Pope canonises 800 Italian Ottoman victims of Otranto

Pope Francis in St Peter's Square (May 12 2013) Pope Francis has proclaimed more saints than any of his predecessors

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Pope Francis has proclaimed the first saints of his pontificate in a ceremony at the Vatican - a list which includes 800 victims of an atrocity carried out by Ottoman soldiers in 1480.

They were beheaded in the southern Italian town of Otranto after refusing to convert to Islam.

Their names are unknown, apart from one man, Antonio Primaldo.

Within two months of taking office, Pope Francis has proclaimed more saints than any of his predecessors.

Otranto 14 August 1480

  • The `'Martyrs of Otranto" were 813 Italians beheaded for defying demands by Turkish invaders to renounce Christianity
  • The Turks had been sent by Sultan Mehmed II, who had already captured the "second Rome" of Constantinople
  • His fleet landed in Otranto, Italy's easternmost city, and laid siege
  • Its citizens held out for two weeks, allowing the King of Naples to muster his forces and prevent the fall of Rome

Among those canonised on Sunday were two Latin American nuns - Laura Montoya from Colombia and Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala from Mexico - who both died in the 20th Century.

Colombia's first saint, Mother Laura Montoya dedicated her life to helping indigenous people while the woman named by Pope Francis as Mother "Lupita" sheltered Catholics during a government crackdown against the faith in the 1920s.

The Italian "Martyrs of Otranto" were executed after 20,000 Turkish soldiers invaded their town in south-eastern Italy.

There was no hint of any anti-Islamic sentiment in the homily that Pope Francis delivered before tens of thousands of worshippers gathered in St Peter's Square, the BBC's David Willey in Rome reports.

Tapestries (from the left) showing Laura di Santa Caterina da Siena Montoya of Colombia, Antonio Primaldo and his companions, also known as the Martyrs of Otranto, and Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala of Mexico hang from balconies in St Peter's Square at the Vatican Tapestries commemorating those being canonised were displayed at the Vatican

While it was Francis's predecessor, Pope Benedict, who gave the go ahead for their canonisations, the new pope is continuing the process of honouring a new generation of modern as well as historic martyrs, our correspondent says.

Later this month an Italian priest, Fr Giuseppe Puglisi, who was murdered by the Sicilian mafia 20 years ago will be beatified - the last step before being declared a saint.

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