Category Archives: Forty Martyrs of England & Wales

Jan 27 (Apr 7) – Blessed Edward Oldcorne, SJ, (1561-1606), Priest & Martyr

after Unknown artist, line engraving, 1608
after Unknown artist, line engraving, 1608

Edward Oldcorne was born in York, England of a non-Catholic father and a Catholic mother. He gave up medical studies and enrolled at the English College in Rheims, France in 1581 before going on to Rome to complete his studies and was ordained. Soon after, he joined the Society of Jesus and was allowed to complete his novitiate in a very short time because of the difficult conditions he would face upon his return to England.

Fr Oldcorne stayed with Fr Garnet, the superior of the English Jesuits upon arrival but after a few months he was assigned to Hinlip Hall outside Worcester where he was to spend sixteen years. The master of Hinlip Hall was an ardent Catholic who was in prison and had left the property in the care of his sister, Dorothy, a Protestant who had been at the court of Elizabeth. While priests still found hospitality in Hinlip Hall, she merely tolerated their presence. Many priests had tried to reconcile her to the Church without success. It was left to Fr Oldcorne to find the way. She listened to his instructions and sermons, unconvinced; but when she learned that he had been fasting for days to bring about her conversion, she finally yielded to God’s grace and her conversion led many others in Worcester to return to the faith of their ancestors. The Hall became the Jesuit’s base of operations where many came to seek the sacraments and hear Fr Oldcorne’s preaching. His health was poor ever since he returned to England and he had throat cancer that left him with a hoarse and painful voice, but did not keep him from preaching. His cancer was healed following a pilgrimage to St Winifred’s shrine in 1591.

Catholics in England were looking forward to the end of persecution when Queen Elizabeth died and James I ascended the throne in 1603 as he had promised to be more tolerant, but in fact, the persecution increased. This angered some Catholics who plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament during the king’s visit on Nov 5, 1605. The plot was discovered and with that the hatred for Catholics intensified. The government was determined to implicate the Jesuits in the so-called “Gunpowder Plot” despite the capture of the men behind it. The Jesuit superior Fr Garnet decided to leave London and seek shelter at the Hall, which had more hiding places than any other mansion in England. Bro Nicholas Owen, the person who constructed all the priest-hiding places was with him and they joined Frs Oldcorne and Ashley.

The sheriff of Worcestershire and 100 of his men arrived at the Hall and spent several days searching for priests together with a certain Humphrey Littleton who betrayed Fr Oldcorne. The sheriff stationed a man in each room of the house and ordered others to tap on the walls in the hope of locating concealed priest-holes. By the end of the third day they found eleven such hiding places, but no priests, On the fourth day, starvation and thirst forced Br Ashley and Br Owen to emerge from their hole. Some say the religiously professed brothers real motive was to surrender themselves, focus attention on themselves and their capture, and distract the persecutors long enough for Frs Oldcorne and Garnet to escape.  They had hoped the sheriff would think that he had finally caught his prey and end the search, leaving the two priests in safety. But the sheriff was determined and his men continued their close examination of the house. Finally on the eighth day, Jan 27, 1606 Frs Oldcorne and Garnet were discovered when they emerged white, ill and weak. All four were taken to the Tower of London.

When the prison officials failed in their efforts to eavesdrop and record any conversation which could link the two priests to the Gunpowder plot, Fr Oldcorne was tortured on the rack five hours a day for five consecutive days. Yet he refused to say anything. When they were put on trial, Fr Oldcorne denied the charge of being involved so well that the charge against him was changed to simply being a Jesuit priest. On this new charge, Fr Oldcorne was found guilty and ordered to be executed. Just before he was hanged, his betrayer asked for pardon, which Fr Oldcorne readily granted, and he also prayed for the king, his accusers and the judge and jury who condemned him. He was pushed from the ladder and was cut down before he was dead and then beheaded and quartered.

Edward_Oldcorne;_Nicholas_Owen_by_Gaspar_Bouttats
-Edward Oldcorne; Nicholas Owen, by Gaspar Bouttats, National Portrait Gallery, London, UK.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013 12:48 am
http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=22875

Eye relic of the Blessed Edward Oldcorne
Martyr’s eye returns to Worcester for school anniversary celebrations

“Blessed Edward Oldcorne Catholic College in Worcestershire, UK will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this month with Mass celebrated by the Archbishop of Birmingham and the veneration of a relic of the Jesuit martyr after whom the college is named – his right eye! The college is also planning to erect a memorial plaque on the site of his execution and to publish a history of the school… It is said that the force of the executioner’s blow was so extreme when he was decapitated that one of his eyes flew out of its socket. It has since been preserved in a silver casket and kept at Stonyhurst College.”

Typically, a beati’s feast day is the day of their death, the most joyous day for the reward of the faithful. But, as Apr 7 usually falls in Lent, and the memorial suppressed therefrom, Bl Edward’s feast is celebrated on the day of his capture, Jan 27.

Love,
Matthew

Feb 1 – St Henry Morse, SJ, (1595-1645) – Priest & Martyr

st_henry_morse_400_cropped

Henry Morse, born in Brome, Suffolk, England, in 1595, was raised a Protestant. He enrolled as a law student in London’s Inns of Court. While there, however, he became increasingly dissatisfied with the established religion and more convinced of the truth of the Catholic faith.

Crossing the English Channel, he went to Douai, France, which was then an English Catholic center. Once received into the Church, he decided to study for the priesthood, and made his studies first at Douai, then at the English College in Rome, as Douai had too many students. Although ordained in Rome as a secular priest, he secured permission from the Father General of the Jesuits to be admitted to the Society of Jesus once he got back to England.

Father Morse had scarcely landed in Britain and been accepted as a Jesuit candidate when he was arrested and imprisoned in York Castle.   Upon arrival at a port in England, he was asked by the English port authorities to take the oath of allegiance acknowledging the king’s supremacy in religious matters. The recent convert resolutely refused and was arrested and imprisoned for four years and was released in 1618 when the king decided to get rid of hundreds of religious dissenters by banishing them to France.  He was ordained in 1623.

He had not yet had time to make the novitiate required of those who aspired to Jesuit vows. Providentially, however, he found another Jesuit imprisoned in York Castle. This Father Robinson supervised his novitiate in prison! Therefore, when his three-year term was up, he emerged a full-fledged junior member of the Society.

Banished to the Continent on his release, Father Morse spent some time as a chaplain to English soldiers who served the King of Spain in the Low Countries. Then in 1633 he returned to England secretly, using the name “Cuthbert Claxton,” and he spent the next four years ministering in London.

Now, in 1636-1637 the dread “Black Plague” again became epidemic in London. Morse was kept doubly busy taking care of bodies as well as souls. He made up a list of 400 infected families, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, whom he regularly visited. He himself caught the disease three times, but each time he recovered. His zeal and thoughtfulness were deeply appreciated and nearly 100 families on his list eventually asked to be reconciled to the Catholic Church.

Unfortunately, the police also learned about Morse’s activities, and arrested him on February 27, 1636. The charges were that he was a priest and that he had “perverted” several hundred of “His Majesty’s Protestant subjects.” Put on trial, he was acquitted of the second charge but not of the first. However, he was bailed out through the intervention of Charles I’s Catholic wife, Queen Henrietta Maria. Then, in 1641, the king was forced to decree the exile of all Catholic priests. Father Henry, unwilling to embarrass his bail bondsmen, returned to Flanders and resumed his work as chaplain of the English soldiers there.

In 1643 Father Morse’s Jesuit superiors sent him back to the mission, this time in northern England, where he was less known.  He accidentally walked into a group of soldiers late one night who suspected he was a priest.  He was arrested and held overnight in the home of a local official.  He escaped with the aid of the Catholic wife of one of his captors.  He enjoyed freedom for 6 weeks but one day he and his guide lost their way in the countryside and innocently knocked on the door of a house to ask for directions. The man who answered was one of the soldiers who had recently apprehended him and remembered him well and there would be no fifth escape.  Tried once more, he was sentenced to death in accord with the law that forbade exiled priests to return to Britain.  He was visited in prison by the ambassadors of other Catholic countries.

On the day of his execution, February 1, 1645, Father Morse was able to celebrate Mass. Then four horses were harnessed to the wicker hurdle on which he was dragged to the gallows that stood on Tyburn Hill. As usual, there was a crowd of the curious on hand to see the show. But also in attendance, to pay their respects, were the French ambassador and his suite, the Spanish and Portuguese ambassadors, and the Flemish Count of Egmont.

As was customary, the condemned priest was allowed to make some final remarks. “I am come hither to die for my religion……I have a secret which highly concerns His Majesty and Parliament to know. The kingdom of England will never be truly blessed until it returns to the Catholic faith and its subjects are all united in one belief under the Bishop of Rome.” He ended by saying: “I pray that my death may be some kind of atonement for the sins of this kingdom.” Then he said his prayers and asked that the cap be pulled over his eyes; beat his breast 3 times, giving the signal to a priest in the crowd to impart absolution. He then said: “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.” After he was dead his body was torn open, his heart removed, his entrails burned and body quartered. In accordance with the custom that followed executions, his head was exposed on London Bridge and his quartered body was mounted on the city’s four gates.

Egmont and the French ambassador had their retainers dip handkerchiefs in the martyr’s blood. Later on, these relics were the occasion of cures.

San Enrique Morse

St. Henry Morse, pray that we may be as resilient and resolute in our duty to serve the King of the Universe as you were while you were here on earth, and beset by the injustices of your day and age. Pray that our priests will serve Our King as you have done. Pray that we too will serve the King, and our brethren, with such charity, tenacity, and fortitude, as labor in spreading the Good News while we wait in joyful hope for the coming of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Jan 21 – Sts Alban Roe, OSB, (1583-1642) & Thomas Greene (1560-1642), Priests & Martyrs

albanroe

St Alban Roe was born in East Anglia of Church of England parents as Bartholomew Roe, July 20, 1583. He studied for a time at Cambridge where he first met a number of Catholics and began to have doubts about the faith in which he had been brought up. It was while he was attending the university, during a summer break, that he visited the Abbey of St. Alban just north of London, in attempt to convert imprisoned Catholics there to Anglicanism.  The Abbey was named after the first English martyr, St Alban, who died around the end of the third century.

It was at this Abbey that Bartholomew met a prisoner, whose name is unknown to this day, who, in turn, caused Bartholomew to question his own beliefs.  Returning to Cambridge, this inspiration grew into faith and he converted, along with his brother, James.  Not content with this, he decided to become a priest in Post Reformation England and he left for France to study for the priesthood.  He was accepted by the Benedictine Community in France, the same community that had fled Westminster during the reign of Henry VIII.  There he gained the reputation as a bit of a “hell-raiser”. In fact, being expelled from his first school and generating a general revolt amongst students and faculty. His brother, too, became a Benedictine priest.  Taking the religious name Alban, Bartholomew returned to England and began to care for Catholic prisoners.  He was soon imprisoned but continued to minister with his cheerful disposition.

He spent three years in the Fleet prison when the Spanish ambassador, Gandomar, obtained his release, conditional on his leaving the country for good. However he soon returned, spent a further three years working in London, was again arrested and was this time first imprisoned in St Alban’s (a particularly harsh prison) and then transferred to the Fleet where he stayed for many years.  Lacking a church, as a priest, he was allowed to gamble with his fellow prisoners.  The stakes were not money, but rather, short prayers.  He was a good gambler, and converted many in this fashion.

In 1641 he was transferred to Newgate to face trial, when he was found guilty of being a priest, and therefore treason, under statute 27 Eliz c.2. Initially, he refused to enter a plea. It then transpired that the chief witness against him was a fallen Catholic who he had formerly helped. Thinking he could win him round again, he pleaded not guilty, but objected to being tried by “twelve ignorant jurymen”, who were unconcerned about the shedding of his innocent blood. Clearly the judge was a little bit intimidated by Roe making a mockery of the proceedings so they had a private chat. This didn’t go well, Roe declaring “My Saviour has suffered far more for me than all that; and I am willing to suffer the worst of torments for His sake.” The judge sent him back to prison where he was advised by “some grave and learned priests” to follow the example of those before him and consent to being tried by the court. The jury took about a minute to find him guilty. He then (with a bit of mockery) bowed low to the judge and the whole bench for granting him this great favor which he greatly desired.

The judge was so put out he suspended the sentence and sent him back to prison for a few days. This didn’t work either because as a celebrity he had a constant stream of visitors, one of whom smuggled in the necessary for him to say Mass in his cell.

At Tyburn, just before his execution, he preached in a jovial fashion to the crowd about the meaning of his death. He was still playing to the crowd, holding up the proceedings by asking the Sheriff whether he could save his life by turning Protestant. The Sheriff agreed. Roe then turned to the crowd declaring “see then what the crime is for which I am to die and whether religion be not my only treason?”

He created quite an impression by his death and when his remains were quartered there was a scramble to dip handkerchiefs into his blood and pick up straws covered in his blood as relics. The speech he made is rumored to have been sent to Parliament and stored in their archives.  On 21 January 1642 he died on the scaffold, being allowed to hang until he was dead. According to a contemporary source, in his death he showed “joy, contentment, constancy, fortitude and valour”.

Thomas Greene (also known as Reynolds), was over eighty when he was executed. He was ordained deacon at Reims in 1590, and priest at Seville. He came to England early in the 1600s and spent nearly fifty years working on the English mission. He was arrested in 1628 and spent the next fourteen years in prison under sentence of death for having worked as a priest. He was executed without fresh trial. He was somewhat frail and was much encouraged by his companion Alban Roe, to whom he said, “glad I am to have for my comrade in death a man of your undoubted courage.” The two of them were drawn on the same hurdle, where they heard each other’s confessions, and were hanged simultaneously on the same gibbet on January 21 1642, amidst great demonstrations of popular sympathy.

Love,
Matthew

Sep 7 – Bls John Duckett & Ralph Corby, SJ, (d. 1644), Priests & Martyrs

blessed-john-duckett-and-blessed-ralph-corby

John Duckett was an Englishman, who may have been the grandson of the martyr Bl James Duckett. Father John studied at the English college of Douay in France and became a priest in 1639. He studied for three more years in Paris, spending several hours each day in prayer.  He spent two months with the Cistercian monks, offering that time to God in prayer and retreat before he was sent back to his persecuted England.

The young priest worked hard for a year teaching people about the Catholic faith in England, but one day when he was on his way to baptize two children, he was caught with the holy oils and book of rites.  When his captors threatened harm to his family and friends if he did not tell them who he was, he admitted that he was a priest. He was immediately taken to prison in London.

There he met a Jesuit priest, Ralph Corby. Father Corby had worked in England for twelve years before they caught him celebrating Mass one day.  The Jesuit order tried hard to save Father Corby. When the Jesuits finally obtained his pardon, he insisted that Father John Duckett, who was younger, be set free instead of him. But Father John refused to leave without his friend.

“Assuredly this man dies for a good cause.” – Blessed John’s jailers as they saw the way he dealt with his sentence.

“I fear not death, nor do I condemn not life.  If life were my lot, I would endure it patiently; but if death, I shall receive it joyfully, for that Christ is my life, and death is my gain.  Never since my receiving of Holy Orders did I so much fear death as I did life, and now, when it approacheth, can I faint?”
-from Bl John Duckett’s final letter, written the night before his execution.

At his execution, Father Duckett told a Protestant minister who stood ready to lecture him, “Sir, I come not hither to be taught my faith, but to die for the profession of it.”

Then on September 7, 1644, at ten o’clock, the two priests were taken to Tyburn, to be executed. Their heads were shaved and they wore their cassocks. Each made a short speech, then embraced each other. Their next meeting would be before the King of Kings and Judge of Judges; their shared, same Master.

Bl John’s hand and some of his clothing were recovered as relics, but they had to be hidden, and their hiding place has been lost.

johnduckettcross
-Bl John Duckett’s Cross, marking the spot where he was arrested

Love,
Matthew

Jul 7 – Blesseds Roger Dickenson, Ralph Milner, & Lawrence Humphrey, (d. 1591), Martyrs

quartering
-quartering

hung
-hung

Messrs. Dickenson, Milner, & Humphrey lived in England at a time when the practice of one’s Catholic faith meant imprisonment and possible execution. Ralph Milner was an elderly, illiterate farmer, the father of eight children, from Flacstead, Hampshire. He was brought up as a Protestant but was so impressed by the lives of his Catholic neighbors that he took instructions and was received into the Catholic Faith. On the very day of his First Communion, he was arrested for having changed his religion and imprisoned in the Winchester jail.

Farmer Milner’s behavior in prison was such that he gained the respect and trust of the prison guards and so was granted frequent “parole” during which he could come and go at will. He made use of these times to see to the spiritual and temporal needs of his fellow prisoners and to aid and escort undercover Catholic priests. This is how he came into contact with the secular priest, Father Roger Dickenson (sometimes spelled Dicconsen).

Father Dickenson was a native of Lincoln who had studied for the priesthood in Rheims, France. In 1583 he was sent on a mission to England and was imprisoned soon afterwards but managed to escape when his guards got drunk. He was not so fortunate the second time he was arrested, this time with Ralph Milner who had been escorting him around the local villages. The two men were put under close confinement at the Winchester jail; Father Dickenson was charged with the crime of being a Catholic priest, Ralph Milner for aiding him.

At their trial, the judge took pity on the elderly farmer and made several attempts to set him free, urging him to merely visit a Protestant church as a matter of form. Since to Ralph Milner this would have been tantamount to renouncing his new-found Faith, he refused, saying that he could not “embrace a counsel so disagreeable to the maxims of the Gospel.”

On July 7, 1591, the day of execution, Ralph Milner’s children were escorted to the gallows, begging him to renounce his Faith and so save his life, but again he refused. He gave them his final blessing, declaring that “he could wish them no greater happiness than to die for the like cause.” The two men were hanged, drawn, and quartered; it is said that they faced their deaths calmly and with great courage.

We may think that the days of dying for one’s faith are over, but a look at the news from around the world shows that it’s as much a reality today as it was in Ralph Milner and Roger Dickenson’s time. Let us pray fervently for the priests, religious, and lay people throughout the world who are suffering and dying for their Catholic Faith.

Ralph Milner was a simple, uneducated man who offered his help wherever he saw the need. Think of the wonderful example he set for his children, not only in his aid to his fellow prisoners and to priests, but in the inspiring example of his steadfastness in his Faith, in his loyalty to God. May all fathers today follow in his footsteps and teach their children by their own example of living always in the Truth.

The third martyr, Lawrence Humphrey, had been brought into the Church by Father Stanney, S.J. He would not give up the faith he had so recently acquired. Lawrence was just twenty-one years old when he was martyred.

Every martyr reminds us that a treasure is worth defending. The martyrs recognized the value of their Catholic religion. They would not give it up for any reason. We can pray to Blessed Roger, Blessed Ralph and Blessed Lawrence. They will lead us to love and cherish our beliefs as they did.

All ye holy men & women, strengthen us!  Pray for us!

Love,
Matthew

Jul 1 – Naomh Oileabhéar Pluincéad/St Oliver Plunkett, (1625-1681) – Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland, Martyr, Patron Saint of Peace & Reconciliation in Ireland

Oliver_Plunket_by_Edward_Luttrell

-“Oliver Plunkett”, by Edward Luttrell, (d. 1737), National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 262

Oliver Plunkett was born in Loughcrew in County Meath, Ireland on November 1, 1629. In 1647, he went to study for the priesthood at the Jesuit Irish College in Rome. On January 1, 1654, he was ordained a priest in the Propaganda College in Rome.

Meanwhile, the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649–53) had defeated the Roman Catholic cause in Ireland and, in the aftermath, the public practice of Roman Catholicism was banned and Roman Catholic clergy were executed. As a result, it was impossible for Plunkett to return to Ireland for many years. He petitioned to remain in Rome and, in 1657, became a professor of theology.  He became the Irish bishops’ representative in Rome.

Throughout the period of the Commonwealth and the first years of Charles II’s reign, he successfully pleaded the cause of the Irish Roman Church, and also served as theological professor at the College of Propaganda Fide. At the Congregation of Propaganda Fide on 9 July 1669, he was appointed Archbishop of Armagh, the Irish primatial see, and was consecrated on 30 November at Ghent by the Bishop of Ghent.

He eventually set foot on Irish soil again on 7 March 1670, as the English Restoration of 1660 had started on a tolerant basis. The pallium was granted him in the Consistory of 28 July 1670. Archbishop Plunkett soon established himself as a man of peace and, with religious fervor, set about visiting his people, establishing schools, ordaining priests, and confirming thousands.

After arriving back in Ireland, he set about reorganizing the ravaged Roman Church and built schools both for the young and for clergy, whom he found ‘ignorant in moral theology and controversies’. He tackled drunkenness among the clergy, writing ‘Let us remove this defect from an Irish priest, and he will be a saint’. The Penal Laws had been relaxed in line with the Declaration of Breda in 1660 and he was able to establish a Jesuit College in Drogheda in 1670. A year later 150 students attended the college, no fewer than 40 of whom were Protestant, making this college the first integrated school in Ireland. His ministry was a successful one and he is said to have confirmed 48000 Catholics over a 4 year period. The British Dublin Government, especially under the Duke of Ormonde ( the Protestant son of Catholic parents) extended a generous measure of toleration to the Catholic hierarchy until the mid-1670s.

On the enactment of the Test Act in 1673, to which Plunkett would not agree for doctrinal reasons, the college was levelled to the ground. Plunkett went into hiding, traveling only in disguise, and refused a government edict to register at a seaport to await passage into exile. For the next few years he was largely left in peace since the Dublin Government, except when put under pressure from London, preferred to leave the Catholic bishops alone.

In 1678, the so-called Popish Plot, concocted in England by Titus Oates, led to further anti-Roman Catholicism. Archbishop Peter Talbot of Dublin was arrested, and Plunkett again went into hiding. The Privy Council in London was told he had plotted a French invasion.The moving spirit behind the campaign is said to have been Arthur Capell, 1st Earl of Essex, who had been Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and hoped to resume office by discrediting James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde. However, Essex was not normally thought to be a ruthless or unprincipled man and his later plea for mercy suggests that he had never intended that Plunkett should actually die.

Despite being on the run and with a price on his head, Plunkett refused to leave his flock. He was arrested in Dublin in December 1679 and imprisoned in Dublin Castle, where he gave absolution to the dying Talbot. Plunkett was tried at Dundalk for conspiring against the state by allegedly plotting to bring 20,000 French soldiers into the country, and for levying a tax on his clergy to support 70,000 men for rebellion. Though this was unproven, some in government circles were worried about, and some used the excuse, that another rebellion was being planned. The Duke of Ormonde, aware that the Earl of Essex was using the crisis to undermine him, did not defend Plunkett in public. In private he made clear his belief in Plunkett’s innocence and his contempt for the informers against him: “silly drunken vagabonds… whom no schoolboy would trust to rob an orchard”.

The English knew Oliver Plunkett would never be convicted in Ireland and had him moved to Newgate Prison, London. The first grand jury found no true bill, but he was not released. The second trial has generally been regarded as a serious miscarriage of justice; Gilbert Burnet, an eyewitness, had no doubt of the innocence of Plunkett, who he praised as a wise and sober man who had no aim but to live peacefully and tend to his congregation.  Lord Campbell, writing of the judge, Sir Francis Pemberton, claimed it a disgrace to himself and his country. More recently the High Court judge Sir James Comyn called it a grave mistake: while Plunkett, by virtue of his office, was clearly guilty of “promoting the Catholic faith”, and may possibly have had some dealings with the French, there was never the slightest evidence that he had conspired against the King’s life.  Plunkett was found guilty of high treason on June 1681 “for promoting the Roman faith,” and was condemned to death.

Numerous pleas for mercy were made but Charles II, although himself a reputed Catholic, thought it too politically dangerous to spare Plunkett. The French Ambassador Paul Barillon conveyed a plea for mercy from his King: Charles said frankly that he knew Plunkett to be innocent, but the time was not right to take so bold a step. Essex, apparently realizing too late that his intrigues had led to the condemnation of an innocent man, made a similar plea: the King turned on him in fury, saying ” his blood be on your head- you could have saved him but would not, I would save him and dare not”.

Plunkett’s many letters showed his determination not to abandon his people, but to remain a faithful shepherd. He thanked God “Who gave us the grace to suffer for the chair of Peter.”  He was put on trial, and with the help of perjured witnesses, unable to bring his own from Ireland, and was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. Upon hearing sentence, he replied, “Deo Gratias!”  With deep serenity of soul, he was prepared to die, calmly rebutting the charge of treason, refusing to save himself by giving false evidence against his brother bishops. Oliver Plunkett publicly forgave all those who were responsible for his death on July 1, 1681.

His body was initially buried in two tin boxes next to five Jesuits who had died before in the courtyard of St Giles in the Fields church. The remains were exhumed in 1683 and moved to the Benedictine monastery at Lamspringe, near Hildesheim in Germany. The head was brought to Rome, and from there to Armagh and eventually to Drogheda where, since 29 June 1921, it has rested in Saint Peter’s Church. Most of the body was brought to Downside Abbey, England, where the major part is located today, with some parts remaining at Lamspringe. Some relics were brought to Ireland in May 1975, while others are in England, France, Germany, the United States, and Australia.

1_Shrine_of_St_Oliver_Plunkett,_Drogheda_2007-10-5

-The shrine of St. Oliver Plunkett at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Drogheda, Ireland.  His head is just visible in the box under the spire.

Oliver_Shrine

OliverPlunkettHead

Glorious Martyr, St. Oliver,
who willingly gave your life for your faith,
help us also to be strong in faith.
May we be loyal like you to the see of Peter.
By your intercession and example
may all hatred and bitterness
be banished from the hearts of Irish men and women.
May the peace of Christ reign in our hearts,
as it did in your heart,
even at the moment of your death.
Pray for us and for Ireland. Amen.

Hymn to St Oliver Plunkett

Come glorious martyr, rise
Into the golden skies,
Beyond the sun!
Wide, wide the portals fling
And martyr hosts, O sing
To greet his entering
“Well hast thou done”.

Never reproach he made,
Like to his Lord betrayed
By his own kind.
Sharing his Masters blame,
Gladly he bore the shame,
While the false charge they frame,
“Guilty” they find.

As coach of state he hails,
Hurdle of shame and trails
All rough way through London streets, he goes,
Heedless of lesser woes,
Tyburn holds greater throes,
Ready that day.

Blood stained the path he trod,
Leading him onto God,
Counting no the cost,
Now for my faith I die,
Said he in glad reply,
O for my God I sigh, All fear is lost.

Lord in Thy hands, he prays
My soul for-ever stays,
Strengthen Thou me.
Welcome, o rope and knife!
All those who made this strife
I now forgive, my life offer to Thee.

Hail then, great martyr, hail,
In death thou did prevail
Winning renown!
Blow the full trumpets, blow,
Wider the portals throw,
Martyr triumphant go
Where waits your crown.

Love,
Matthew

Feb 21 – St Robert Southwell, SJ, (1561-1595) – Poet, Priest & Martyr

?????????????????????

As February is thought of as a month of love, it is terribly fitting, IMHO, to remember this great lover and poet, and most importantly, as always, The Object of his love.

Robert Southwell was born at Horsham St. Faith’s, Norfolk, England, in 1561, the third of eight children. His grandfather, Sir Richard Southwell, had been a wealthy man and a prominent courtier in the reign of Henry VIII, and the family remained among the elite of the land. He was so beautiful as a young boy that a gypsy stole him. He was soon recovered by his family and became a short, handsome man, with gray eyes and red hair.

It was Richard Southwell who in 1547 had brought the poet Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, to the block, and Surrey had vainly begged to be allowed to “fight him in his shirt”. Curiously enough their respective grandsons, Robert Southwell and Philip, Earl of Arundel, were to be the most devoted of friends and fellow-prisoners for the Faith. On his mother’s side the Jesuit was descended from the Copley and Shelley families, whence a remote connection may be established between him and the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.  Despite their Catholic sympathies, the Southwells had profited considerably from King Henry VIII’s Suppression of the Monasteries.

Even as a child, Southwell was distinguished by his attraction to the old religion. Protestantism had come to England, and it was actually a crime for any Englishman who had been ordained as a Catholic priest to remain in England more than forty days at a time. In order to keep the faith alive, William Allen had opened a school at Douai, where he made a Catholic translation of the Bible, the well-known Douai version. Southwell attended this school and asked to be admitted into the Jesuits. At first the Jesuits refused his application, but eventually his earnest appeals moved them to accept him. He wrote to the Jesuits “How can I but waste in anguish and agony that I find myself disjoined from that company, severed from that Society, disunited from that body, wherein lyeth all my life, my love, my whole heart and affection.” (Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu, Anglia 14, fol. 80, under date 1578).  He was ordained a priest in 1584. Two years later, at his own request, he was sent as a missionary to England, well knowing the dangers he faced.  A poet and a scholar, his poetry would have a profound influence on the moral climate of the age.

A spy reported to Sir Francis Walsingham the Jesuits’ landing on the east coast in July, but they arrived without molestation at the house at Hackney of William Vaux, 3rd Baron Vaux of Harrowden. For six years they kept him under surveillance. He assumed the last alias “Cotton” and found employment as a chaplain to Ann Howard, Lady Arundel, her husband being accused of treason for being a Catholic and in prison.  Southwell wrote a prose elegy, Triumphs over Death, to the earl to console him for a sister’s premature death. Although Southwell lived mostly in London, he traveled in disguise and preached secretly throughout England, moving from one Catholic family to another. His downfall and capture came about when he became friendly with a Catholic family named Bellamy.

Southwell was in the habit of visiting the house of Richard Bellamy, who lived near Harrow and was under suspicion on account of his connection with Jerome Bellamy, who had been executed for sharing in Anthony Babington’s plot, which intended to assassinate the Queen and place Mary, Queen of Scots, on the English throne.

One of the daughters, Anne Bellamy, was arrested and imprisoned in the gatehouse of Holborn for being linked to the situation. Having been interrogated and raped by Richard Topcliffe, the Queen’s chief priest-hunter and torturer, she revealed Southwell’s movements and Southwell was immediately arrested. When Bellamy became pregnant by Topcliffe in 1592, she was forced to marry his servant to cover up the scandal.

Southwell was first taken to Topcliffe’s own house, adjoining the Gatehouse Prison, where Topcliffe subjected him to the torture of “the manacles”. He remained silent in Topcliffe’s custody for forty hours. The queen then ordered Southwell moved to the Gatehouse, where a team of Privy Council torturers went to work on him. When they proved equally unsuccessful, he was left “hurt, starving, covered with maggots and lice, to lie in his own filth.” After about a month he was moved by order of the Council to solitary confinement in the Tower of London. According to the early narratives, his father had petitioned the queen that his son, if guilty under the law, should so suffer, but if not should be treated as a gentleman, and that as his father he should be allowed to provide him with the necessities of life. No documentary evidence of such a petition survives, but something of the kind must have happened, since his friends were able to provide him with food and clothing, and to send him the works of St. Bernard and a Bible. His superior St Henry Garnet, SJ, later smuggled a breviary to him. He remained in the Tower for three years, under Topcliffe’s supervision.

Tortured thirteen times, he nonetheless refused to reveal the names of fellow Catholics. During his incarceration, he was allowed to write. His works had already circulated widely and seen print, although their authorship was well known and one might have expected the government to suppress them. Now he added to them poems intended to sustain himself and comfort his fellow prisoners. He wrote “Not where I breathe, but where I love, I live; Not where I love, but where I am, I die.” He was so ill treated, his father petitioned the Queen that he be brought to trial.

February 21, 1595, Southwell was brought to Tyburn, where he was to be hung and then quartered for treason, although no treasonous word or act had been shown against him. It was enough that he held a variation of the Christian faith that frightened many Englishmen because of rumors of Catholic plots.  He addressed the crowd gathered, “I am come hither to play out the last act of this poor life.”  He prayed for the salvation of the Queen and country.

Execution of sentence on a notorious highwayman had been appointed for the same time, but at a different place — perhaps to draw the crowds away — and yet many came to witness Southwell’s death. Eyewitness accounts, both Catholic and Protestant, are unanimous in describing Southwell as both gracious and prayerful in his final moments.

When cut loose from the halter that tied him to the cart, he wiped his brow with a handkerchief and tossed the “sudarium” into the crowd, the first of what would become his relics. When asked if he would like to speak, Southwell crossed himself and first spoke in Latin, quoting Romans 14:8:“Sive uiuimus, Domino uiuimus, sive morimur, Domino morimur, ergo uiuimus, sive morimur, Domini sumus.” (If we live, we live in the Lord. If we die, we die in the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or we die, we are in the Lord.)  The sheriff made to interrupt him; but, was allowed to continue for some time.  He then addressed himself to the crowd, saying he died a Catholic and a Jesuit, offenses for which he was not sorry to die. He spoke respectfully of the Queen, and asked her forgiveness, if she had found any offense in him.

Then, after the hangman stripped him down to his shirt and tightened the noose around his neck, Robert Southwell spoke his last words (found in both Psalm 30 and the Gospel of Luke),“In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum. Redemisti me, Domine Deus veritatis,” while repeatedly making the sign of the cross. “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit. You have redeemed me, Lord God of truth.”

At the third utterance of these words, the cart rolled away and Southwell hung from his neck. Those present forbade the hangman cutting him down to further the cruelties of drawing and quartering before Southwell was dead.  He hung in the noose for a brief time, making the sign of the cross as best he could. As the executioner made to cut him down, in preparation for disembowelling him while still alive, Lord Mountjoy and some other onlookers tugged at his legs to hasten his death.  Yet, despite their efforts, according to one account, he was still breathing when cut down. When the hangman lifted Southwell’s head up before the crowd, no one cried “Traitor.” Even a pursuivant present admitted he had never seen a man die better.

Southwell’s writings, both in prose and verse, were extremely popular with his contemporaries, and his religious pieces were sold openly by the booksellers though their authorship was known. Imitations abounded, and Ben Jonson declared of one of Southwell’s pieces, The Burning Babe (below), that to have written it he would readily forfeit many of his own poems. Mary Magdalene’s Tears, the Jesuit’s earliest work, licensed in 1591, probably represents a deliberate attempt to employ in the cause of piety the euphuistic prose style, then so popular. Triumphs over Death, also in prose, exhibits the same characteristics; but this artificiality of structure is not so marked in the Short Rule of Good Life, the Letter to His Father, the Humble Supplication to Her Majesty, the Epistle of Comfort and the Hundred Meditations. Southwell’s longest poem, St. Peter’s Complaint (132 six-line stanzas), is imitated, from the Italian Lagrime di S. Pietro of Luigi Tansillo. This with some other smaller pieces was printed, with license, in 1595, the year of his death. Another volume of short poems appeared later in the same year under the title of Maeoniae. Perhaps no higher testimony can be found of the esteem in which Southwell’s verse was held by his contemporaries than the fact that, while it is probable that Southwell had read Shakespeare, it is practically certain that Shakespeare had read Southwell and imitated him.

Robert_Southwell

-Line engraving by Matthaus Greuter (Greuther) or Paul Maupin, published 1608, frontispiece to St Peter’s Complaint.

“The Chief Justice asked how old he was, seeming to scorn his youth. He answered that he was near about the age of our Saviour, Who lived upon the earth thirty-three years; and he himself was as he thought near about thirty-four years. Hereat Topcliffe seemed to make great acclamation, saying that he compared himself to Christ. Mr. Southwell answered, ‘No he was a humble worm created by Christ.’ ‘Yes,’ said Topcliffe, ‘you are Christ’s fellow.'”—Father Henry Garnet, “Account of the Trial of Robert Southwell.” Quoted in Caraman’s The Other Face, page 230.

Southwell: I am decayed in memory with long and close imprisonment, and I have been tortured ten times. I had rather have endured ten executions. I speak not this for myself, but for others; that they may not be handled so inhumanely, to drive men to desperation, if it were possible.

Topcliffe: If he were racked, let me die for it.

Southwell: No; but it was as evil a torture, or late device.

Topcliffe: I did but set him against a wall. (The “Topciliffe Rack” was vertical, against a wall, not horizontal, adding the victim’s own weight to his pain, with never a relief.)

Southwell: Thou art a bad man.

Topcliffe: I would blow you all to dust if I could.

Southwell: What, all?

Topcliffe: Ay, all.

Southwell: What, soul and body too?

robert_southwell

The Burning Babe

As I in hoary winter’s night
Stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat,
Which made my heart to glow;

And lifting up a fearful eye,
To view what fire was near,
A pretty Babe all burning bright
Did in the air appear;

Who, scorched with excessive heat,
Such floods of tears did shed,
As though His floods should quench His flames,
With which His tears were fed.

“Alas,” quoth He, “but newly born,
In fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts,
Or feel my fire, but I;

“My faultless breast the furnace is,
The fuel, wounding thorns:
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke,
The ashes, shame and scorn;

“The fuel Justice layeth on,
And Mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought
Are men’s defiled souls,

“For which, as now on fire I am
To work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath,
To wash them in My blood.”

With this he vanish’d out of sight,
And swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I called unto mind,
That it was Christmas day.

-Robert Southwell, SJ

A VALE OF TEARS.
By Robert Southwell, SJ

A vale there is, enwrapt with dreadful shades,
Which thick of mourning pines shrouds from the sun,
Where hanging cliffs yield short and dumpish glades,
And snowy flood with broken streams doth run.

Where eye-room is from rock to cloudy sky,
From thence to dales with stony ruins strew’d,
Then to the crushèd water’s frothy fry,
Which tumbleth from the tops where snow is thaw’d.

Where ears of other sound can have no choice,
But various blust’ring of the stubborn wind
In trees, in caves, in straits with divers noise;
Which now doth hiss, now howl, now roar by kind.

Where waters wrestle with encount’ring stones,
That break their streams, and turn them into foam,
The hollow clouds full fraught with thund’ring groans,
With hideous thumps discharge their pregnant womb.

And in the horror of this fearful quire
Consists the music of this doleful place;
All pleasant birds from thence their tunes retire,
Where none but heavy notes have any grace.

Resort there is of none but pilgrim wights,
That pass with trembling foot and panting heart;
With terror cast in cold and shivering frights,
They judge the place to terror framed by art.

Yet nature’s work it is, of art untouch’d,
So strait indeed, so vast unto the eye,
With such disorder’d order strangely couch’d,
And with such pleasing horror low and high,

That who it views must needs remain aghast,
Much at the work, more at the Maker’s might;
And muse how nature such a plot could cast
Where nothing seemeth wrong, yet nothing right.

A place for mated mindes, an only bower
Where everything do soothe a dumpish mood;
Earth lies forlorn, the cloudy sky doth lower,
The wind here weeps, here sighs, here cries aloud.

The struggling flood between the marble groans,
Then roaring beats upon the craggy sides;
A little off, amidst the pebble stones,
With bubbling streams and purling noise it glides.

The pines thick set, high grown and ever green,
Still clothe the place with sad and mourning veil;
Here gaping cliff, there mossy plain is seen,
Here hope doth spring, and there again doth quail.

Huge massy stones that hang by tickle stays,
Still threaten fall, and seem to hang in fear;
Some wither’d trees, ashamed of their decays,
Bereft of green are forced gray coats to wear.

Here crystal springs crept out of secret vein,
Straight find some envious hole that hides their grace;
Here searèd tufts lament the want of rain,
There thunder-wrack gives terror to the place.

All pangs and heavy passions here may find
A thousand motives suiting to their griefs,
To feed the sorrows of their troubled mind,
And chase away dame Pleasure’s vain reliefs.

To plaining thoughts this vale a rest may be,
To which from worldly joys they may retire;
Where sorrow springs from water, stone and tree;
Where everything with mourners doth conspire.

Sit here, my soul, main streams of tears afloat,
Here all thy sinful foils alone recount;
Of solemn tunes make thou the doleful note,
That, by thy ditties, dolour may amount.

When echo shall repeat thy painful cries,
Think that the very stones thy sins bewray,
And now accuse thee with their sad replies,
As heaven and earth shall in the latter day.

Let former faults be fuel of thy fire,
For grief in limbeck of thy heart to still
Thy pensive thoughts and dumps of thy desire,
And vapour tears up to thy eyes at will.

Let tears to tunes, and pains to plaints be press’d,
And let this be the burden of thy song,—
Come, deep remorse, possess my sinful breast;
Delights, adieu! I harbour’d you too long.

St Robert Southwell, SJ,’s Prayer for the Church:

“We therefore are under an obligation to be the light of the world by the modesty of our behaviour, the fervour of our charity, the innocence of our lives, and the example of our virtues.

Thus shall we be able to raise the lowered prestige of the Catholic Church, and to build up again the ruins that others by their vices have caused. Others by their wickedness have branded the Catholic Faith with a mark of shame, we must strive with all our strength to cleanse it from its ignominy and to restore it to its pristine glory. Amen.”

Love,
Matthew

Dec 10 – Sts Swithun Wells, Edmund Gennings, Polydore Plasden, & Bls John Mason, Sidney Hodges, Brian Lacey, (d. 1591), Martyrs

Swithun Wells was born at Brambridge, Hampshire, England around 1536; the youngest of five sons, his parents were Thomas Wells (or Welles) and Mary, daughter of John Mompesson.

He was christened with the name of the ninth century local saint and Bishop of Winchester, Swithun. They were a determinedly Catholic family who, during the Reformation, were to assist in the clandestine burials of Catholics in the local churchyard and whose house became a refuge for priests. His eldest brother, Gilbert, died a known recusant having forfeited the property, but it was later restored to the family by Charles II.

We know that for six years he kept a school for young gentlemen at Monkton Farleigh in Wiltshire and that for many years he conformed to the state requirement to attend Protestant services.  In 1583, Swithun Wells was reconciled to the Catholic Church.

In 1585 he went to London, where he took a house in Gray’s Inn Lane. November 7, 1591, Fr. Edmund Gennings (b. 1567) was saying Mass at Wells’s house, when the priest-hunter Richard Topcliffe burst in with his officers.  They would all be executed outside that same house.

Gennings, from Lichfield, Staffordshire, was a thoughtful, serious boy naturally inclined to matters of faith. At around sixteen years of age he converted to Catholicism. He went immediately to the English College at Reims where he was ordained a priest in 1590. He soon returned to England under the assumed name of Ironmonger. His missionary career was brief.

Topcliffe, “the Queen’s Torturer”, “the cruelest tyrant in all of England”, was a lawyer in the employ of the Privy Council and a sadistic interrogator and torturer and a sexual sadist – a man, it is reported, who too much enjoyed his work.

Topcliffe claimed that his own instruments and methods were better than the official ones, and was authorized to create a torture chamber in his home in London.  The “Topcliffe Rack”, where the victim is suspended vertically, rather than horizontally, from a wall by manacles far above their height and weights are added to the ankles, was his invention.

The congregation at Wells’ house, now surrounded, not wishing the Mass to be interrupted, held the door and beat back the officers until the Mass was finished, after which they all surrendered quietly.

Wells was not present at the time, but his wife was, and was arrested along with Gennings, another priest, Fr. Polydore Plasden, and three laymen, John Mason, Sidney Hodgson, and Brian Lacey.

On his return, Wells was immediately arrested and imprisoned. At his trial, he said that he had not been present at the Mass, but wished he had been, upon which saying he was sentenced to be hanged, and was executed outside his own house on 10 December 1591, just after Edmund Gennings.

The victim the executioners most wanted to suffer most would be killed last, watching loved ones and friends die brutally before their own passion.  Fr. Gennings, a convert to Catholicism at age 17, was killed first.  He was 24 yrs old. He is reported to have said, “Sancte Gregori, ora pro me!” while he was being disembowelled, after being hung, but not to death, only stunning him, and that the hangman swore, “Zounds! See, his heart is in my hand, and yet Gregory is in his mouth. O egregious Papist!”  The martyrdom of Edmund Gennings was the occasion of several extraordinary incidents, chief of which was the conversion of his younger brother, John, to the Catholic faith, and who became a Franciscan, and who later wrote his biography, published in 1614 at Saint-Omer.

Fr. Polydore Plasden, age 28, at his execution he acknowledged Elizabeth as his lawful queen, whom he would defend to the best of his power against all her enemies, and he prayed for her and the whole realm, but said that he would rather forfeit a thousand lives than deny or fight against Catholicism. In contrast to the others, Sir Walter Raleigh fought for his reprieve, but only succeeded in his being allowed to hang till he was dead, and the sentence was carried out upon his corpse.

It was upon Fr. Plasden’s word that the Mass they attended and for which they were about to die was allowed to conclude peacefully.  Due to Fr. Plasden’s concern for the Blessed Sacrament and his fear that the Eucharist might be subjected to sacrilege, he gave his word that he, Fr. Edmund Gennings and those recusants hearing Mass would freely surrender should Mass be permitted to conclude. The infamous Richard Topcliffe knew that Fr. Polydore would keep his word and agreed so as to be able to take them away quietly.  The message here is clear.  The Mass is the priority.  Once concluded, do with us what you wish.

On the scaffold, Swithun Wells, said to Topcliffe, “Hurry up, please, Mr. Topcliffe. Are you not ashamed to make a poor old man stand in his shirt in the cold?  God pardon you and make you of a Saul into a Paul, of a bloody persecutor into one of the Catholic Church’s children. By your malice I am thus to be executed, but you have done me the greatest benefit that ever I could have had. I heartily forgive you.” ” His wife, Alice, was reprieved, and died in prison some 10 years later.

NPG D25344,Edmund Geninges,by M. Bas

-St Edmund Gennings, priest & martyr

swithin-wells

-St Swithun Wells, layman & martyr



“If to return to England a priest or to say Mass be popish treason, I here confess that I am a traitor; but I think not so and therefore acknowledge myself guilty of this those, not with repentance but with an open protestation of inward joy!” – St Edmund Gennings, priest & martyr, executed age 24.

Eternal and loving God, the lives of your servants, Swithun Wells and his companions, offer us an example of faithful service to the Gospel and love for the Mass.

Their deaths remind us of the cost that many people pay for witnessing to the Truth.

Through the prayers of St Swithun Wells and his companions
may we be proud of the faith we have inherited from the saints and martyrs, and through our work, prayers, and most importantly Your grace, deepen the roots of the Catholic faith in ourselves and in those who observe our lives.

We ask this through Jesus Christ, your Son.
Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 27 – St John Stone, OSA, (? – 1539)

img-Saint-John-Stone

John Stone was a Doctor of Theology, living in the Augustinian friary at Canterbury, England. The place where the Augustinian friary once stood on St George’s Street is still called Whitefriars.

During the time of the Reformation, Stone publicly denounced the behavior of King Henry VIII from the pulpit of the Austin Friars and stated his approval of the status of monarch’s first marriage — clearly opposing the monarch’s wish to gain a divorce. The Act of Supremacy of 1534 declared the king to be the only supreme head of the Church in England. This was followed by the Treasons Act which enjoined the penalty of high treason on anyone who might maliciously desire to deprive the king of his title of supreme head of the Church.

All bishops, priests and religious were required to acknowledge his title. On 14 December 1538, the Anglican bishop of Dover, Richard Ingworth, a former Dominican, visited Canterbury and called on the Augustinian friary with an order to close it down as part of the dissolution of monasteries in England. Every friar was forced to sign a formal document agreeing to the Act of Supremacy; Stone refused to sign.

After being held in the Tower of London for some time he was sent back to Canterbury to be tried under the Treasons Act. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. He is probably the Austin Friar of whom Ingworth complained on 14 December, 1538, that “at all times he still held and still desired to die for it, that the king may not be head of the Church of England”.

When in prison before his martyrdom “after an uninterrupted fast of three days, he heard a voice, but without seeing the presence of anyone, calling him by name and exhorting him to be of good courage and not to hesitate to suffer with constancy for the truth of the opinion which he had professed”. Before his execution at the Dane John (Dungeon Hill), Canterbury, Friar John Stone said: “I close my apostolate in my blood. In my death I shall find life, for I die for a holy cause, the defense of the Church of God, infallible and immaculate”.

Stone was hanged, drawn and quartered.  From the scaffold John could look down on his former friary. He was hung, but not to death. While still conscious his heart was removed; his head and limbs were severed and parboiled. His head and body were placed on display to dishonor his corpse as a traitor.  In the account books of Canterbury, there appears an expense of two shillings and six pence “Paid for a half-ton of wood to build the gallows on which Friar Stone was brought to justice.”

The picture of St John Stone in his prison cell awaiting execution is from an engraving which was printed in 1612 at Liege in a volume by Georges Maigret Buillonoy (1573 – 1633), O.S.A.

Cor unum et anima una in Deum! = One heart and one soul to God!

Love,
Matthew

Oct 16 – St Richard Gwyn, (1537-1584) – Layman, Husband, Father, Martyr

richard_gwyn

Richard Gwyn (anglicized “White”) was born at Llanilloes, Montgomeryshire, Wales. He studied at Oxford and then at St John’s College, Cambridge, but his studies were interrupted in 1558 when Elizabeth I ascended the throne and Catholics were expelled from the universities.

He returned to Wales and became a teacher, first at Overton in Flintshire, then at Wrexham and other places, acquiring a considerable reputation as a Welsh scholar. He married and had six children, three of whom survived him. He was pressured to become an Anglican and succumbed briefly, but returned to the Catholic faith after a sudden illness and remained steadfast in it thereafter, about the same time as Catholic priests came back to Wales.

His adherence to the old faith was noted by the Bishop of Chester, who brought pressure on him to conform to the Anglican faith. It is recorded in an early account of his life that:
“…[a]fter some troubles, he yielded to their desires, although greatly against his stomach … and lo, by the Providence of God, he was no sooner come out of the church but a fearful company of crows and kites so persecuted him to his home that they put him in great fear of his life, the conceit whereof made him also sick in body as he was already in soul distressed; in which sickness he resolved himself (if God would spare his life) to return to a Catholic.”

He frequently had to change his home and place of work to avoid fines and imprisonment, but he was finally arrested in 1579 and imprisoned in Ruthin gaol (jail).  He was offered his freedom if he would conform. After escaping and spending a year and a half on the run, he spent the rest of his life in prison. He was fined astronomical sums for not attending the Anglican church services (recusancy), and was carried to church in irons more than once; but he would disrupt the service by rattling his irons and heckling, which led to further astronomical fines, but was not otherwise useful.  Furious at him, his jailers put him in the stocks for many hours where many people came to abuse and insult and spit on him.

Taunted by a local Anglican priest who claimed that the keys of the Church were given no less to him than to St. Peter. “There is this difference”, Gwyn replied, “namely, that whereas Peter received the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, the keys you received were obviously those of the beer cellar.”  The queen’s men wanted him to give them the names of other Catholics, but Richard would not do so.

Gwyn was fined £280 for refusing to attend Anglican church services, and another £140 for “brawling”, while in chains, when they took him there. When asked what payment he could make toward these huge sums, he answered, “Six-pence”. Gwyn and two other Catholic prisoners, John Hughes and Robert Morris, were ordered into court in the spring of 1582 where, instead of being tried for an offence, they were given a sermon by an Anglican minister. However, they started to heckle him (one in Welsh, one in Latin and one in English) to the extent that the exercise had to be abandoned.

In 1580 he was transferred to Wrexham, where he suffered much persecution, being forcibly carried to the Church of England service, and being frequently taken to court at different assizes to be continually questioned, but was never freed from prison; he was removed to the Council of the Marches, and later in the year suffered torture at Bewdley and Bridgenorth before being sent back to Wrexham. There he remained a prisoner till the Autumn Assizes, when he was brought to trial on 9 October, found guilty of treason and sentenced to be executed.  At his trial, men were paid to lie about him, as one of them later admitted. The men on the jury were so dishonest that they asked the judge whom he wanted them to condemn.

Richard Gwyn, John Hughes and Robert Morris were indicted for high treason in 1584 and were brought to trial before a panel headed by the Chief Justice of Chester, Sir George Bromley. Witnesses gave evidence that they retained their allegiance to the Catholic Church, including that Gwyn composed “certain rhymes of his own making against married priests and ministers” and “[T]hat he had heard him complain of this world; and secondly, that it would not last long, thirdly, that he hoped to see a better world [this was construed as plotting a revolution]; and, fourthly, that he confessed the Pope’s supremacy.” The three were also accused of trying to make converts.

Again his life was offered him on condition that he acknowledge the queen as supreme head of the Church. His wife, Catherine, and one of their children were brought to the courtroom and warned not to follow his example. She retorted that she would gladly die alongside her husband; she was sure, she said, that the judges could find enough evidence to convict her if they spent a little more money. She consoled and encouraged her husband to the last. He suffered on 16 October 1584, where he was hung, drawn, and quartered. On the scaffold he stated that he recognised Elizabeth as his lawful queen but could not accept her as head of the Church in England.

Just before Gwyn was hanged he turned to the crowd and said, “I have been a jesting fellow, and if I have offended any that way, or by my songs, I beseech them for God’s sake to forgive me.”  The hangman pulled on his leg irons hoping to put him out of his pain. When he appeared dead they cut him down, but he revived and remained conscious through the disembowelling, until his head was severed. He cried out in pain, “Holy God, what is this?”  To which he was replied, “An execution of her majesty the queen.”  His last words, in Welsh, were reportedly “Iesu, trugarha wrthyf” (“Jesus, have mercy on me”).  The beautiful religious poems, four carols and a funeral ode, Richard wrote in prison are still in existence. In them, he begged his countrymen of Wales to be loyal to the Catholic faith.

We can greatly admire St. Richard for his bravery. His willingness to suffer for what he believed in is inspiring. Let’s ask St. Richard to make us as strong in our convictions as he was. Relics of St Richard Gwyn are to be found in the Cathedral Church of Our Lady of Sorrows, seat of the Bishop of Wrexham and also in the Catholic Church of Our Lady and Saint Richard Gwyn, Llanidloes.

The incident of the birds mentioned in Richard’s “Early life” here is one of several strange events in Richard Gwyn’s life. Once when he was brought before a court, the clerk who read the indictment suddenly lost his vision and had to be replaced before the proceedings could resume. The judge cautioned those present not to report the incident, so that Catholics could not claim that it was a miracle. On another occasion, the judge, who later sentenced Richard to death, became inexplicably speechless in court.

2015-richard-gwyn

St Richard Gwyn, faithful husband, father, and Catholic, pray for us!

Love,
Matthew