Thursday, October 25, 2007

Forty Martyrs (RC) of England and Wales 25 October 1570

In the years following the quarrel between Henry VIII of England and the Pope of Rome, questions of religious faith became entangled with questions of political loyalty. Henry when young had married his brother's widow, Catharine of Aragon (Spain), who bore him a daughter, Mary. Marriage with one's brother's widow was not permitted in those days, and Henry's marriage had taken place by special permission of the Pope. Later, Henry claimed that the Pope had no right to make an exception, and that the marriage was null and void. He set Catharine aside, and married Anne Boleyn, who bore him a daughter, Elizabeth. Henry later accused Anne of adultery, had her beheaded, and married Jane Seymour, who bore him a son, Edward, and died shortly after giving birth. Roman Catholics held that Mary was born in wedlock, but that Elizabeth was not and had no right to inherit the throne. Protestants held the reverse opinion. (There were exceptions on both sides.) Not surprisingly, Mary grew up Roman Catholic, and her half-sister Elizabeth grew up Protestant.

In 1970, the Vatican selected as representatives of a larger group (totalling perhaps three hundred) forty Roman Catholic men and women, both clergy and laity, who suffered death for their faith during the years from 1535 to 1679. Their names are given below, with years of death. Those marked with an asterisk (*) are Welsh, the others English.

Religious Orders (monks, friars, etc.):
John Houghton, Augustine Webster, Robert Lawrence, 1535;
Brigittine: Richard Reynolds; 1535.
Augustinian friar: John Stone; 1539.
Edmund Campion, 1581;
Robert Southwell, Henry Walpole, 1595;
Nicholas Owen, Jesuit laybrother, 1606;
Thomas Garnet, 1608;
Edmund Arrowsmith, 1628;
Henry Morse, 1645;
Philip Evans*, David Lewis*, 1679.
John Roberts*, 1610;
Ambrose Barlow, 1641;
Alban Roe, 1642.
Friar Obervant, John Jones*, 1598;
Franciscan, John Wall, 1679.

Secular Clergy (parish priests not in monastic orders):
Cuthbert Mayne, 1577;
Ralph Sherwin, Alexander Briant, 1581;
John Pain, Luke Kirby, 1582;
Edmund Gennings, Eustace White, Polydore Plasden, 1591;
John Boste, 1594;
John Almond, 1612;
John Southworth, 1654;
John Lloyd*, John Plessington, John Kemble, 1679.

Richard Gwyn*, poet and schoolmaster 1584;
Swithun Wells*, schoolmaster, 1591;
Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel and Surrey, died in prison (poisoned?) 1595;
John Rigby, household retainer of the Huddleston family, 1600.

Margaret Clitherow, wife, mother, and schoolmistress, 1586;
Margaret Ward, for managing a priest's escape from prison, 1588;
Anne Line, widow, "harborer of priests", 1601.

Of all the Tyburn martyrs, St. Edmund Campion is one of the best-known. A play on his name described what he was - the Pope's C(h)ampion. Nothing could daunt his ardour or break his spirit; neither promises of worldy gain, the basest calummy, public ridicule, nor the appalling torture of the rack.

When he was fifteen, he won a scholarship to St. John's College, Oxford, and two years later became a Junior Fellow. Although he was the centre of an admiring crowd, and a brilliant career was opening out before him, he became more and more dissatisfied with his position. His Catholic tendencies were known, and in due course, he had to leave Oxford, being unable to say that he was a sincere Protestant. He was now a suspect, and soon after was forced to flee the country. He went first to Douay, but later entered the Society of Jesus in Rome, 1573. In 1579, he and Father Persons were chosen to lead the first Jesuit Mission to England, where they arrived in 1580. For a year, Campion laboured without ceasing, and it was by a series of hairbreadth escapes that he carried forward an apostolate of marvellous fruitfulness. His natural gifts stood him in good stead, for he had the wit and eloquence that he had exercised with effect in the days when he cared for a Queen's praise. Now he devoted all his talents to the Heavenly Master, hoping for no greater reward than that which granted to him at the age of forty-two.

He was so cruelly tortured in prison that his enemies feared that he rackmen had gone too far, and that the gallows would be cheated of its prey; yet they failed to wring from him any statement that might be used to convict him of treason. Finally, the Council drew up a fictitious charge against him, in which it was asserted that the preceding year, in Rome and at Rheims, Campion had connived with William Allen, Nicholas Morton, and Father Person in a conspiracy to murder the Queen....

Notwitstanding the terrible sufferings he had undergone, St. Edmund Campion was in a state of calm cheerfulness on the day of his glorious triumph at Tyburn. (He was hung, drawn, and quartered. The next martyr that day, St. Ralph Sherwin, kissed with great devotion the blood of Edmund Campion dripping from the hands of the executioners.)

About age 33, St. Margaret Clitherow was executed in York, England for inviting Catholic priests into her home to say Mass during the time of the penal laws under Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603), when this was a capital offense. She was martyred by being crushed to death under a large door loaded with heavy weights, a particularly painful style of execution, then still called by its French name - peine forte et dure ("severe and harsh punishment). The law prescribed this type of death because she refused to plead; she did this in order to save her children and her servants from being pressured to give evidence against her, and to save the jury from participating from sentencing her to death. At this time, Margaret had three children, and was likely expecting her fourth. Yet, though she was leaving her greatest human loves, Margaret - always merry in life - remained peaceful and even joyous to the end.

Trawsfynydd, Merionethshire, Wales, has its title to fame as the birthplace of St. John Roberts.... [I]n 1599, he was admitted ot the Benedictine Congregation of St. Benito de Valladolid (in Spain), and went to make his novitiate at the abbey of St. Martin Pinario, just outside the walls of Compostela.... [A] priest from England called at the monastery, bringing news of the glorious martyrdom of Blessed Mark Barkworth. He declared that the name of Benedict was still the sweetest to the English after that of Jesus and Mary, and added that he was of the opinion that the conversion of England would be reserved to the Benedictine Order. As a result of this visit, an approach was made to the Holy See, petitioning that some Benedictine monks be authorized to go and work in England. This petition was granted in 1602, and St. John was one of the first to set off and face the death for which he had been preparing himselfby his strict monastic life....

St. John was imprisoned and exiled many times, but he always found means of returning to England. When the Plague broke out in the country, he spent himself untiringly, ministering to the victims of the terrible scourge in London, at the same time, making many converts.

It was on the first Sunday in Advent of the year 1610 that he was finally arrested while he was saying Mass and taken off to prison, still wearing the sacred vestments. The trial and condemnation were not long in coming, and on December 10th, he was dragged to Tyburn on a hurdle to suffer a barbarous death. The spirit of peace and joy that had characterised him at all times was particularly manifest as his death approached, so much so that he was heard to express a certain fear, lest his joy might offend those around him. (He was executed by being hung, drawn, and quartered. It was traditional to disembowel the victims whilst still alive - but the crowd would not allow this - these were the poor folk that he had cared for during the Plague, and they remembered his kindness, therefore the executioner had to wait until he was dead.)

Prayer for England
O Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our most gentle Queen and Mother, look down in mercy upon England, thy Dowry, and upon us all who greatly hope and trust in thee. By thee it was that Jesus, our Saviour and our hope, was given unto the world; and He has given thee to us that we might hope still more. Plead for us, thy children, whom thou didst receive and accept at the foot of the Cross. O Sorrowful Mother, intercede for our separated brethren, that with us in the one true fold, they may be united to the Chief Shepherd, the Vicar of thy Son. Pray us all, dear Mother, that by faith, fruitful in good works, we may all deserve to see and praise God, together with thee in our heavenly home. Amen.

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