen should be hurled from the hill-top and
be broken on the rocks beneath the cliffs. Still
no shout of approval burst from the lips of the

216 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

heathen, who seemed to be more than equally-
divided between their pity and admiration for the
Christians and their loyalty to a religion that per-
petrated such cruelties.

Two of these nobles were husband and wife;
and the wife was on the verge of motherhood.

But heathenism knew no compassion, even for
such an one.

On a spot at the north end of the hill on which
Anatananarivo was built, called Faravohitra,
stakes had been driven into the ground and fag-
gots gathered for the " Smithfield " of Madagas-
car. Forming once more in procession, with the
four nobles — three men and one woman — borne
as before on poles, the judges moved upward to-
ward this place. But ere they reached the stake,
the procession of wretched condemned criminals,
as the heathen regarded the Christians, had be-
come the triumphal march of those who had been
made " Kings and priests unto God." Nothing
could break their spirit, or damp their joy, or
cloud their hope, or hush their voices. And when
at length the voices of those four martyrs, going
forward to the stake, were heard singing grandly :
" Grant us, Saviour, royal blessings, now that to
our home we go," the heathen crowds were so
struck with wonder and sympathy that many
could scarce refrain from weeping and approv-
ing; and the hearts of the judges must have
trembled for fear lest, even now, those heathen
should rescue the Christians from their grasp.

Their Spirits Fled to the " Land oh Light and Rest."

Faithful unto Death 217

But no! The procession moved onward till
Faravohitra was reached, and there a few minutes
sufficed to bind the Christians to the stakes and
place the faggots around them. Once and again
the torch was applied. Once and again the show-
ers of rain extinguished the flames ! But at length
the fire was kindled ; the flames and smoke encir-
cled the martyrs; and their spirits fled to the
" Land of Light and Rest." The last words that
reached their murderers, from out those consum-
ing flames, were : " Lord, Jesus, receive our
spirits. Lord, lay not this sin to their charge ! "
At this moment the heathen, thronging around,
were thrown into a state of alarm, and many fled
at the sight of what they witnessed.

As the dying prayer broke from the lips of the
martyrs, the brilliant sunshine burst through the
clouds and formed a rainbow, one end of which
seemed to light upon the heads of the sufferers;
as if the Lord Himself had prepared them a path-
way of glory to the skies ; or, was it the bow of
hope, that promised the coming of a bright and
happy day for that priest-ridden country — a day
when, from the graves of the martyrs would
arise ten thousand witnesses for God ; a day when
another woman should ascend the throne now
defiled by a bloodthirsty queen, and, at her coro-
nation, acknowledge the Christian's Lord as her

Returning to the plain, a second procession was
formed, and the remaining fourteen Christians

2i 8 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

were borne upward to the cliffs of Ampamari-
nana. From the top there was a sheer descent of
some hundreds of feet, and then, at the base of
the cliffs lay a mass of sharp and jagged rocks.

A rope was tied securely round the waist of one
of the Christians and his body swung over the
precipice ; and while a soldier stood ready with a
sharp knife to cut the rope the last chance was
given to recant — to renounce Christ and return
to idolatry.

A ringing " No " was the answer made ; the
knife fell ; the rope was severed ; and — after sev-
eral seconds, a dull sickening thud told the crowds
above that, down below was a mangled body, but
that in a higher realm another spirit had been
received into the joy of his Lord.

Again and again the act was repeated, until
thirteen of the Christians had thus gone down
into the Valley of Death, having with them God's
rod and staff, and therefore fearing no evil. The
last to be led forward was young Ranivo, and she
responded to the call calmly and fearlessly. She
had evidently been so reserved in the hope that,
when she had witnessed the awful doom of her
fellow Christians, her courage would fail and she
would yield. But on the contrary her courage
seemed to have grown firmer; and with indigna-
tion she refused to bow to the idols, and joyously
prepared to follow her partners in affliction. But
this was not to be. From the beginning the
queen's resolve was to spare Ranivo, and so with

Faithful unto Death 219

the cry, " Take her away ! she is an idiot and does
not know what she says," the executioner stayed
her sentence; and Ranivo lived to glorify her

Later in the day soldiers went to the foot of the
cliff and carried the mangled bodies of the mar-
tyrs up to Faravohitra, where they were consumed
to ashes, and the ashes left to be scattered over the
land by the winds of heaven. The multitudes re-
turned homeward with feelings akin to those of
another multitude — that which beheld a scene of
murder eighteen centuries before, on another hill
whereon a city was built — that scene when the
Saviour of the Martyrs laid down His life a ran-
som for the world — " the multitudes returned
smiting on their breasts."



Israel was in the wilderness; but the wheels
of Egypt's chariots were beginning to drag-
heavily in the bed of the sea. The Christians
were still the objects of hatred and persecution ;
but it became more and more apparent that their
foes were losing ground.

The night of that fatal day brought revelations
which astonished and alarmed the queen and her
bitterest advisers. The prime minister and
judges could not be blind to the influence exerted
upon the populace by the scenes of bloodshed
they had witnessed, the patient, fearless, for-
giving spirit revealed by every one of those
noble martyrs, and the contrast furnished in
the deliberation, malice and mercilessness, with
which the awful tragedies of the day were car-
ried through. It was neither with a very hope-
ful spirit, nor to confront a very cheerful out-
look, that the council gathered that night to try
to estimate the relative positions of Christianity
and idolatry. True, some thousands of Christians
had been severely punished. But how did it come
to pass that, after these years of persistent and
unscrupulous effort to exterminate the new faith,

The Last Kabary 221

there were now ten times as many condemned in
one day for adherence to its teaching, as there
were believers in the whole island at the beginning
of the persecution? Nor was this all; for it was
well known that while thousands who still re-
tained their Christian faith were in bondage, there
were probably as many more all around on whom
the persecutors had not yet been able to lay their
hands. Indeed, it began to be known that those
who had been scattered abroad by the persecution
had gone about preaching the Gospel, and that in
distant parts of the island, the ranks of the Chris-
tians were being swelled. Reports were brought
into the council which showed that the effects
of the queen's display of hatred had been just con-
trary to what had been intended. So convinced
did the council become of this fact that policy, and
the hope of neutralizing those effects, led to an
act that had in it the semblance of mercy.

The next day a proclamation was issued, re-
mitting half the fines that had been inflicted on the
Christians ; and for the next two years, and more,
the policy of making a show of clemency pre-
vailed. Yet the heathen party never lost hope of
ultimate success. The army was on their side;
the queen's orders had never been rescinded ; and
every two weeks, when the army was publicly
paraded, the proclamation commanding the sol-
diers to seize and destroy the Christians was

During this period two powerful influences

222 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

were, more and more, manifesting themselves —
one on either side in this great conflict. A new
leader arose in the ranks of the idolators, in the
person of Ramboasalama. He placed himself at
the head of the heathen party and incessantly
urged the demand for the resumption of active
measures against the Christians. The rapid in-
crease in the number of Christians, and the
growth of influences working in their favor, made
it clear to him that the next eight or ten years
must definitely settle this conflict. On the other
hand the Christians found an increasingly power-
ful protector in the person of the prince royal.
He was not a Christian — and he never became
one. Indeed he led a life such as was common
to the wealthy Malagasy. But his sympathies
toward the persecuted Christians were rapidly de-
veloped, and, moved by a humane spirit, he be-
came the champion of their cause. The com-
mander-in-chief of the army was also beginning
to look with kindlier eyes upon the Christians,
whose conduct was such as to make plain that
they were, after all, the best subjects the queen
possessed. These two influences presently came
into direct opposition.

Some three years after the great day of martyr-
dom the sentences, imposed at earlier dates on
some of the Christians, expired. Ramboasalama
proposed that they should be re-sentenced. When
this proposal was made, the commander-in-chief,

The Last Kabary 223

who had a larger spirit of fairness than many in
the council, arose and demanded to know on
what grounds the Christians, who had already
served one term of punishment for their conduct,
should be condemned a second time for one of-
fence — adding dramatically, " Even the thunder-
bolt does not strike twice."

His resistance to the course proposed by the
heathen, coupled with the influence of the prince
royal, was successful in saving the Christians
from this plot to fasten their chains upon them for
a second period, and great was their rejoicing,
and the enlargement of hope to them, on this ac-
count. For a season the dark clouds were lifted
and the sun shone forth again. Some of the
teachers from England were allowed to visit them
for a short time; new copies of the Scriptures
came into their hands ; and once again were their
hearts refreshed and theh" faith strengthened.

But the hour of trial was not wholly past. The
priests were ever on the alert to turn every event
against the'Christians, hoping to involve them, and
even yet to secure their destruction ; and after sev-
eral years of watchfulness the longed-for season
came. There had been a growing spirit of dis-
satisfaction with the queen's rule, and the impedi-
ments in the way of the country's progress which
her reactionary policy created. This led at length
to the formation of a plot for her deposition. The
plot originated with a Frenchman — a Roman

224 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

Catholic — named Lambert. He proposed to
place the prince royal upon the throne, and, for
this purpose, sought to draw the prince into a
conspiracy. To the honor of the young man, be
it said, he steadfastly resisted the proposal. But
the plot was discovered and reported to the queen ;
who immediately expelled the leaders from the

Now came the opportunity for which the
heathen had been waiting. It was not a very-
difficult matter to persuade the queen that the
Christians were the real originators of this plot,
and that their crime was one of high treason. Al-
though the prince royal affirmed repeatedly that
the Christians were no party to the scheme, the
queen's anger was once more kindled, and another
Kabary was convened. The fires of persecution
were once again lighted, and fifteen days were
given the Christians to accuse themselves. But
few did so. Then the queen resolved to scour the
country with her soldiers, and cleanse the land
of Christians. So great was the terror awakened
in the minds of the heathen by the queen's fury
that, in many cases, where villages were known to
contain one or two Christians the whole popula-
tion fled at the approach of the soldiers, choosing
rather to suffer hunger and peril in the forests
than to be charged before the queen with tolerat-
ing the new faith. Wherever the Christians were
captured, they were at once destroyed — speared,
stoned, burned alive. In one instance twenty-

The Last Kabary 225

one Christians were secured, and these were at
once stoned to death and their dead bodies be-

Some were hurled headlong from the Ampama-
rinana cliffs ; the dead bodies of others were cut
into small pieces and scattered over the earth ; and
many were compelled to drink the tangena cup
and died from the effects. Many more were ban-
ished to distant points, so heavily laden with iron
chains, and so cruelly treated by their captors, that
after having suffered great torture, they died in
their exile.

The storm of persecution was sharp, but it was
also short; and while many suffered, the great
majority of the Christians succeeded in evading
the queen's forces and so escaped from her power.
How rich would have been their consolation, and
how strong would it have made their hope, could
they have known that this was the last storm of
persecution to which they would be subjected,
and that when the calm came, it was because the
storm had spent itself ; and the tree planted by the
right hand of the Lord had not been uprooted.



It was not to be wondered at that the queen
who was becoming advanced in years, should be-
gin to feel discouraged, and to think that perhaps
the work of stamping out the Christian faith
could be better discharged by younger and
stronger hands. Whether this was her feeling or
not, certainly it so happened that, while there was
no change in the spirit entertained by Ranavalona
toward the Christians, she forebore to engage in
further measures against them.

It was possible that she was feeling less confi-
dent of the ultimate success of her plans ; and for
this there was some reason. She had lost by
death one of her most cruel ministers and strong-
est supporters in her policy; and he had been
succeeded in office by his son, who was in sympa-
thy with the more liberal policy of the prince
royal; and in a short time it became apparent
that Ranavalona's opportunities for further in-
juring the new religion would be few.

Tidings began to be spread all over the land

which filled the hearts of the heathen leaders with

despondency, but inspired the Christians with

hope. Ranavalona was sick, and her sickness


In the Chamber of Death 227

seemed unto death. It may easily be imagined
that earnest efforts were put forth for her re-
covery, and the help of the priests and diviners
was constantly sought for this purpose.

They were the more powerfully urged to these
efforts by the knowledge of two facts. They
were fully acquainted with the feelings enter-
tained by the prince royal, and many of the
nobles, toward the Christians. Their attitude,
not merely of tolerance but of active sympathy,
had been again and again demonstrated. Thus
it was clear that, if the Christians were not de-
stroyed by Ranavalona, there was little hope of
her work of blood being carried on by the gov-
ernment and army after her death.

They knew also the spirit of the people, and
the marked change that was taking place in the at-
titude of the idolators toward the new religion.
It had become increasingly clear that the old bar-
riers were giving way. Kindly feelings were be-
ginning to be openly displayed by the heathen to-
ward the Christians. Sons and daughters who
had been exiled, had in many cases been invited
and welcomed home; liberty being given them
to worship Jehovah according to conscience.
Many of the heathen also gathered to listen to
the preaching of the Gospel ; and altogether a new
and deepening interest was being awakened in
its truths. The faith of the heathen in their
idols had received many a rude shock ; and their
admiration had been called forth by the brave,

228 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

patient and forgiving spirit manifested by the
Christians. Thus it became clear that if, in this
struggle, Christianity should outlive its persecu-
tor, the hold of idolatry and the power of the
priests were doomed.

But the arm of the oppressor was already
broken; for a stronger hand than her's was ar-
resting her power. Every breath she breathed,
laden with angry threats against the Christians,
was but lessening her power to harm them and
bringing nearer the moment of their emancipa-
tion. Every diviner was pressed into the service
of the gods ; every known, or supposed charm was
used for the purpose of driving away the evil
spirits which were afflicting the queen. Care-
fully compounded medicines, according to the
skill of the native doctors, were administered, and
the most constant efforts bestowed on her, in
the vain hope to bring back the ebbing tide of
strength. The altars were daily laden with
sacrifices, while an unfailing succession of priests
presented unceasing petitions to the great gods of
the country, to spare the queen — if not for her
own sake, then for the sake of the land and in
return for the signal services she had rendered
the idols, in seeking to stem the tide of reforma-
tion and to maintain the honor and stability of the
ancestral worship ; but once again the idols were
sleeping, or feasting, or on a far journey ; so that
the cries of the suppliants reached them not.

When the host of Pharaoh pursued the people

In the Chamber of Death 229

of Israel, we are told that, " it came to pass, in the
morning watch, that the Lord looked forth upon
the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire
and cloud, and discomfited them." In Madagas-
car the morning watch had come after a long,
dark night ; and the Lord had looked forth upon
the host that oppressed His people, and dis-
comfited them.

Nor were the moments unconnected with signs
and rumors. There was no pillar of fire and
cloud ; but the imagination of the heathen, or,
maybe, the actual deeds of some of the fugitive
Christians, gave rise to strange stones.

To the bedside of the dying queen were brought
startling statements to the effect that on the hill-
tops around the city mysterious fires were being
kindled ; and from the ground seemed to rise the
strains of music.

Different interpretations were put upon these
strange sights ; and many looked upon them as
the signs of Jehovah, portending evil to the queen ;
while others, who seemed to have caught the pro-
phetic instinct, suggested that these fires were the
beacons of liberty, and these strains the first low
tones of the coming song of jubilee.

The feet of the oppressor were already slipping
in the river of death. A little longer, and the
dark flood would overwhelm her ; and once again
would there be heard the glad song of the ran-
somed : " Sing ye unto the Lord, for He has
triumphed gloriously ! "

230 Sign of the Cross in Madagascar

Slowly, but surely, the queen's strength failed,
her sickness being probably increased by the im-
potent rage she still displayed against the Chris-
tians ; yet no power could arrest the arm of the
destroyer. The sixteenth of July, eighteen hun-
dred and sixty-one, brought the end. The hands
which for twenty-six years had been stretched
forth to destroy the gospel were clasped in the
silence of death ; and, as the news spread over the
land, it seemed to the Christians as if the bars of
their prison were burst asunder, and the Lord
Himself was preparing to bid His people go free.
Amid the wildest heathen ceremonies, and ac-
companied to the grave by multitudes of her idol-
atrous subjects, the dead queen was buried; and
then the populace turned to welcome the prince
royal, and acknowledge him as king.

The relief felt by the Christians in the death of
Ranavalona was shared by the whole land, for the
country was weary of the strife and bloodshed
she had caused. The nobles were convinced of
the uselessness of the struggle ; and many of them
were already in secret sympathy with the new
faith. The character and testimony of the Chris-
tians had awakened interest and sympathy all
through the land, and the heathen welcomed the
dawn of brighter and more peaceful days.



Though Radama II. came to the throne, wel-

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Online LibraryJohn Joseph Kilpin FletcherThe sign of the cross in Madagascar; or, From darkness to light → online text (page 12 of 17)