Bl. Anthony Neyrot Was Catholic, Then Muslim, Then Catholic, Then Martyred

“The Martyrdom of Blessed Anthony Neyrot” (16th century)
“The Martyrdom of Blessed Anthony Neyrot” (16th century) (photo: Public Domain)

There are approximately 17,000 saints and beati in the Church's roll. In addition, there are 45 million martyrs mostly due to 20th century secularist and jihadist violence. Of course, to this number, we might also add all of our grandparents, as surely God loves them as much as we do. I think mine are saints.

To give an idea of what this number means, imagine starting a road trip in Boston and driving though Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut down to New York City and its environs, New Jersey, Philadelphia and all the way down to Washington, DC. This is what professional geographers refer to as "Bos-Wash"―the Northeast megalopolis stretching from Boston to Washington.

Now, imagine that was at least as many souls sojourning in Heaven.

That's a lot of people enjoying the Beatific Vision.

Of course, these aren't the only people in Heaven. Considering there have been 120 billion human beings so far, I'd be happier hoping there are many billions in Heaven now.

To this number, we might also add our dogs.

And each one of these blessed souls is unique but what they all have in common is a self-recognition of their sinful nature and an acceptance of God's forgiveness and all-encompassing and healing love.

Some recognize and accept their commitment to God at a very young age such as the Prophet Samuel, St. Domenico Savio and St. Maria Goretti. Others have to live hard lives before they come to choose God such as St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Edith Stein and Bl. Bartolo Longo.

Bl. Anthony Neyrot was one of the latter.

Perhaps his road was rougher than most.

Bl. Anthony Neyrot was a 15th century Dominican friar from Rivoli, in northern Italy. His was a restless soul.

After completing his theological studies, Bl. Anthony was ordained and ministered at Florence's San Marco Church. It was here where he came under the tutelage of St. Antoninus of Florence, the archbishop of the city―one of the era's foremost minds, a man of great sanctity and was also an early contributor the distributivist theory.[1] St. Antoninus, in turn, had been a student of Bl. John Dominici, a great reformer of the Dominican order.

Though he enjoyed St. Antoninus' friendship, Bl. Anthony grew dissatisfied with his apostolate and asked for a transfer to Sicily. En route there, his ship was captured by Moorish (ie, Northern African Muslim) pirates, and along with his fellow passengers, was taken to Tunis.[2]

Apparently, for some unknown reason, the caliph of Tunis took a liking to Bl. Anthony and treated him with relative respect and kindness. For one reason or another, perhaps because of Bl. Anthony's public preaching, he was ultimately put into prison and put on bread and water. Weakened by this diet, he soon collapsed. In order to save his life, he chose to renounce Christ and become Muslim.[3]

His transformation to Islam was total and complete. In fact, he publically and wholehearted gave himself over to translating the Koran into Latin. The caliph adopted Bl. Anthony who arranged for his marriage to a Turkish noblewoman.[4]

International news might travel at the speed of light now in the 21st century but, back in the 15th century, people were dependent upon visiting sailors for news about the world.

On one such visit by some Italian sailors, Bl. Anthony came to learn of the death of his beloved mentor, St. Antoninus (d. May 2, 1459). As the shock of this news seeped into Bl. Anthony, he came to repent of his decision to abandon the Church.

That night, he had a dream in which St. Antoninus appeared to him. As a result of that mystical conversation, Bl. Anthony decided to repent of his choices and to return to Christ even though he knew Muslims would murder him for his apostasy.[5]

Anthony sought out a Dominican priest ministering to Christians in Tunis and tearfully confessed his sins. On Palm Sunday of AD 1460, the revert publicly asked his fellow Catholics there in Tunis for their forgiveness. They gladly gave it and Bl. Anthony was immediately readmitted to the Dominican order.

Wanting to witness to Christ more fully, he waited for the caliph to hold a public procession through the city. At that, Bl. Anthony fearlessly took up a place before the caliph's palace proudly dressed in his black and white Dominican habit and loudly proclaimed his faith. The furious caliph immediately ordered Bl. Anthony be stoned to death.

Four days later, on Holy Thursday, in the Year of Our Lord, 1460, Bl. Anthony was murdered.      

Catholic Genovese merchants sojourning in Tunis at that time, understanding the importance of Bl. Anthony's martyrdom, paid an outrageous amount of money to the caliph to recover his body and returned it to his hometown of Rivoli.

Word of the martyr's heroic deeds spread far and wide throughout Christendom. Pilgrims flocked to his tomb and great miracles were reported through the friar's intercession.

Pope Clement XIII beatified Bl. Anthony on February 22, 1767.

Every year on the anniversary of Bl. Anthony's martyrdom, a great procession is held at his shrine.

Some saints have greatness thrust upon them while others are thrust into greatness. Bl. Anthony Neyrot was of the later sort of saint. But, either way, he came to understand the measure of a man. As Aeschylus reminds us:

God, whose law it is 
that he who learns must suffer.
 And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget
 falls, drop-by-drop, upon the heart,
 and in our own despite, against our will,
comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.

For all of his pain, resentment and fear, Bl. Anthony experienced God's perfect healing at his martyrdom.

* * * * * * *

[1] "Antoninus, Saint". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

[2] Bl. Anthony Neyrot, Priest and Martyr, Manual of the Dominican Laity. Province of the Assumption, p. 26-27.

[3] Bl. Anthony Neyrot, Priest and Martyr, Manual of the Dominican Laity. Province of the Assumption, p. 26-27.

[4] Rabenstein, Katherine (April 1999). "Blessed Antony Neyrot, OP." Saints O' the Day for April 10.

[5] Oakes, Edward T., sj, "Islam and Conversion." First Things.