You've probably heard the old expression "he'd cut off his nose to spite his face," and assumed that it was just a colorful metaphor. Unfortunately, the saying may have been inspired by an actual historical event.
According to the 1904 book "A Dictionary of Saintly Women," in 867 C.E., Viking raiders — led by the sons of Ragner Lothbroc, the king of Denmark and Sweden — sailed southward and invaded the British Isles. As they ravaged the country with fire and sword, they gained a fearsome reputation for extreme cruelty as well as greed.
But when they attacked a monastery of Coldingham in Scotland, the female head of the institution, St. Aebee the Younger, assembled the nuns and exhorted them to avoid being raped by voluntarily disfiguring themselves. As an example, St. Aebbe is said to have cut off her own nose and upper lip. The rest of the sisters did the same. When the Vikings finally broke into the convent, their lust turned to disgust when they saw the self-mutilated nuns.
But unfortunately, that act of defiance didn't prompt the raiders to spare their lives. Instead, they simply set fire to the place, and burned the nuns to death [source: Dunbar].