February 23, 155 (traditional date): Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, is martyred. Reportedly a disciple of the Apostle John, at age 86 he was taken to be burned at the stake. "You try to frighten me with fire that burns for an hour and forget the fire of hell that never burns out," he said. The flames, legend says, would not touch him, and when he was run through with a sword, his blood put the fire out (see issue 27: Persecution in the Early Church).
February 23, 303: Diocletian begins his "Great Persecution," issuing edicts that call for church buildings to be destroyed, sacred writings burned, Christians to lose civil rights, and clergy to be imprisoned and forced to sacrifice. The following year he went even further, ordering all people to sacrifice on pain of death (see issue 27: Persecution in the Early Church).
February 23, 1455 (traditional date): Johannes Gutenberg publishes the Bible, the first book ever printed on a press with movable type. (see issue 16: William Tyndale)
February 23, 1685: George Frederick Handel, composer of the oratorio "Messiah," is born. He died in 1759, having spent the last six years of his life in total blindness.
August 3, 1492: Christopher Columbus sets sail from Spain for the "Indies." Though the explorer was in part driven by a quest for gold and glory, he also saw himself as a missionary. He thought, if there were a shortcut to the East by sea, missionaries could be sent there faster, thus enabling Christians to meet the provision for world evangelization before the Lord could return (see issue 35: Christopher Columbus).