Martyrdom: Transcendence on the Rack


"Wait! I'm not done with that yet!" Rischgitz/Hulton Archive/Getty

We've all seen images of saints and martyrs who rise above their torments, but is it really possible to find transcendence on the rack?

In this episode of Stuff to Blow Your Mind, Julie and I look into the connections between physical pain and religious experience. Are our tales of smiling martyrs merely fictions, or do they reveal inspiring and troubling properties of the human mind?

We'll run through a number of gory examples of transcendent martyrs, but we managed to leave off Saint Denis in Paris, pictured in this post. According to tradition, after the saint was beheaded, he picked up his own severed head and walked for six miles, preaching the whole way.

To say nothing of Saint Elmo of the coiled-out intestines or the martyred Robert Lamb, one of the Perth Martyrs who died in 1543.

Listen to it right here.


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.