March 31: Today in Christian History

March 31, 1376

Gregory XI issues an interdict against the city of Florence, which had joined a league to abolish the pope’s secular power. This interdict gives anyone the right to plunder the city and to make slaves of its people wherever they might be found.

March 31, 1492

Queen Isabella, having compelled Muslims to convert to Christianity or leave Spain, now signs a similar decree relating to her Jewish subjects, ordering them to convert to Christianity or face expulsion. It will not actually be issued for another month and will allow three months for compliance.

March 31, 1515

Needing money to rebuild St. Peter’s basilica, Pope Leo X announces a sale of indulgences to run for eight years beginning this day. Albert of Brandenberg, deeply in debt after purchasing his position as archbishop, is allowed to keep half the proceeds, but will not profit as greatly as he hopes because the indulgence will anger the friar Martin Luther, who will post his Ninety-Five Theses in response. The Reformation will result.

March 31, 1631

Death of metaphysical poet John Donne, Dean of St. Paul’s. Among his most famous poems, one began with the words “Death be not proud.”

March 31, 1748

Isaac Backus is called to be pastor to Bridgewater, Massachusetts. He will become a notable Baptist evangelist and an advocate of religious freedom.

March 31, 1783

On Easter Sunday, Fra Junipero Serra founds San Buenaventura, the ninth Spanish mission in California.

March 31, 1799

Missionary and physician Johannes Van Der Kemp reaches South Africa. He will study the Xhosa and Khoikhoi languages and outrage European opinion by marrying a young African woman.

March 31, 1816

Death near Fredericksburg of Francis Asbury, one of the first two bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States. He had preached his last sermon in Richmond, Virginia, just a week earlier.

March 31, 1836

Death in Hastings, Sussex, England, of Anglican bishop Henry Ryder, the first of the 19th-century evangelicals to become a bishop of the Church of England.

March 31, 1879

Death in Moscow of Russian Orthodox archbishop John Veniaminov (St. Innocent of Alaska), a missionary evangelist to Alaska and archbishop of the far western territories of Russia. He had also served as Metropolitan of Moscow.

March 31, 1901

Death in Verona, Italy, of John Stainer, composer of much church music, including the cantata The Crucifixion.

March 31, 1945

Mother Maria” Skobtsova is executed at the gas chamber in Ravensbrück. An unconventional nun of the Orthodox Church, she had been famous for helping “down and out” people, including Jews persecuted by Nazi conquerors in France. She will be declared a saint in 2004.

March 31, 2011

Death of Tanzanian evangelist Yohana Zebedayo who worked with the Africa Inland Church, preaching Christ-centered sermons.

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