Associate of, converted by, and disciple of Saint John the Apostle. Friend of Saint Ignatius of Antioch and Saint Papias; spiritual teacher of Saint Irenaeus of Lyon. Fought Gnosticism. Bishop of Smyrna (modern Izmir, Turkey). Revered Christian leader during the first half of the second century. The Asia Minor churches recognized Polycarp’s leadership and chose him representative to Pope Anicetus on the question the date of the Easter celebration. Only one of the many letters written by Polycarp has survived, the one he wrote to the Church of Philippi, Macedonia. At 86, Polycarp was to be burned alive in a stadium in Smyrna; the flames did not harm him and he was finally killed by a dagger, and his body burned. The Acts of Polycarp’s martyrdom are the earliest preserved reliable account of a Christian martyr‘s death. Apostolic Father.
Stand fast, therefore, in this conduct and follow the example of the Lord, ‘firm and unchangeable in faith, lovers of the brotherhood, loving each other, united in truth,’ helping each other with the mildness of the Lord, despising no man. – Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians
When the pyre was ready, Polycarp took off all his outer clothes and loosened his under-garments. There and then he was surrounded by the material for the pyre. Whey they tried to fasten him also with nails, he said, “Leave me as I am. The one who gives me the strength to endure the fire will also give me strength to stay quite still on the pyre, even without the precaution of your nails.” So they did not fix him to the pyre with nails, but only fastened him instead.
Looking up to heaven, he said, “Lord, almighty God, Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom have come to the knowledge of yourself, God of angels, of powers, of all creation, of all the race of saints who live in your sight, I bless you for judging me worthy of this day, this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ, your anointed one, and so rise again to eternal life in soul and body through the power of the Holy Spirit.
“I praise you for all things, I bless you, I glorify you through the eternal priest of heaven, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. Through him by glory to you, together with him and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.”
When he had said, “Amen” and finished the prayer, the officials at the pyre lit it. But, when a great flame burst out, those of us privileged to see it witnessed a strange and wonderful thing. Like a ship’s sail swelling in the wind, the flame became as it were a dome encircling the martyr’s body. Surrounded by the fire, his body was like bread that is baked, or gold and silver white-hot in a furnace, not like flesh that has been burnt. So sweet a fragrance came to us that it was like that of burning incense or some other costly and sweet-smelling gum. – from a letter by the Church of Smyrna on the martyrdom of Saint Polycarp
- “Saint Polycarp of Smyrna“. CatholicSaints.Info. 3 July 2015. Web. 1 December 2015. <>