About 200 A.D., under the reign of Roman emperor Septimius Severus, persecution broke out against the Christians. It was particularly severe in North Africa. In Carthage, a Christian woman of noble birth, Perpetua, was arrested. She was about 22 years old and was nursing an infant son. In what may be the earliest extant Christian document from a woman's pen, she wrote her own story. The account of her death was, of course, added later.
Augustine considered his mother, Monica, a driving force in his own salvation. In his Confessions, he documents her relentless prayers and persuasions. In Book IX, he speaks of her married life with Patricius in Thagaste, a small town in North Africa, thanking God for her powerful Christian witness. Patricius was a pagan throughout his life, but converted to Christianity shortly before his death.
Constantine's mother, Helena, traveled to Palestine, touring biblical sites and, with her imperial wealth, establishing churches and shrines. Thereafter, it was quite fashionable for Christians to visit the Holy Land. Late in the 4th century, a nun named Egeria made the trek from western Europe and kept a diary of her travels. Not far from Tarsus, she visited the shrine of Thecla, then considered a historical figure.
From the bitter persecution of Diocletian (303–305), a heroine emerged. Agnes embodied the two ultimate devotions of Christianity: virginity and martyrdom. Since church fathers often spoke in glowing, almost worshipful, terms of both virgins and martyrs, it was natural that they would hail this young girl, martyred in about 304 A.D. The early-5th-century poet Prudentius takes up the story:
May 29, 1453: Constantinople, capital of Roman Empire (and late Byzantine Empire) since Constantine founded the city in 324, falls to the Turks under Mehmed II, ending the Byzantine Empire. Muslims later rename the city Istanbul. The lavish cathedral that crowned the city, Hagia Sophia, was also converted into a mosque (see issue 74: Christians & Muslims). Today it is a museum and restoration work is being done to preserve both the Muslim and Christian layers of religious history.