Friday, June 3, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we remember the Ugandan Martyrs.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 3rd of June 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Today we head back to Africa- Uganda in particular, for the 19th century as we remember the Ugandan Martyrs and the church's growth in East Central Africa.

We’ve looked at Africa on this show in primarily two different eras: the early church (when places like Alexandria and Carthage were Christian centers) and then again in the 19th century, when colonization brought a variety of “Christianities” to a continent that had passed from Christian to primarily local religions blending ancestor worship and animism.

It is a shame to the colonizers that much of this activity was taking place during the 19th century- just as much of the world was eliminating slavery in their countries, Africans were once again being subjected to chattel slavery in their home countries, the cotton gin had made its way to Africa and southern style plantations could be recreated.

At Her best, the church would serve as a curb on the brutalities of the state, but for the local Africans, it wasn’t easy to differentiate magistrates from ministers. Thus, the growth of the African church, while spurred on by missionaries, had to become an indigenous movement.

And it did. And Africa is today one of the most Christian Continents on the planet. Let’s tell the story of the growth of the African church in Uganda.

So, today is the feast of Ugandan Martyrs in the Catholic Church. We will take their lead, except that much of the pious reading on the martyrs mentions 22 of them. The Catholic Church canonized Twenty-two, but there were 45 of them. Twenty-three were Anglican, so… in Uganda today, the memorials count all 45 (in the statue, you can differentiate between the Catholics portrayed with Rosaries and Anglicans with Bibles).

King Mutesa of the Ugandan people first tolerated missionary activity in 1879. You often see “Buganda,” the largest kingdom in Uganda. Also, the missionaries were called the “White Fathers”… no, on account of their white robes, but still…

Anglican missionaries began to work in the area, as were some Muslims. With the death of Mutesa, his son, Mwanga, came to power and was known for his brutality. He had an Anglican bishop killed to warn other outsiders, but this emboldened those Ugandan Christians in his court. Joseph Mukasa, who had become a Christian, would be the first of the king's advisors to rebuke him and be beheaded for it.

Mwanga then asked that all who studied under Mukasa be rounded up and killed. The missionaries had been slow to baptize many, instead opting for a longer instruction time (the idea of being catechumens for up to a year is not unheard of in the church). When news came that they were to be killed, Mukasa’s successor began baptizing immediately. There was a book of Baptismal names, and many of the baptized seemed to have been taken from the front of the book- Ambrose, Anatole, Andrew, Achilles… these have become common Christian names in Uganda.

These young boys were arrested and burned alive. However, the blood of these martyrs would do what it often does: grow the church. Mwanga would eventually be exiled (stories of his conversion are…interesting), and the “Christian Revolution” would be one of the factors in the growth of modern Uganda, with its population today 89% Christian.

Today we remember those 23 Catholic and 22 Anglican saints whose sacrifice was a sign of faithfulness and spurred the church's growth in Africa.

The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary as we head toward Pentecost comes from Isaiah 44:

But now hear, O Jacob my servant,

Israel whom I have chosen!

Thus says the Lord who made you,

who formed you in the womb and will help you:

Do not fear, O Jacob my servant,

Jeshurun whom I have chosen.

For I will pour water on the thirsty land,

and streams on the dry ground;

I will pour my spirit upon your descendants,

and my blessing on your offspring.

They shall spring up like a green tamarisk,

like willows by flowing streams.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 3rd of June 2022, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who knows that Uganda has some fine varietals despite its coffee production being around 80% Robusta. He is Christopher Gillespie of

The show is written and read by a man whose kids are officially on summer break, but don’t worry- this show doesn’t take breaks…I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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