Friday Fact: Red, White, and Green Martyrdom

We all know what a martyr is, right?  Someone who dies for their faith, like the millions of heroes who have died rather than renounce the name of Jesus Christ.

But did you know that in the Celtic Church there were two other kinds of martyrdom that don’t involve bloodshed?  I first encountered this interesting fact when I was researching for Book 3 of Daughters of Alba.


The word Martyr comes from the Greek word for “witness”, but has since come to connote something of a sacrifice.  Although dying for Christ is the ultimate sacrifice, there are other ways according to the Celtic tradition.

Red Martyrdom

This is the one we know.  Death.  Red is an obvious label for this one.

Green Martyrdom

The Irish monastic tradition stemmed from this idea.  Christians wanting to connect on a deeper level with Christ would dedicate part of all of their lives to living alone in a solitary place.  This might be your stereotypical life-long hermit, or someone taking a spiritual retreat.  But the green martyrdom was a way to sacrifice when lives were no longer in danger.

White Martyrdom

St. Columcille is credited with the origin of this term, but he was by no means the first “white martyr”.  When he chose to sail across the Irish Sea to Iona to share the gospel with the Pictish people of modern-day Scotland, he was making a sacrifice in penance for a horrific massacre.  Plenty of people to this day sacrifice their lives to travel to a distant land and share the gospel out of a motivation of love.  Nowadays we call them missionaries.


You might not be a Red, Green, or White martyr, but you can still be a witness wherever you are.  You can still give a sacrifice out of love for Christ.

8 thoughts on “Friday Fact: Red, White, and Green Martyrdom”

  1. This is very interesting. I have never heard that there were 3 types of Martyrdom. I was fortunate that I was able to travel to Ireland several years ago – my first trip outside North America. Ever since then, I have been fascinated by the country and of the Celtic culture. Awesome Friday Fact!
    ~ Jodene

  2. Your post leaves me with one burning question. Do you have to be christian to be a martyr? Is the word strictly based on religion and not simply intense belief in a cause? Just curious.

    1. Very good point, Sheri. Being a Christian myself, that’s where I automatically go. But yes, there are martyrs for many different faiths and causes. Thanks for clearing that up. 🙂

  3. You know, I’m just going to have to sign up to your blog, Erin. And I really don’t want to because I have so much to read already. But you’re always so compelling, and interesting, and inspiring… and I’m enjoying these brief insights into your process and your path. Oh well… *sigh* 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s