Thirty-Two Young Men Burned Alive

“He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death” (Rev. 2:11 NKJV).

ON THIS DAY, June 3, in the year 1886, in Buganda (now Uganda), Africa, 32 boys and young men, pages to the royal court, were burned alive as Christian Martyrs. Both Protestants and Catholics—who sent their respective missionaries to the interior of Africa late in the 19th century—had seemed relatively welcome in Buganda, and they saw a number of conversions under their expanding ministries. But real trouble developed when a new ruler, King Mwanga II, a pagan, ascended to the throne. He was a wicked man, perverted, devious, and cruel.

Mwanga used torture and murder to maintain his authority. Moreover, he was a practicing homosexual, gratifying his sinful lusts with his young male pages, who were aged from their early teens to about 30. He hated the missionaries, distressed by their success in making new Christian converts of his subjects, instigated widespread persecution against them, and was enraged when he discovered that many of his young pages had become Christians under the guidance of his head page, 21-year-old Charles Lwanga, who instructed and encouraged them in the faith.

After their conversion, the young men refused the king’s sexual advances. Utterly furious, Mwanga called his pages together and issued this ultimatum: Either renounce Christ and live or remain faithful to Him and die! When they courageously chose the Savior over the king, that evil man sent them to their death. Wrapped in chains, ropes, and iron rings and weighed down with heavy yokes, they were marched to the place of execution (Lwanga was killed along the way; his last words were “My God!”); and for a week, they prayed and prepared for the end. Then they were stripped, wrapped in reed mats, and thrown into the leaping flames.

To the end, they were heard praying and encouraging one another in Christ. Just before he died, one 14-year-old boy, Kizito, cried out, “Goodbye, friends, we are on our way!”*

A Hymn for Martyrs sweetly sing;
For Innocents, your praises bring;
Of whom in tears was earth bereaved,
Whom heaven with songs of joy received.**

*James Martin, My Life with the Saints (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2006), 323 (Google Books).
**The Venerable Bede, trans. By Joan Mason Neale, “A Hymn for Martyrs Sweetly Sing.”

This article is taken from a forthcoming book by Larry D. Smith & Ralph I. Tilley, On This Day in Church History: 365 Daily Vignettes (Sellersburg, IN: LITS Books, 2021), June 3.