The Hieromartyr Polycarp of Smyrna was a bishop and martyr of the early Church, and a disciple of the Apostle John. The year of his birth is suggested as anywhere from A.D. 69 to 81, and his martyrdom is recorded as being from A.D. 155 to 167. He was burned at the stake in Smyrna (modern day Izmir in Turkey). His feast day in the Church is February 23.
Polycarp was a contemporary and correspondent of Ignatius of Antioch. Ignatius addressed a letter to him, and mentions him in the letters to the Ephesians and to the Magnesians. Polycarp visited Rome during the time of Pope Anicetus, and found their customs for observing Pascha differed. They agreed to peaceably disagree on this matter. Polycarp was offered the opportunity of celebrating the Eucharist in the Pope’s church.
Polycarp’s sole surviving work, the Letter to the Philippians, and an account of The Martyrdom of Polycarp form part of the writings usually collected under the title “The Apostolic Fathers.” Polycarp’s is one of the earliest post-biblical accounts of Christian martyrdom. It also is one of the earliest accounts of the veneration of relics, as the Martyrdom records that after Polycarp’s immolation, the faithful piously gathered up his bones as precious treasures.
Irenaeus of Lyons, a disciple of Polycarp, relates how and when he became a Christian and in his letter to Florinus stated that he saw and heard him personally in lower Asia; in particular he heard the account of Polycarp’s conversations with John the Evangelist and with others who had seen Jesus Christ. Irenaeus also reports that Polycarp was converted to Christianity by apostles, was consecrated a bishop, and communicated with many who had seen Jesus. He repeatedly emphasizes the very old age of Polycarp. In the account of his martyrdom, Polycarp himself gives his age on the day of his death as 86 years.
The date of Polycarp’s death is disputed. Eusebius of Caesarea dates it to the reign of Marcus Aurelius, circa 166-167. However, a post-Eusebian addition to the treatise The Martyrdom of Polycarp dates his death to Saturday, February 23 in the proconsulship of Statius Quadratus — which works out to be 155 or 156.