Someone who suffers, or is even killed, for his or her political or religious beliefs is called a martyr.

Martin Luther King Jr. is often called a martyr in connection with the American civil rights movement. A martyr is also someone who chooses to be put to death rather than renounce his or her religious beliefs, as the story of Saint Stephen tells. In the figurative sense, if you are a martyr to headaches, you suffer from them. Sometimes, martyr is used negatively to refer to someone who chooses to suffer when there is no need to do so.

Definitions of martyr

n one who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty for refusing to renounce their religion

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Saint Thomas a Becket
(Roman Catholic Church) archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 to 1170; murdered following his opposition to Henry II's attempts to control the clergy (1118-1170)
Saint George
Christian martyr; patron saint of England; hero of the legend of Saint George and the Dragon in which he slew a dragon and saved a princess (?-303)
Jeanne d'Arc
French heroine and military leader inspired by religious visions to organize French resistance to the English and to have Charles VII crowned king; she was later tried for heresy and burned at the stake (1412-1431)
Saint Lawrence
Roman martyr; supposedly Lawrence was ordered by the police to give up the church's treasure and when he responded by presenting the poor people of Rome he was roasted to death on a gridiron (died in 258)
St. Vitus
Christian martyr and patron of those who suffer from epilepsy and Sydenham's chorea (died around 300)
Polycarp, Saint Polycarp, St. Polycarp
Greek bishop of Smyrna who refused to recant his Christian faith and was burned to death by pagans (circa 69-155)
Type of:
an unfortunate person who suffers from some adverse circumstance

n one who suffers for the sake of principle

William Tindale
English translator and Protestant martyr; his translation of the Bible into English (which later formed the basis for the King James Version) aroused ecclesiastical opposition; he left England in 1524 and was burned at the stake in Antwerp as a heretic (1494-1536)
Arabic term for holy martyrs; applied by Palestinians to suicide bombers
Type of:
an unfortunate person who suffers from some adverse circumstance

v kill as a martyr

“Saint Sebastian was martyred
Type of:
cause to die; put to death, usually intentionally or knowingly

v torture and torment like a martyr

martyrise, martyrize
Type of:
excruciate, torment, torture
subject to torture

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