In the latter half of the fourth century, the Church historian Sozomen (c. 400–450 AD), writing of the dangers that beset Ulphilas [Wulfias] among the heathen Goths, recounts how Athanaric, chieftain of the Thervingians, appointed Winguric (Wingureiks), a goði, to eradicate the Christian faith from the land. He placed a xoanon (wooden idol) in an armamaxa (covered carriage) and ordered it conveyed to the homes of those suspected of practicing Christianity. If they refused to fall down and sacrifice (evidently to the deity represented by the statue), their tents were set ablaze. Sozomen says:
.“[Ulphilas] exposed himself to innumerable perils in defense of the faith, during the period that the aforesaid barbarians were abandoned to paganism. He taught them the use of letters, and translated the sacred scriptures into their own language. …Athanaric resented the change in religion that had been effected by Ulphilas; and irritated because his subjects had abandoned the superstition of their fathers, he imposed cruel punishments on many individuals; some he put to death after they had been dragged before tribunals and had nobly confessed the faith, and others were slain without being permitted to utter a single word in their own defense.
It is said that the officers appointed by Athanaric to execute his cruel mandates, caused a statue to be constructed, which they placed on a chariot, and had it conveyed to the tents of those who were suspected of having embraced Christianity, and who were therefore commanded to worship the statue and offer sacrifice: if they refused to do so, they were burnt alive in their tents. But I have heard that an outrage of still greater atrocity was perpetrated at this period. Men, women, and children, who were compelled to offer sacrifice, fled from their tents and sought refuge in a church, whither also they carried the infants at the breast; the pagans set fire to the church and consumed it, with all who were therein.”
In Crimea, Winguric paraded the idol before a tent used by Christians for their church service. Those who honored the idol were spared, and the rest were burned alive in their place of worship around the year 375 AD. A total of 308 people died in the fire, of which twenty-one are known by name, written with multiple variants in manuscript. A woman called Baren or Beride, also recorded as Larisa, led the congregation in a hymn as the fire consumed them. The so-called “26 Gothic Martyrs” linked to this incident are commemorated on March 26 in the Christian Orthodox calendar and on October 29 in the Gothic calendar fragment, "in remembrance of the martyrs who with Werekas the priest and Batwin the bilaif (minister?) were burned in a crowded church among the Goths," gaminþi marwtre þize bi Werekan papan jah Batwin bilaif aikklesjons fullaizos ana Gutþiudai gabrannidai.
It is noteworthy that Athanaric did not persecute Christians in general, but primarily members of his own community who had converted. Since the purpose of the procession seems to be to promote prosperity, Carla O'Harris has suggested that Anthanaric's true motivation in persecuting the converts may have been their unwillingness to participate in the time-honored rituals that would insure the well-being of the land, and therefore the community at large. His chosen means of execution, death by fire, may indicate that Athanaric saw the Christians as practitioners of witchcraft, whose religious rites would offend the gods and thereby blight the land.
Excerpt from Odin's Wife by William P. Reaves, 2018