April 18, 1161: Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, dies. He repeatedly quarreled with his superiors about church appointments and other political questions, but he the influential French abbot Bernard of Clairvaux supported him. Theobald helped strengthen the English church and build the career of Thomas Becket, whom he recommended as chancellor to England’s newly crowned King Henry.
April 18, 1587: English Protestant historian John Foxe, author of Actes and Monuments of Matters Happenning to the Church (the shorter version is now known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs), dies at age 71.
April 18, 1874: Having died nearly a year earlier (May 1, 1873) in what is now northern Zambia, missionary-explorer David Livingstone (whose remains had been brought, as his tombstone reads, “by faithful hands over land and sea”) is interred in London’s Westminster
April 17, 1492: Spain’s King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella give Christopher Columbus a commission to seek a westward ocean passage to Asia. Though he was also interested in wealth, Columbus saw himself as a “Christ-bearer” who would carry Christ across the ocean to people who had never heard the gospel.
April 17, 1708: Ambrose, Archbishop of Moscow from 1768-1771 is born. In 1771, in the middle of an outbreak of the plague, Ambrose (who is known for his translations of the Hebrew psalter and some Greek and Latin fathers) was martyred by a mob when he removed an icon from the church to prevent the spread of infection.
April 17, 1937: With Mussolini’s troops occupying Ethiopia, Sudan Interior Mission missionaries who had started a small church among the previously devil-worshiping Wallamo tribe are forced to leave the country. “We knew God was faithful,” one missionary wrote. “But still we wondered—if we ever come back, what will we find?” The missionaries returned in July 1943 to find that, despite severe persecution by Italian soldiers, the Christian community had grown from 48 members to 18,000.
April 16, 1521: German reformer Martin Luther arrives at the Diet of Worms, convinced he would get the hearing he requested in 1517 to discuss the abuse of indulgences and his “95 Theses.” He was astounded when he discovered it would not be a debate, but rather a judicial hearing to see if he wished to recant his words. In defending himself the next Day , Luther said, “Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear, and distinct grounds of reasoning . . . then I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen!” When negotiations over the next few Day s failed to reach any compromise, Luther was condemned.
April 16, 1879: Bernadette Soubirous, who at age 14 became famous for her visions of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes, dies in Nevers, France. In 1933 the Roman Catholic church declared her a saint.
April 16, 1922: Belvin W. Maynard, an ordained Baptist minister known as “the flying person,” delivers the first sermon preached from an airplane by radio.
April 15, 1415: Jerome of Prague, a friend of Bohemian reformer Jan Hus, is seized by church authorities meeting at the Council of Constance. Under duress, Jerome recanted his Wycliffe-influenced beliefs and accepted the authority of the pope. However, when a crowd was assembled to hear him repeat the recantation, he changed his speech and eloquently defended both Wycliffe’s teachings and the recently executed Hus. Jerome was subsequently burned at the stake.
April 15, 1452: Italian painter and scholar Leonardo da Vinci is born in Florence, Italy. Among his most famous religious works are the Virgin of the Rocks, The Last Supper, and St. John the Baptist.
April 15, 1638: The castle of Hara, located on the Shimabara Peninsula, Japan, falls to Tokugawa Shogunate forces. Catholic leader Amakusa Shiro Tokisada defended the fortress with 27,000 Christians, over 14,000 of them combatants. They fought valiantly to the end—even the women and children. After the battle, all of the survivors were subsequently beheaded, save one Judas (Yamada) who had plotted to open the castle gate to the enemy.
April 15, 1729: Johann Bach conducts the first and only performance of St. Matthew Passion during his lifetime at a Good FriDay Vespers service in Leipzig, Germany. The choral work has been called “the supreme cultural achievement of all Western civilization,” and even the radical skeptic Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) admitted upon hearing it, “One who has completely forgotten Christianity truly hears it here as gospel.
April 15, 1889: Belgian Roman Catholic priest Joseph Damien, a missionary to lepers on Molokai, Hawaii, dies from the disease.
April 15, 1892: Dutch devotional writer Corrie ten Boom, known for hiding Jewish refugees in her home during World War II (an act dramatized in the 1971 film The Hiding Place) is born. She also died on this date in 1983.
April 14, 1759: George Frideric Handel, composer of the oratorio Messiah, dies at age 74 in London.
April 14, 1775: America’s first society to abolish slavery organizes in Philadelphia.