-The Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs. Note the reliquary, “feretory”, of St John Southworth on the right. Please click on the image for greater detail.
The marble walls and floor were completed in 1931. The life-size figure of St George takes its place as chief patron of the Chapel
St George was a Roman soldier, put to death for his Christian faith about 302AD. His cult was brought to England by the Crusaders, and King Edward III made him patron of England in the fourteenth century.
In this Chapel, which is currently in the process of being decorated with its mosaic scheme, we pray especially for England, and for those who have witnessed to their Catholic faith in our land.
In the center of the floor is a rose, symbol of England; the rose motif is continued behind the altar and around the walls. Either side of the altar the red cross of St George is displayed on marble shields. Panels list servicemen who gave their lives in battle, and who are prayed for in the Cathedral.
On the facing wall is a carving of St George by Lindsey Clarke. Above the altar is the last carving of Eric Gill. It portrays Christ on the cross, not suffering, but gloriously triumphant over death; to his left stands St Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England, and to his right St John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester. Both men were executed in 1535 for their refusal to deny the Supremacy of the Pope under King Henry VIII.
Normally, St John Southworth, martyred in 1654 at Tyburn (now Marble Arch) for his Catholic faith, lies in a shrine by the grill. His body was brought to the Cathedral in 1930. It is now temporarily housed in the Chapel of the Holy Souls while the decoration of the Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs is completed.
At the entrance to the Chapel is a mosaic representing Christ the Divine Healer, erected in 1952 in memory of the Royal Army Medical Corps.
Outside the Chapel, a new mosaic records St Alban, the first to shed his blood for the Christian faith on British soil. Alban was a Roman soldier in the Roman province of Britannia. He sheltered, and then changed places with, a persecuted Catholic priest. When arrested, he refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods, and was martyred. The mosaic, by Christopher Hobbs, was unveiled in June 2001.
Lord, we pray for all those who
witness to the Gospel in this land.
May all Christians work to heal
divisions within the Church,
So that together we may bear witness to Jesus Christ.
-reliquary of St John Southworth, the only Reformation martyr whose remains are wholly intact, please click on the image for greater detail.
Saint John Southworth came from a Lancashire family, the principal members of which seemed to have lived at Samlesbury Hall. He is thought to have been born in 1592 and was martyred at Tyburn on 28 June 1654. His family chose to pay heavy fines rather than give up the Catholic faith.
In 1618, John Southworth was ordained a priest at the English College, Douai (Douay) in Northern France. After returning to England, he was arrested and condemned to death in Lancashire in 1626, and imprisoned first in Lancaster Castle, and afterwards in the Clink Prison, London. On 11 April, 1630, at the insistence of Queen Henrietta Maria, he and seventeen others were delivered to the French Ambassador for transportation abroad, but, in 1636, he was reported to have been released from the Gatehouse, Westminster, and was living at Clerkenwell. From there it seems he and Henry Morse, SJ, frequently visited the plague-stricken dwellings of Westminster to administer the sacraments and comfort the sick and the dying. They both also raised money for plague-stricken families. In 1637, he appears to have been based in Westminster, where he was arrested on 28 November, before being again sent to the Gatehouse. From there he was transferred to the Clink and, in 1640, was brought before the Commissioners for Causes Ecclesiastical, who sent him back there. During these various imprisonments Fr Southworth was protected by the Secretary of State to the King, Francis Windebank, who seems to have allowed him relative freedom, and who eventually became a Catholic himself.
On 16 July, John Southworth was again freed, but by 2 December he was once more imprisoned in the Gatehouse. After his final apprehension on 19 June 1654, dragged from his bed by a Colonel Worsley, he was tried at the Old Bailey, where he insisted on pleading guilty to being a priest. He was reluctantly condemned to be hung, drawn and quartered by the Recorder of London, Serjeant Steel, who wept bitterly while reading the sentence. He was permitted to wear his vestments at this execution, a rare honor. He was the only Catholic martyr to die under the rule of Oliver Cromwell. On the day of his martyrdom, he was allowed to make a long speech at the gallows.
Among his last words:
“I am come hither to die, and would willingly speak something…I am a Lancashire man and am brought hither to die not for any crime I have committed against the laws, but for being a priest, and obeying the commandments of my Savior Jesus Christ and for professing the true Roman Catholic and Apostolic Faith, in which I willingly die, and have earnestly desired the same. My study from my infancy was to find out the true and only way to serve God, and having found it, my study was to serve Him. And I have suffered much, and many years imprisonment, to obtain that which I hope ere long I shall enjoy.
Almighty God sent his only Son my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into this world for the redemption of mankind; and although the least of His sufferings was superabundant satisfaction, yet He rested not so contented, but Himself doeth by word and example give us a rule by which we should be guided: He told St. Peter, thou art a rock, and upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it — which is the true Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church.
My faith and obedience to my superiors is all the treason charged against me; nay, I die for Christ’s law, which no human law, by whomsoever made, ought to withstand or contradict… To follow His holy doctrine and imitate His holy death, I willingly suffer at present; this gallows I look on as His Cross, which I gladly take to follow my Dear Saviour…I plead not for myself…but for you poor persecuted Catholics whom I leave behind me.
My faith is my crime, the performance of my duty the occasion of my condemnation. I confess I am a great sinner; against God I have offended, but am innocent of any sin against man, I mean the Commonwealth, and the present Government.” He was cut short. Closed his eyes, said his prayers, and the trap door of the gallows swung open.
The Venetian Secretary reported on his execution: he was hung, and was not dead when the executioner “cut out his heart and entrails and threw them into a fire kindled for the purpose, the body being quartered . . . Such is the inhuman cruelty used towards the English Catholic religious.”
The Spanish ambassador bought his body for forty guineas from the executioner and, in 1655, returned it to Douai after the corpse had been sewn together and embalmed (parboiled). In 1656 the recovery of Francis Howard, fifth son of the Earl of Arundel, was attributed to St John Southworth’s relics. When England and France went to war in 1793 St John Southworth’s body was buried in a lead coffin in an unmarked grave below the college for its protection. The grave was discovered in 1927 where it remained hidden until 1927 when the college was demolished to make way for housing.
His major relics were sent to St Edmund’s College, Ware, successor of the English College in Douai. In 1930, his major relics – the only complete body of a Reformation martyr – were brought to Westminster Cathedral, where a shrine was prepared for them.
He was beatified in 1929 and was canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI, as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.
-please click on the images for greater detail.
So here he lies as he has lain in state
These ninety years in this cathedral crypt
At Westminster. We come to venerate
The relics of a martyr: his heart, ripped
Out of his chest at Tyburn for a priest,
Was sewn back in at Cromwell’s stern behest.
Four times arrested and three times released,
That blessèd little man four times confessed.
His derring-do his daring deeds display,
This doughty representative of Christ.
With face behind a silver mask he lies
And if he cries we cannot see his eyes.
St John Southworth’s feast day is 27 June, which is observed as a Solemnity at the Westminster Cathedral, London, UK.
When Mayne was born, King Henry VIII, who had broken England’s communion with the Holy Father in 1535. His son and successor, Edward VI (1547-1553), had persisted in the schism. Edward’s successor was his Catholic sister Mary (1553-1558), who restored England to the Catholic Church. Mary’s death, however, ended the prospects of a Catholic England. At the beginning of her reign, her sister Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603), a Protestant, reversed Mary’s restoration of Catholicism. The Act of Supremacy of 1558 had reestablished Elizabeth as head of the English church, and the Act of Uniformity of 1559 had made Archbishop Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer the only lawful liturgical book in England. Like her father Henry VIII, Elizabeth brooked little opposition. Catholic priests who had been educated and ordained at William Allen’s seminary for English priests at Douai, in Belgium, particularly incensed her regime. Priests who had been in the country during the reign of Mary (1553-1558) were grudgingly permitted their lives; émigré priests, however, were hunted down and disembowelled.
The religious reign of terror of the regime forced the vast majority of Englishmen, Catholic though they were in their religious preferences, to conform to the “Elizabethan Religious Settlement.” Pockets of Catholics nonetheless soldiered on. As the scholarship of Eamon Duffy shows very clearly, Cuthbert Mayne’s native shire of Devon was particularly loyal to Catholic Christianity. Mayne was raised by an uncle, a priest who had conformed to Anglicanism. Mayne was likewise ordained a priest of the Anglican Church at about eighteen years of age. After ordination, he studied at Oxford University. By 1570, Mayne had received a Master of Arts degree, and in the meantime made the acquaintance of Edmund Campion, a Jesuit. Campion and other Catholics at Oxford had made a deep impression on Mayne, who came to believe in the truth of Catholic Christianity.
From the new seminary for English Catholic priests at Douai, in Belgium, Campion wrote and encouraged Mayne to emigrate and study there for the priesthood. In 1573, Mayne was formally received into the Catholic Church, and became a seminarian. By 1576 he was ordained, and became the fifteenth of the Douai priests to return to England.
-Golden Manor house, Cornwall, UK, ancestral home of Francis Tregian
A Catholic estate-owner by the name of Francis Tregian accepted Mayne as a member of his household. Mayne served outwardly as Tregian’s steward, while secretly ministering as priest. Protestant locals must have grown suspicious and reported the possibility of a Catholic priest in Tregian’s household to the authorities, and pursuivants, as Elizabeth’s secret religious police were known, arrested Mayne for having a copy of the Agnus dei written on a parchment he wore around his neck. Late medieval English Catholics often wore prayers around the neck, as protection against sin and misfortune, a practice Protestants despised as superstition.
The conditions of Mayne’s imprisonment were appalling. Since the case against him was weak, prosecutors were in no hurry to file formal charges against him. In the end, was indicted for “crimes” he had committed while a prisoner. The government accused Mayne of advocating for the papal supremacy among his fellow prisoners, and of having celebrated the Mass in his cell.
While awaiting trial at the circuit assizes in September, Mayne was imprisoned in Launceston Castle. At the opening of the trial on 23 September 1577 there were five counts against him: first, that he had obtained from the Roman See a “faculty” (or bulla), in violation of, the Statute of Praemunire and 13 Elzabeth I, c. 2, making it treason punishable by death to bring into England papal bulls, to possess them, or promulgate them, such as the one in the possession of Cuthbert Mayne containing absolution of the Queen’s subjects; second, that he had published the same at Golden Manor, ancestral home of his friend, host, protector, and benefactor, Francis Tregian, one of the wealthiest men in Cornwall; third, that he had taught the ecclesiastical authority of the pope and denied the queen’s ecclesiastical supremacy while in prison, a violation of 5 Elizabeth I, c. 1, against maintaining and defending the authority and the power of the Bishop of Rome in print, writing, words, or deed ‘making it treasonable to: maliciously, advisedly, and directly publish, declare, hold opinion, affirm or say by any speech express words or saying, that our said sovereign lady Queen Elizabeth during her life is not nor ought not to be Queen of this realm of England and also of the realms of France and Ireland; or that any other person or persons ought of right to be King or Queen of the said being under her Majesty’s obeisance…it also being treason to call the monarch a heretic, schismatic, infidel, or usurper.’ , and 23 Elizabeth I, c. 1, ‘That all persons whatsoever, which have or shall have, or shall pretend to have Power, or shall by any Ways or Means put in Practice to absolve, persuade or withdraw any of the Queen’s Majesty’s Subjects, or any within her Highness Realms or Dominions, from the their Natural Obedience to her Majesty: (2), Or to withdraw them from that Intent from the Religion now by her Highness Authority established within her Highness Dominions, to the Romish Religion, (3) or to move them or any of them to promise and Obedience to any pretended Authority of the See of Rome, or to any other Prince, State or Potentate, to be had or used within her Dominions, (4) or shall do any overt Act to the Intent or Purpose; and every of the shall be to all Intents adjudged to be Traytors, and being thereof lawfully convicted shal have Judgement, suffer and forfeit, as in Case of High Treason.’; fourth, that he had brought into the kingdom an Agnus Dei (a Lamb of God sealed upon a piece of wax from the Paschal candle blessed by the pope) and delivered it to Francis Tregian; fifth, that he had celebrated Mass.
Mayne answered all counts. On the first and second counts, he said that the supposed “faculty” was merely a copy printed at Douai of an announcement of the Jubilee of 1575, and that its application having expired with the end of the jubilee, he certainly had not published it either at Golden (the manor house of Francis Tregian) or elsewhere. On the third count, he said that he had asserted nothing definite on the subject to the three illiterate witnesses who swore to the contrary. On the fourth count, he said that the fact he was wearing an Agnus Dei at the time of his arrest did not establish that he had brought it into the kingdom or delivered it to Tregian. On the fifth count, he said that the presence of a Missal, a chalice, and vestments in his room did not establish that he had said Mass.
Irregularities of procedure plagued the case against Mayne, but the government was determined to take his life, and the court condemned him to death. Mayne responded, “Deo gratias!”
The day before his execution, the government offered to spare his life in exchange for acknowledgement of the queen’s supremacy and renouncing Roman Catholicism, by testifying against Tregian and revealing other Catholics. Declining both offers, he kissed a copy of the Bible, declaring that, “the queen neither ever was, nor is, nor ever shall be, the head of the church of England”
The following day, Mayne was hanged for about one minute, cut down still alive, most sources say unconscious since his head had hit the scaffolding with such a force it knocked his eyeballs from their sockets, and butchered. Pope Paul VI canonized him in 1970. No one whom Mayne, the first of the Elizabethan priest-martyrs, received into the Catholic Church ever relapsed. Not even persecution could rob his ministry of its fruits. He was the first seminary, as opposed to religious order priest, or proto-martyr, for secular/seminary priests to be martyred in England.
-skull of St Cuthbert Mayne, Carmelite Convent, Lanherne, Cornwall, UK
-reliquary of St Cuthbert Mayne in situ, sitting above the coffin detritus in the grave identified as that of Captain Gabriel Archer, Jamestown, Virginia, USA. In the harsh winter of 1609-1610, settlers at Jamestown placed a small silver case with a slide opening etched with a single letter ─ M ─ carefully on top of a white oak coffin and then covered it with the hard, cold dirt of the New World. Inside the silver encasing were seven bone fragments and two lead ampulae filled with water, oil, dirt, or blood.
-reliquary after preservation. The fine silver work of the hexagonal tube is juxtaposed with the crudely made M, scratched on the slide opening.
“Holding the reliquary in the palm of one’s hand is instructive. It is small, measuring just under three inches in length and an inch and a half in diameter. Conservators at Jamestowne Rediscovery have meticulously restored it, freeing its silver encasement of the green oxidation from sitting in the invariably wet clay soil of James Fort for over four hundred years. It has heft. As it is moved back and forth you can hear and feel that there are loose things inside, imbuing it with a sense of mysterious liveliness. Its slide top has corroded shut. The contents, however, are clear, thanks to CT scans which revealed the bone fragments to be tibia and allowed the conservators, archaeologists, and anthropologists at Jamestowne Rediscovery and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History to know the exact dimensions of the contents.4 They have created a reproduction, which helps further our understanding of the sealed object (Fig. 3). In essence, the reliquary is a combination object; it holds seven human bones and other effluvia, presumably human.” –https://mavcor.yale.edu/conversations/essays/jamestown-s-relics-sacred-presence-english-new-world
-reproductions of Jamestown, VA reliquary (1609/10) and contents
Relics of Mayne’s body survive. A portion of his skull is in the Carmelite Convent at Lanherne, Cornwall. Christopher M. B. Allison suggests that the silver reliquary discovered in 2015 at Jamestown, Virginia in the grave of Captain Gabriel Archer (died 1609/10) may contain a relic of Mayne.
Litany of St Cuthbert Mayne, Priest & Martyr
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Christ, hear us. Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God the Holy Ghost, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, pray for us.
Queen of the English, pray for us.
Queen of Martyrs, pray for us.
Saint Cuthbert Mayne, pray for us.
Who wast of mild nature and sweet behaviour, pray for us.
Who didst repent of the trappings of false religion, pray for us.
Who didst at length embrace the True Faith, pray for us.
Who didst flee abroad to be priested, pray for us.
Who didst study for the priesthood at Douai, pray for us.
Who wast desirous as a priest to honour God, pray for us.
Who wast desirous to offer reparation for sin, pray for us.
Who wast inflamed with zeal to save souls, pray for us.
Who wast sent in secret to England, pray for us.
Who didst labour in Cornwall, enduring danger and peril, pray for us.
Who didst reconcile so many to the Church, pray for us.
Who wast seized by evil men, pray for us.
Who wast cruelly imprisoned, pray for us.
Who wast wrongfully tried, pray for us.
Who wast unjustly convicted, pray for us.
Who didst refuse to swear the unlawful oath, pray for us.
Who wast condemned to death, pray for us.
Who didst pray so earnestly, pray for us.
Who wast illumined by a great light, pray for us.
Who wast hung, drawn, and quartered, pray for us.
Protomartyr of Launceston, pray for us.
Protomartyr of Douai, pray for us.
Protomartyr of Oxford, pray for us.
Protomartyr of the seminary priests, pray for us.
Of whose converts none ever recanted, pray for us.
Whose relics work miracles, pray for us.
Who dost reign with Christ for ever, pray for us.
All ye holy Martyrs of England and Wales, pray ye for us.
Be merciful, spare us, O Lord.
Be merciful, graciously hear us, O Lord.
From all evil, deliver us, O Lord.
From all sin, deliver us, O Lord.
From the snares of the devil, deliver us, O Lord.
From anger, and hatred, and all ill will, deliver us, O Lord.
From error, dissension, and division, deliver us, O Lord.
From heresy and schism, deliver us, O Lord.
From everlasting death, deliver us, O Lord.
By thine eternal priesthood, deliver us, O Lord.
By that ministry whereby thou didst glorify thy Father upon earth, deliver us, O Lord.
By thine institution of the most holy Eucharist, deliver us, O Lord.
By thy bloody immolation of thyself made once upon the cross, deliver us, O Lord.
By that same sacrifice daily renewed on the altar, deliver us, O Lord.
By that divine power, which thou, the one and invisible priest, dost exercise in thy priests, deliver us, O Lord.
By the triumph of thy grace in all thy holy martyrs, deliver us, O Lord.
We sinners, we beseech thee, hear us.
That thou wouldst deign to rule and preserve thy holy Church, we beseech thee, hear us.
That thou wouldst deign to preserve the Apostolic See, and all ecclesiastical orders, in holy religion, we beseech thee, hear us.
That thou wouldst deign to humble the enemies of holy Church, we beseech thee, hear us.
That thou wouldst deign to grant peace and unity to all Christian people, we beseech thee, hear us.
That thou wouldst deign to recall all the erring to the unity of the Church, and to lead all unbelievers to the light of the Gospel, we beseech thee, hear us.
That thou wouldst deign to send faithful and unshakeable workers into thy harvest, we beseech thee, hear us.
That thou wouldst deign to deliver us from all heresy, faithlessness, and blindness of heart, we beseech thee, hear us.
Son of God, we beseech thee, hear us.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us. Christ, graciously hear us.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Our Father… (in secret until)
V/. And lead us not into temptation.
R/. But deliver us from evil.
Ant. Under the altar of God I heard the voice of the slain saying: Why dost thou not avenge our blood? And they received the divine response: Wait yet a little while, until the number of your brethren be fulfilled. (P.T. Alleluia.)
V/. What torments were suffered by all the saints.
R/. That they might securely come to the palm of martyrdom.
V/. The bodies of the saints are buried in peace.
R/. And their names shall live for evermore.
V/. Precious in the sight of the Lord.
R/. Is the death of his saints.
V/. The saints have entered the kingdom with palms.
R/. They have merited crowns of beauty from the hand of God.
V/. O ye Martyrs of the Lord, bless ye the Lord for ever.
R/. O ye choir of Martyrs, praise ye the Lord in the highest.
V/. Thee the white-robed army of Martyrs praise, O Lord.
R/. Thee the holy Church throughout the world doth confess.
V/. Make us to be numbered with thy saints.
R/. In glory everlasting.
V/. O Lord, hear my prayer.
R/. And let my cry come unto thee.
Let us pray.
O God, who didst grant to blessed Cuthbert before the other seminary priests to run the road of torments for the salvation of souls: grant to us in thy mercy, that inflamed with the same zeal for souls, we may not hesitate to lay down our lives for others.
Increase in us, O Lord, faith in the resurrection, who dost work wonders by the relics of thy Saints: and make us partakers of that immortal glory, a pledge of which we venerate in their ashes.
Stir up in us, O Lord, the Spirit that the blessed Martyrs of Douai obeyed: that being filled with the same, we may study to love what they loved, and to do the works that they taught.
O God, who didst strengthen thy blessed Martyrs Cuthbert and his companions with unconquerable courage, that they might fight for the true faith and the primacy of the Apostolic See: by hearkening unto their prayers, we beseech thee to help our frailty, that, strong in faith, we may be able to resist the enemy even to the end.
O God, who didst raise up thy blessed Martyrs Bishop John, Thomas, and their companions from every walk of life to be champions of the true faith and of the Supreme Pontiff: by their merits and prayers, grant that, by profession of the same faith, all may be made and remain one, as thine own Son prayed.
We beseech thee, O Lord, mercifully to receive the prayers of thy Church: that, all adversities and errors being destroyed, she may serve thee in secure freedom.
O God, who dost correct those who have erred, and dost gather those who were scatttered, and dost preserve those who have been gathered together: we beseech thee, clemently pour forth upon Christian people the grace of union with thee, that, rejecting division, and joining themselves to the true shepherd of thy Church, they may be able to worthily serve thee. Through our Lord Jesus Christ thy Son, who with thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end.
V/. O Lord, hear my prayer.
R/. And let my cry come unto thee.
V/. By the intercession of blessed Cuthbert, may almighty God bless us, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
V/. And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
-Agnus Dei discs from the collection of Gary Minella, Queens, New York. The wording on the disc on the left reads: “ECCE AGN DEI … PECC . MUNDI” and “PIUS XI PM … ANNO P XIV MCMXXXV”.
Agnus Dei sacramental
The Agnus Dei is an ancient sacramental―a sacred object, or action, which the believer uses for the purpose of obtaining spiritual favors through the Church’s intercession. It might possibly be the Church’s oldest sacramental. There are historical accounts as to their existence even as far back as the sixth century. However, most people these days are completely unaware of them. In fact, some of the brightest theological minds in the Church have never even seen an Agnus Dei.
The Agnus Dei, whose name means “Lamb of God,” is a blessed wax disc impressed with the figure of the Lamb of God. But just as the St. Benedict Medal is not merely blessed but also exorcised, so too is the Agnus Dei consecrated rather than merely blessed by a reigning pope.
Traditionally Agnus Deis are consecrated only during the first year of a pope’s pontificate, and then again every seven years.
They are either round or oval. The lamb depicted upon them usually bears a cross or a flag. It’s not uncommon that images of saints or the name and arms of the consecrating pope are embossed on the reverse. This sacramental may be worn suspended around the neck or preserved as an object of devotion.
Centuries ago, popes would consecrate these sacramentals on Holy Saturday. They were made of the reworked wax from the previous year’s Paschal candles, to which chrism and balsam was added. Later, the Agnus Deis were consecrated on the Wednesday of Easter week and distributed on the Saturday of the same week.
In recent centuries, the task of preparing them was given to monks and nuns who would similarly collect the previous year’s Paschal candles. Cardinals visiting the pope would be given a disk to mark their visit. The cardinals would then in turn place them in their miter—probably because they didn’t have pockets back then. The Cardinals would then distribute the Agnus Deis to those in need of them.
The sacramental is rich in symbolism, mostly from the Old Testament. As in the Paschal candle, the wax symbolizes the virgin flesh of Christ. This is because medieval people believed that the bee was the only animal that reproduced without the benefit of sexual congress—thus, the fruit of their bodies, the wax, was produced “virginally.”
The lamb bearing a cross embossed on the disk is to remind the Christian of the Mosaic sacrifice in which a lamb was offered to God as an expiation of sins. The lamb’s shed blood would then protect Jewish households from the destroying angel (Exodus 12:1-28). Thus, the Agnus Dei emulates and reflects this blessing protecting the bearer from all malign influences. The prayers used in preparing the wax medallions make special mention of protection against storms, pestilence, fire, floods, and the dangers to which women are exposed during pregnancy and childbirth. In fact, several miracles have been attributed to these sacramentals including extinguished fires and stayed floods. In fact, Pope St. Pius V, fearing that the rising Tiber would flood Rome, threw an Agnus Dei into the river which immediately subsided.
In their writings, Popes Urban V, Paul II, Julius III, Sixtus V and Benedict XIV specifically mention some of the special virtues attributed to the Agnus Dei:
foster piety, banish tepidity, deliver from temptation, preserve from vice, preserve from eternal ruin and dispose to virtue.
cancel venial sins and purify from the stain left by grievous sin after it has been remitted in the Sacrament of Penance.
protection against sudden and spiritually unprovided death. (i.e., securing a happy death)
banish evil spirits.
dispel fears occasioned by evil spirits.
protection in combat, and the power to ensure victory.
protection against poison
protection against the snares of the wicked.
protection against false accusations.
protection against illness and an efficacious remedy against illnesses.
protection against the ravages of pestilence, epidemics and infectious diseases.
protection against bouts of epilepsy.
protection for mothers and babies against peril and provide for a safe and easy delivery.
protection against shipwrecks.
protection against lightning and floods.
protection against hailstorms, tempests, tornados, lightning and hurricanes which are circumvented or dispelled.
that at the sight or touch of the Lamb impressed on these waxen discs, the faithful should be inspired to dwell on the Mysteries of our Redemption recalled by this symbol, be moved to praise, venerate, and extol God’s goodness to us, hoping to obtain pardon for their sins, and to be cleansed from all stain of sin.
protection against poison and its effects.
through Divine Intervention, protection against the snares, wiles and frauds of Satan which should not prevail.
Like all sacramentals, this object serves to remind us of God and His place in our lives. It reminds us to serve Him and love our neighbor. It’s absolutely not a charm or talisman to bring “good luck” or repel evil, as that would be blasphemy. The medal has no intrinsic “magic ability.” (It should be pointed out that all power in the universe is in God’s hands and doesn’t reside elsewhere. In other words, people who claim to have magic powers are deluded or lying.)
To be clear, the Agnus Dei has no power in and of itself. It is, after all, only so much wax. To act as if it’s magical is sacrilege and assuredly the best way to make sure you don’t receive its spiritual benefits. Rather, its graces and favors are due to our faith in Jesus Christ, Our Redeemer, to the efficacious prayers of the pope who consecrated it (James 5:16) and to the abundant blessings which the Church has bestowed upon those who wear and pray with the sacramental.
This sacramental is highly esteemed by the Church and it’s often given to those who are spiritually afflicted or harassed. Considering their holiness and their inherent rarity, limited to the amount of wax salvaged from the previous year’s Paschal candles collected in the churches of Rome, Agnus Deis were greatly cherished by the faithful and passed down from generation to generation. Apparently, they caused so much fear and consternation among the enemies of the Church that Catholic-bashing Queen Elizabeth I of England outlawed their importation into her realm, calling them “popish trumperies.”
Though the origins of the Agnus Dei are lost to history, it’s most likely a Christian substitute for unenlightened pagan charms and amulets. It’s not impossible to think that the Agnus Dei was meant to ween pagans from their peculiar demons and bring them into the Light of Christ. Thus, instead of believing in sympathetic magic somehow “inherent” in their amulets, they were given the Agnus Dei to save them from themselves. If such is the case, we can comfortably trace the origins of the Agnus Dei back to the fifth century, in which we can say that Rome was finally made a Christian city.
From the time of Amalarius (c. 820) onwards we find frequent mention of the use of Agnus Deis. Popes often gave them as presents to monarchs and other distinguished personages. This first historical mention of this particular sacramental describes them as having been made from the previous year’s Paschal candles. Ennoldius (c. 510) specifically mentions that the fragments of the Paschal candles were used as a protection against tempests and blight.
The earliest examples of an Agnus Dei still in existence come from the reign of Pope Gregory XI (AD 1370).
After the shards of the Paschal candles are harvested from Rome’s churches, melted and poured into forms, they are given to the pope and he dips them in water which had been blessed and mingled with balsam and chrism. At that, the Holy Father prays over them, asking God to impart to all those who are given the Agnus Deis true faith and sincere piety.
Once the cardinal or bishop was given an Agnus Dei, they in turn either gave it as a present to someone or, more likely, broke off small pieces of the wax disk so as to make sure as many people as possible could benefit from it. The small piece of wax was then kept in a locket or other suitable container.
Inexplicably, the practice of consecrating the Agnus Dei sacramental was abandoned following the Second Vatican Council. The last pope to consecrate them was Pope Pius XII (r. 1939-1958), who created them in 1945 and 1952.
Perhaps, one day, the Church will reinstitute this beautiful custom. Or perhaps she won’t. Either way, we can still be assured of the pope’s prayers for us, his spiritual children—and, of course, the blessings of Christ and His Mother and, indeed, all the angels and saints. As Christians, we don’t believe in magic. In fact, we have something by far better―salvation.
A papal bull had to be issued several centuries ago warning the Faithful not to buy these sacramental—not because of simony, which is a horrible sin in and of itself—but rather because those being sold were most likely forgeries. Do not procure them from the internet, despite the claims people make there.
A prayer for those who carry or wear an Agnus Dei
Jesus, my Savior, true Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, by Thine infinite mercy, I beseech Thee to pardon my iniquities. By Thy sacred Passion, I beseech Thee, preserve me this day from sin and shield me from all evil. To Thine honor and glory, I carry about with me this blessed Agnus Dei as a protection to my soul and body, and as an incentive to practice the virtues which Thou hast inculcated, especially meekness, humility, purity and charity.
In memory of that sacrifice of love which Thou didst offer for me and all mankind on Calvary, I consecrate my whole being to Thee. Thou didst die on the cross for love of me; let me die to self for love of Thee! Keep me in Thy love and Thy grace to the end of my life, that I may bless Thee forever with the saints to Heaven. Amen.
The “Agnus Dei” disc dates to the 5th century and was made from the wax of the Paschal candle.
Sacramentals have been part of the Catholic Church in various ways from the very beginning. They are known as extensions of the seven sacraments and naturally flow from them.
Broadly speaking, sacramentals can be any number of actions or blessings that the Church has instituted over the years. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains how sacramental blessings can be invoked over “persons, meals, objects, and places” (CCC 1671). These blessings call down God’s grace upon a particular individual or object and ask for lasting spiritual protection.
One object of the Church that is among the oldest known sacramentals is the “Agnus Dei” disc. This is a disc of wax with the figure of a lamb impressed upon it. Historically these discs were worn around the neck and were made from the previous year’s Paschal candle. They were originally created on Holy Saturday morning and distributed to the people on the following Saturday.
The tradition dates to around the 5th century, and later the pope was more intimately involved with the sacramental. It became a reserved blessing of the pope, who consecrated these pieces of wax during the first year of his pontificate and every seven years after that. It is believed that Pope Pius XII was the last reigning pontiff to bestow such a blessing.
The sacred wax was a constant reminder of Christ’s Easter victory. According to various papal writings, those who wore it were instructed, “that at the sight or touch of the Lamb impressed on these waxen discs, the faithful should be inspired to dwell on the Mysteries of our Redemption recalled by this symbol, be moved to praise, venerate, and extol God’s goodness to us, hoping to obtain pardon for their sins, and to be cleansed from all stain of sin.”
Below is a prayer for those who wear an Angus Dei sacramental that summarizes the spiritual disposition that the piece of wax was supposed to cultivate in the person wearing it. The prayer can still help us today to meditate on that saving action of the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus and how that event should influence our lives.
My Lord Jesus Christ, the true Lamb who takest away the sins of the world, by thy mercy, which is infinite, pardon my iniquities, and by thy Sacred Passion preserve me this day from all sin and evil. I carry about me this holy Agnus Dei in thy honor, as a preventative against my own weakness, and as an incentive to the practice of that meekness, humility, and innocence which Thou hast taught us. I offer myself up to Thee as an entire oblation, and in memory of that sacrifice of love which Thou didst offer for me on the cross, and in satisfaction for my sins. Accept this oblation, I beseech Thee, O my God, and may it be acceptable to Thee in the odor of sweetness. Amen.
Some historians place the origin of the Agnus Dei as early as the time of the Emperor Constantine, near the beginning of the 4th century. The discovery of the Agnus Dei in the tomb of the pious Empress Maria Augusta is the strongest evidence of the antiquity of it’s introduction among Christians.
The Catholic dictionary placed the beginning of the custom as early as the time of Pope Zosimus, who ascended the throne of Peter in the year 417. When the Pascal candle was finally extinguished on Ascension Day the people were accustomed to procure small portions of what was left of it and carry them home as a protection against tempests. All authors agree that it was from this custom of the people that the Agnus Dei had it’s origin.
His demeanor was uncharacteristic of a man to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. An eye-witness to Robert Nutter’s execution wrote that he went “to the gallows, with as much cheerfulness and joy as if he had been going to a feast, to the astonishment of the spectators” (Modern British Martyrology, 197).
Cheerfulness and joy? In the face of death? Did he not know that in a few moments he was to have his beating heart torn out of his chest? Surely he had gone mad! The execution of this subversive and treasonous Englishman was supposed to extinguish his hope, not cause it to burst forth in euphoric praise of God!
“Blessed are you when men hate you … Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold your reward is great in heaven.” (Lk 6:22-23)
Blessed Robert Nutter is counted among the Douai martyrs, a group of English Catholic priests martyred in 16th and 17th century England. Each of these men was trained at a single English seminary in Douai, a city in northern France. It briefly relocated to Rheims for about 15 years, at which time Nutter received his theological formation. Why France? In an effort to eradicate Catholicism from the country, the English crown had forcibly closed and repurposed all churches, schools, and seminaries. In effect, they attempted to abolish the Catholic Church in England—no small feat.
The Douai seminary was established for the purpose of training Englishmen to be diocesan priests so that they could return as missionaries to their homeland, where the Church was enduring severe persecution. Indeed, during this time, agents of the British crown systematically hunted down, arrested, tortured, and executed Catholic priests, charging them with high treason. Before being put to death, these priests could spend years in prison; interestingly enough, it was during this time that Nutter professed vows as a Dominican friar.
Of the 300 priests ordained at the Douai seminary during this period, 158 were put to death for bringing the sacraments back to their fellow countrymen. One could be so bold as to say that Robert Nutter and the Douai martyrs were not only ordained to be priests, but martyrs as well: they knew that their priesthood would likely culminate in the shedding of their blood. In perfect conformity to Jesus Christ—the Eternal High Priest—priests like Robert Nutter knew the stakes, but counted them as nothing compared to possessing the heart of Christ and bringing the sacraments to souls.
It is difficult to imagine the mindset of men like Nutter. In the depths of his heart, he desired to be a priest of Jesus Christ. He knew that he would be despised by his own government. He knew that while living out his priesthood, he would do so secretly, always aware that someone—anyone—could betray him. He realized that this could very well mean his own death, a death that would come only after gruesome periods of torture. If he survived, there would be no recognition or thanks from those he served.
Therein lies the aim of priesthood: to forget yourself, to become another Christ, and to mount the cross for the salvation of souls—so as to make present once again the saving mysteries of God. Nutter knew that the ultimate reason for his priesthood and martyrdom was the salvation of the Englishmen he served.
What can the priest of today learn from a man like Nutter?
Without hesitation, he ought to learn that as a priest, his life and his heart are no longer his own. Instead, his life and his heart belong to Christ alone. Conversely, in an abundantly generous grace, Christ offers his own Sacred Heart to his priest, so that he may live and love as another Christ. The priest who does not have the heart of Christ approaches “in sheep’s clothing, but underneath is a ravenous wolf” (Jn 7:15). Pray and fast often that our priests’ hearts would be conformed to the crucified heart of Christ!
Given the nature of being hanged, drawn, and quartered, it is quite plausible that Nutter would have actually seen the hands of his executors reaching into his chest to cut out his heart. Every priest, martyr or not, should cry out the words: “I give you everything Jesus! I give you my very own heart! You may have all!”
Bl. Robert Nutter, pray to the good Lord for us, and ask him to send holy priests who, by an interior martyrdom of the heart, are willing to make as their only desire the salvation of souls.”
Philip Howard (1557-1595), handsome, clever, rich – also impeccably aristocratic – seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence. His conscience, however, and still more his wife, prevented his sinking into the abyss of privilege.
Born at Arundel House in the Strand, Philip was the only child of Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk, and his wife Mary, daughter of the 12th Earl of Arundel. Philip of Spain, later King Philip II, became his godfather. He was baptized at Whitehall Palace with the royal family in attendance, and was named after his godfather, King Philip II of Spain. His home from the age of seven was a former Carthusian monastery.
Philip’s mother died shortly after his birth. His father, by his next wife, had two more sons and three daughters. Then, through a third match, to Elizabeth, widow of the 4th Baron Dacre, he acquired four stepchildren. In 1571 Philip was married at the age of fourteen to Anne, the eldest Dacre daughter, his step-sister. It was an arranged marriage, which Philip resented at first.
Widowed again in 1567, his father, the Duke of Norfolk, intrigued on behalf of Mary Queen of Scots, whom he hoped to marry. Instead, he was executed in 1572 and the dukedom lapsed.
Philip, after two years at St John’s College, Cambridge, took up residence at court in the hope of restoring his family to favor. His wife he left neglected in the country. His life had been a frivolous one, both at Cambridge and at Court.
Queen Elizabeth, however, never warmed to him, even though in 1578 Philip spent a fortune entertaining her at Kenninghall in Norfolk. His mother’s family, the Fitzalans, were far from impressed by his conduct. Nevertheless, in 1580 Philip succeeded his maternal grandfather as 13th Earl of Arundel.
He was present at the debate held in 1581 in the St John Chapel of the Tower of London, between Father Edmund Campion, a Jesuit, Father Ralph Sherwin and a group of Protestant theologians over Campion’s Decem Rationes. He was so impressed by the Catholics that he experienced a spiritual conversion. He renounced his previous, frivolous life and was reconciled with his wife.
Howard’s conversion influenced his behavior at Court and the change did not go unnoticed. Although he maintained his duties at Court and in Parliament, Howard did not go to any Anglican services. He had been one of the most spendthrift and gallant of Elizabeth’s courtiers, neglecting his wife; now Howard was solemn and devoted to Anne.
By 1585, it was a felony to aid a Catholic priest and an act of treason for an English Catholic priest to be in the country. Howard had a Catholic chaplain in his house in London and his castle at Arundel.
Another Jesuit missionary, Father William Weston, received Howard into the Catholic Church on September 30, 1584, three years after those debates in the Tower.
Unable to support the pains of recusancy, he determined to flee England and join recusants in Flanders. Anne, who was pregnant with his son, Thomas, would join him later. He would never see either of them again. Philip was a man of high profile, and his movements were closely watched by Queen Elizabeth’s spies. Arrested at sea, he was arraigned before the Star Chamber, and imprisoned in the Tower.
His father and grandfather (the poet, Henry, Earl of Surrey) had both been beheaded. Now Philip appeared to face the same fate.
In 1588 a Catholic priest called Fr William Bennet, imprisoned with him in the Tower, confessed under torture that Howard had instructed him to say Mass on behalf of the Spanish Armada. Bennet, however, later admitted he “confessed everything that seemed to content their humour”.
Howard was condemned to death, though the sentence was never carried out. Disdaining the offer of freedom should he return to the state religion, he passed his imprisonment in translating and writing spiritual works.
Queen Elizabeth never signed the death warrant, but Howard was not told this. He was kept constantly in fear of execution, although comforted by the companionship of a dog, which served as a go-between by which Howard and other prisoners, most notably the priest Robert Southwell, could send messages to each other. Although these two men never met, Howard’s dog helped them to deepen their friendship and exchange encouragement in each other’s plight. Philip Howard loved his pet, who is remembered along with him in a statue at Arundel Cathedral.
Howard spent ten years in the Tower, until his death from dysentery, was the official story. He petitioned the Queen as he lay dying to allow him to see his wife and his son, who had been born after his imprisonment. The Queen responded that “If he will but once attend the Protestant Service, he shall not only see his wife and children, but be restored to his honors and estates with every mark of my royal favor.” To this, Howard is supposed to have replied: “Tell Her Majesty if my religion be the cause for which I suffer, sorry I am that I have but one life to lose.” He remained in the Tower, never seeing his wife or daughter again, and died alone on Sunday 19 October 1595. He was immediately acclaimed as a Catholic (dry) Martyr.
He died on October 19 1595 after an illness of two months. Poisoning was suspected. “The more affliction we endure for Christ in this world,” ran the Latin inscription in his room, “the more glory we shall obtain with Christ in the next.”
His son Thomas (1586-1646) succeeded as Earl of Arundel. Philip Howard was canonized in 1970.
-martyrs chapel, Horsham, England, please click on the image for greater detail.
-organ at the Arundel Cathedral of Our Lady and Saint Philip Howard, Arundel, West Sussex, England
Blessed Charles Mahoney. This Irish Franciscan was another victim of the evil Titus Oates.
Charles Mahoney (alias Meehan) was born in Ireland around 1639/40. He and his three brothers, James, Terence and Christopher, were educated by their uncle, Fr Bonaventure OSF, who was guardian of St Anthony’s College in Louvain. Three of the boys, Charles, Terrence and James, followed in their uncle’s footsteps and became priests.
In 1674, several years after his ordination, Charles was sent to Germany to study theology. He remained there for two years then spent another two years in Rome, preaching and teaching at the Irish Franciscan College of St Isadore. Then, in 1678, Charles was sent back to Ireland. Charles was aboard a ship heading for home when disaster struck. In a raging storm his ship was wrecked off the coast of Wales. With some of his belongings, he managed to swim ashore near Milford Haven in West Wales.
The plucky Franciscan decided to travel North, on foot, in the hope of finding a ship bound for Ireland. Unfortunately, Charles didn’t get very far. In June 1678 he was arrested not far from Denbigh and imprisoned in Denbigh Gaol. In the spring of 1679, Charles Mahoney was tried, found guilty of being a Catholic priest, which was considered treason, and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, the usual punishment for treason.
On 12th August 1679, Fr Charles Mahoney was taken from his prison, tied to a horse-drawn hurdle and dragged to a spot outside the town. Here the awful sentence was carried out.
The months of July and August 1679 were busy ones for the anti-Catholic authorities. Titus Oates and his fellow perjurers must have been smugly satisfied too. Executions of Catholic priests were being carried out in various parts of England and Wales. In Wales, Fr Philip Evans SJ and a secular priest, Fr John Lloyd, were barbarously executed in Cardiff on 22nd July. Just over the border, in Hereford, eighty year old Fr John Kemble, another secular priest, met his fate on 22nd August. Fr Kemble, a cousin of St David Lewis, had spent fifty-four years ministering to the Catholics of Herefordshire and Monmouth. On that same day Fr John Wall, a Franciscan, was executed at Red Hill, Worcester. Fr Wall, who ministered mainly in the Worcester area, was a classmate and friend of our Last Welsh Martyr, St David Lewis. Fr David Lewis SJ followed his friends and fellow priests to martyrdom on 27th August at Usk. All five were canonised in 1970 when Pope Paul VI canonised the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.
The British Museum is in possession of a one page document entitled “The Last Speeches of Three Priests that were executed for Religion, Anno Domini 1679”. The document reads; “An Account of the words spoken by Mr Charles Mahony, an Irish priest of the holy Order of St Francis, who was executed in his Habit at Ruthin in North Wales, August 12, 1679.
‘Now God Almighty is pleased I should suffer Martyrdom, His Holy Name be praised, since I dye for my religion. But you have no right to put me to death in this country, though I confessed myself to be a priest, for you seized me as I was going to my native country, Ireland, being driven at Sea on this coast, for I never used my Function in England before I was taken, however, God forgive you, as I do and shall always pray for you, especially for those that were so good to me in my distress. I pray God bless our King, and defend him from his enemies, and convert him to the Holy Catholick Faith. Amen.’ His age was under forty. He was tryed and condemned at Denby confessing himself to be a priest.”
In 1678, Titus Oates worked many English people into a frenzy over an alleged papal plot to murder the king and restore Catholicism in that country. In that year Catholics were legally excluded from Parliament, a law which was not repealed until 1829. John Wall was arrested and imprisoned in 1678 and was executed the following year.
John Wall, in religion Father Joachim of St Anna, was the fourth son of Anthony Wall of Chingle (Singleton) Hall, Lancashire. He was born in 1620, and when very young, was sent to the English College at Douai in Belgium. From there he proceeded to Rome, where he was raised to the priesthood in 1648. Several years later he returned to Douai and was clothed in the habit of St Francis in the convent of St Bonaventure. He made his solemn profession on January 1, 1652. So great was the estimation in which he was held by his brethren, that within a few months he was elected vicar of the convent, and soon after, master of novices.
In 1656 he joined the English mission, and for twelve years he labored in Worcestershire under the names of Francis Johnson or Webb, winning souls even more by his example than by his words. At Harvington to this day the memory of Blessed Father Johnson is cherished, and stories of his heroic zeal are recounted by the descendants of those who were privileged to know and love the glorious martyr.
Some of the charges raised against Father Wall when he was captured, were that he had said Mass, heard confessions, and received converts into the Church. He was accidentally found, in December, 1678, at the house of a friend, Mr Finch of Rushock, and carried off by the sheriff’s officer. He was committed to Worcester jail, and lay captive for five months, enduring patiently all the loneliness, suffering, and horrors of prison life, which at that time were scarcely less dreadful than death itself.
On April 25, 1679, Blessed John Wall was brought to court. His condemnation was a foregone conclusion. He was sent back to prison until the king’s further pleasure concerning him should be known; and for another four months he languished in captivity. It was during this period that he was offered his life if he would deny his faith. “But I told them,” said the martyr, “that I would not buy my life at so dear a rate as to wrong my conscience.”
One of Father Wall’s brethren in religion, Father William Levison, had the privilege of seeing the martyr for the space of four or five hours on the day before his execution. Father William tells us:
“I heard his confession and communicated him, to his great joy and satisfaction. While in prison he carried himself like a true servant of his crucified Master, thirsting after nothing more than the shedding of his blood for the love of his God, which he performed with a courage and cheerfulness becoming a valiant soldier of Christ, to the great edification of all the Catholics, and the admiration of all Protestants.”
Father Wall’s martyrdom took place on Red Hill, overlooking the city of Worcester, on August 22, 1679. He was a much respected local figure and the crowd’s reaction showed that their sympathies were entirely with him. Many of the onlookers, who were mostly Protestants, wept, and the Sheriff reportedly cried out “End Popery? This is the way to make us all Papists!” His remains were buried in the cemetery adjoining the Church of St. Oswald of Worcester. His head was kept in the convent at Douai until the French Revolution broke out and the community fled to England. What became of it, then, is not known.
He was an outstanding academic, perhaps the most intellectually distinguished English Catholic priest of his generation. The Catholics of Worcester found consolation in remarking, as a proof of his sanctity, that the grass around the grave of Blessed John Wall always appeared green, while the rest of the churchyard was bare. A large crucifix was raised in the little Catholic churchyard at Harvington to the memory of this saintly son of St Francis, Father Joachim of St Anna.
-by Br John Paul Kern, OP (Br John Paul converted to the Catholic faith while studying mechanical & nuclear engineering at Penn State)
“It was the year 1535. For almost a millennium England had been a Christian nation, its culture, traditions, and morality informed by the faith. Marriage, like most things, was understood according to the teachings of Jesus Christ, as preserved and taught by His Church down through the generations.
About fifteen years earlier, rumors began to circulate of a renegade monk in Germany who railed against abuses in the Church and used these faults to challenge the authority of the Church herself. This made waves among political leaders looking to increase their power, among Church leaders concerned for their flocks and the welfare of the Church herself, and among the common folk who, much like people today, were simply trying to make sense of the issues amidst a sea of catchy slogans, songs, and the print propaganda circulated by those advocating for change.
Reports of such rumblings on the Continent slowly made their way across the Channel. The well-educated may have encountered the writings of these Reformers, as they called themselves, and of well-known literary figures such as Erasmus and England’s own Sir Thomas More, who sought to defend the Catholic faith. But for the average person, English life remained much the same as it had. After all, King Henry VIII himself had written a book defending the sacraments of the Church and had been honored by the Pope as a Defender of the Faith. England was soundly her Catholic self.
However, things changed rapidly–and most English Catholics probably didn’t see it coming. Soon there was a new Queen, Anne, and a new Archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer, both of whom were sympathetic to new ideas. The government issued an Act of Succession, supporting the legitimacy of the King’s divorce and his marriage to the new Queen, and an Act of Supremacy, declaring the King head of the Church in England. The King forced his subjects to support these acts even while he, himself a rebellious son of the Church, was excommunicated by the Pope. A number of monks were executed for dissenting.
Now, in the summer of 1535, two well-respected figures, Bishop John Fisher and the former Lord Chancellor of England, Sir Thomas More, were publicly executed in London. Their only crime had been to hold fast to the traditional faith and understanding of marriage that had so abruptly fallen from grace in English society. There was no room for debate in the public square. The law of the land had claimed supremacy over the law of God, and faithful adherents to the latter were branded treasonous.
Certainly, to be a faithful Catholic in such times demanded heroic faith, the faith of the martyrs. But it can be hard for us to relate to such heroic virtue. That’s because such virtue is overtly public, and exercised against clearly recognizable external threats. Our faith, however, tends to be more private. The kind of virtue we most commonly practice is in our personal struggles against the usual temptations to seek lesser goods than God: to sleep in instead of going to Mass on Sunday or to neglect nourishing our relationship with God through prayer, spiritual reading, and charitable acts instead of slothfully succumbing to another Netflix series or binging on Facebook.
But there is another, more public level of spiritual warfare we must be attuned to. We Christians on earth are the Church Militant and, just like any other army, we must be prepared to recognize and respond to threats from the enemy, Satan. The challenge is to recognize that we live in trying times–times as volatile as those that Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More saw. But we often view martyrdom, and the social and political challenges that inspired the witness of the martyrs, as something set in the distant past. We are largely ignorant of the fact that around two-thirds of all Christian martyrs died only recently, in the 20th century.
Are there threats on the horizon in the United States that will require heroic virtue from Christians here? No. They aren’t on the horizon; the threats are already here. Fifteen years ago hostility toward the faith was present on certain politically-correct college campuses, for example. Coming to college in 2001, I saw for the first time posters declaring “zero tolerance for intolerance,” which I discovered was Orwellian for “zero tolerance for dissent.” I realized that one day there might be zero tolerance for traditional American values and Christian beliefs, for myself and other dissenters. This day came quickly.
While no one here is currently facing martyrdom as in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, jobs are being threatened and people face legal, media, and social harassment for following the teachings of Jesus Christ–teachings that are, with increasing frequency, labelled as bigoted, hateful, and intolerant. To live one’s Christian faith is considered treasonous to society. Not only do public figures and religious leaders face such treatment, but average Christians do as well. Heroic virtue is required here and now.
Let us pray that God may give us the grace to heroically live and preach the faith “in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2), following the witness of the martyrs throughout the ages (including those from our own age) and the two great saints we honor today.”
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, Who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of His appearing and His kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my dissolution is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.” -2 Tim 4:1-8
My mother was a catechist. See where I get it from? 🙂 She charged her students, when they saw her, not to greet her with “Hello, Mrs McCormick!”, but rather, “Keep the Faith!”
“If my children lose their faith, I have failed as a mother!” -Mary D. McCormick, oft repeated to her children.
“…What could be more honourable or more glorious than to die for the confession of the true Faith and the Christian religion?” -Bl William Richardson
(Alias Anderson.) Last martyr under Queen Elizabeth I; b. according to Challoner at Vales in Yorkshire (i.e. presumably Wales, near Sheffield), but, according to the Valladolid diary, a Lancashire man; executed at Tyburn, 17 Feb., 1603. He arrived at Reims 16 July, 1592 and on 21 Aug. following was sent to Valladolid, where he arrived 23 Dec. Thence, 1 Oct., 1594, he was sent to Seville where he was ordained.
According to one account he was arrested at Clement’s Inn on 12 Feb., but another says he had been kept a close prisoner in Newgate for a week before he was condemned at the Old Bailey on the 15 Feb., under stat. 27 Eliz., c. 2, for being a priest and coming into the realm. He was betrayed by one of his trusted friends to the Lord Chief Justice, who expedited his trial and execution with unseemly haste, and seems to have acted more as a public prosecutor than as a judge. At his execution he showed great courage and constancy, dying most cheerfully, to the edification of all beholders. One of his last utterances was a prayer for the queen.
“On Saturday, 15 February, 2014 in the chapel dedicated to Blessed William Richardson, Fr Don Stoker blessed a picture and a poem dedicated to the martyr.
The blessing came just a year after the former St Augustine’s Chapel, Kiveton Park, was rededicated to Blessed William Richardson on 15 February, 2013. This previously almost unknown local martyr grew up close to where the South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire borders meet.
Margaret and Terry Murphy worked tirelessly for many years to bring about a wider recognition of William. Sadly, Margaret’s husband, Terry, did not live to see the rededication of the chapel but Margaret shared her memories and reflections during the Mass of Dedication.
“It will come as no great surprise when I say to you that today has seen a hope fulfilled and many prayers answered, and at last Blessed William Richardson can now be honoured in this village of Wales, a man who gave his life, like so many others, so that we can meet and worship in peace.
William’s father came into this area from Lancashire to find work, and settled in Waleswood, at what is now known as the far side of Rother Valley Park and that long time residents knew as the hamlet of Bedgreave (William’s birthplace). As the medieval mill still stands in the same place, it is perhaps safe to say that his father’s employment was that of a miller and that William himself received some elementary education at the hands of a parish curate.
We know from the Entry Book in the English College in Spain that William was a convert to the Catholic faith and was received into the Church by one of the clergy at Wiesloch, where at that time he was working. He was called to the priesthood, attended the English College in Spain, studying Philosophy and Theology, and was ordained priest there in 1594 and then returned to England.
Most of William’s life was spent working in London often with the legal profession in the Inns of Court. He visited prisons as an ordinary visitor, to take Mass to Catholics imprisoned for their faith, and he was sentenced to death after being betrayed by a priest catcher. His execution took place on Tyburn Gallows, by the barbaric act of being hung, drawn and quartered on 17 February in 1603. There is no knowledge of his last resting place, but if we can find a King under a car park, we may one day learn of his last resting place.
William’s death was in the reign of Elizabeth I and he was the last priest to be murdered at that time. Elizabeth I died one week later. Bishop Challoner tells us he accepted his death with such constancy and faith, and praying for the Queen, that impressed his executioners. I hope we can make his name well known in this area and beyond.
It is a sad fact that we had no knowledge in this area, in spite of the teaching in school. We knew a lot of Catholic history, by learning about the monks of Roche Abbey and the monastic settlement situated on the right hand side of the road leading to Todwick from Kiveton Park. As school children, we were taken to visit the five pre-Reformation churches: Aston church, Todwick, Harthill, Wales and Thorpe Salvin. You can see even today in Thorpe Church the Chained Bible and the Leper’s Squint. We are indebted to the monks for the footpaths leading to the churches and villages that we use for the Five Churches Walk. The monks lodged at the farm house across the road from Wales Church.
So how did we come to know about William Richardson?
Whilst the M1 was being built through the village, a large number of Irish people were employed and they came with their families and caravans (which were housed on a farmer’s field down Manor Road). Also a number of very welcome people came from the North of England, the men to work in the Kiveton Pit, and they settled with their families in the new houses we know as the White City. Both the Irish M1 people and the folk from Newcastle brought with them good Catholics, but we had no Mass centre in this area and I think it was Fr Cavanagh who approached the landlord of The Lord Conyers to see if the concert room could be used. Permission was given. What a joy. Mass to be celebrated in this village for the first time since the Reformation and for us, Terry and I, our eldest son serving at that first Mass, what a privilege.
Now we had a Mass centre, but what about a priest!! Fr Cavanagh was already saying Mass at Thurcroft and Dinnington, so we turned to St Mary’s College at Spinkhill and Fr Peter McArdle came to our aid and said Mass for us.
Men in the congregation took turns in bringing Father to The Conyers and it was one Sunday that after Mass, he said he didn’t feel well and it was our turn to take him back. We took him to our house for a hot drink, and it was whilst he was with us, he said he had been doing some research into the village history and had come across the family of William Richardson.
I could hardly believe my ears, so in my excitement I said that we had a very active Union of Catholic Women/Mothers, would he come one evening to give us a talk and let us learn more. Bless him, he did and it is due to Fr Peter we got to know about Blessed William.
Soon afterwards we acquired the Salvation Army building, the present building, and Fr Peter became our regular visiting priest, much loved and when he retired, our Mass was and is celebrated on Saturday evenings.
Before I close I would like to pay tribute to Fr Brian Green who sadly did not live to see this day, but I know he will be in our thoughts and prayers and he will be with us in spirit. We have a lot to thank him for. By his gentle ways, he made us the caring parish we are today and I am sure he will be saying,
‘All will be well, all will be well and all manner of things will be well’.
Also to Bishop John, may I thank you on behalf of all of us here tonight for the pleasure it has given us to welcome you and the happiness this evening’s Dedication of this chapel to Blessed William Richardson has been.”
BLESSED (The Last Martyr)
How blessed is a martyr’s heart? How feared is he of the Lord?
To live a life of the Father’s will.
And not be a-feared of the sword.
I hailéd from this pleasant Vale.
A settler of Bedgreave ville.
Lived and learned of the Father’s love. Thus called to do God’s will.
To Rheims I ventured so to go. With true fellows of the Word, I trained.
My time was well and truly served. And in blessed Seville was ordained.
My soul was complete as I ministered help to common Spanish folk.
But my heart lay in England. That danger-full land.
For ‘twas to be my yoke.
This millers lad with a converts zeal. In the time of her Tudor reign.
A recusant born to serve and pray. Aware of past brothers, slain.
To London, then. Richard Anderson, I, did seek out a place to pray.
Though I feared I must hide in this protestant town.
Who’d have a poor priest to stay?
Soon treachery tore my soul apart at the Inn of the Court.
Betrayed at The Gray’s by an unknown voice.
My countenance did show no fear.
The crime of priesthood lies upon my head.
‘Tis no crime to serve you, O Lord.
My trial was swift in this heartless place. No defence could I afford.
“Treason”, they said. Treason, the charge.
Guilt in my Catholic way.
Oh, heart, stay cheered. Oh, will be strong. Stay with me, Lord. I pray.
What fate will lie before me now?
Is death now soonest near?
Although my heart and soul may bleed, these eyes will shed no tear.
Sent hence to Tyburn to please the crowds.
I prayed openly as I was led.
For the queen I prayed.
For her heart and soul.
All heard the words I said.
The ‘Triple Tree’ Gallows be my darkest fate.
The ‘Deadly Never Green’.
As town folk came to jeer in haste they stared at this witnessed scene.
The noose came down and held its grip on this wintry February Day.
Though ‘fore death was mine and my Lord I saw, they did not let me sway.
Let down was I, to bear more pain. Cut asunder. Disembowelled.
Though death is mine, eternal life will live once again in my heart.
No matter where my body lies in the bitterest forgotten earth.
Lord consecrate my joyful soul.
And bring it to rebirth.
How blessed is a martyr’s heart? How feared is he of the Lord?
To live a life of the Father’s will.
And not be a-feared of the sword.
Dedicated to Blessed William Richardson, 1572 – 1603
John was born in Wales in 1577. Although he was not a Catholic, he was taught by an elderly priest. So, as he said later, he was always a Catholic at heart. John went to Oxford University in England for a while. Even though he was a Protestant, his respect for the Catholic Church prevented him from signing the Oath of Supremacy, which denied the authority of the pope. He had to leave Oxford, so he went to Paris, where, it is reported, upon viewing Notre Dame, he converted to Catholicism.
John lost no time after this in taking steps to become a priest. He went to an English college in Spain and became a Benedictine monk. His great dream of going back to England came true three years later. He and another monk were given permission to set out for that land. They knew the dangers they would meet. In fact, they did not have long to wait before trouble began. They entered England wearing plumed hats and swords at their sides. Soon, however, they were arrested for being priests and sent out of the country.
St. John Roberts went back to London again in 1603 to help the thousands of people who fell victim to the plague. He worked day and night to keep the faith alive during a time when Catholics were persecuted mercilessly. Several times he was captured, put in prison, and exiled, yet he always came back. The last time Father John was arrested, he was just finishing Mass and there would be no escape, having been followed by former priest turned spy John Cecil, who had compiled a dossier on the unfortunate Roberts for James I. He was taken to Newgate prison in his vestments.
When asked, he declared he was a priest and a monk. He explained that he had come to England to work for the salvation of the people. “Were I to live longer,” he added, “I would continue to do what I have been doing.” When he refused to sign the Oath of Supremacy, he was condemned to death.
The night before he was to be hanged, a good Spanish lady arranged for him to be brought into the company of eighteen other prisoners. They were also suffering for their faith. During their supper together, St. John was full of joy. Then he thought perhaps he should not show so much happiness. “Do you think I may be giving bad example by my joy?” he asked his hostess. “No, certainly not,” she replied. “You could not do anything better than to let everyone see the cheerful courage you have as you are about to die for Christ.”
On 5 December he was tried and found guilty under the Act forbidding priests to minister in England, and on 10 December was hanged, drawn, and quartered, at the age of thirty-three, along with Thomas Somers, at Tyburn, London.
It was usual for the prisoner to be disembowelled while still alive, but he was very popular among the poor of London because of the kindness he had shown them during the plague and the large crowd which gathered at his execution would not allow this.
They insisted he be hanged to the death so as not to feel the pain. His heart was then held aloft by the executioner who proclaimed: “Behold the heart of the traitor!” But the angry crowd did not provide the standard response of: “Long live the King!” There was deathly silence.
Roman Catholic Bishop Edwin Regan, a currently living Welsh prelate, said: “Although the name St John Roberts, OSB, isn’t as well known today, he is a major figure in our religious history.” He was the first monk to return to Britain following the Protestant Reformation; the hostility between the Catholics and Protestants was at its height at this stage, when a Catholic priest could only expect to live for approximately two years in Britain during that period.”
On 17 July 2010, Metropolitan Seraphim of Glastonbury of the British Orthodox Church, accompanied by Deacon Theodore de Quincey, attended an Ecumenical Service at Westminster Cathedral in celebration of the 400th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of St. John Roberts.
Abba Seraphim noted that as a Londoner he wanted to honor the humanitarian and pastoral ministry of the saint to Londoners; and that all those who are conscious of the problems of exercising Christian ministry in times of persecution would immediately value the saint’s determination as well as realizing the extraordinary sacrifice he made to fulfill his priestly vocation.
Large contingents from Wales were in attendance and the service was bi-lingual. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams addressed the congregation in both English and Welsh. It was the first time Welsh had been spoken in a ceremony at Westminster Cathedral.
The choral piece, “Beatus Juan de Mervinia” in both Latin and Welsh, was specially commissioned for the service from the Welsh composer Brian Hughes.
John Almond (or, aka Lathom or Molyneux, his aliases when incognito) was born at Allerton near Liverpool of Catholic parents about 1565, a time when being a Catholic was against the law. John spent much of his childhood in Allerton, near Liverpool, and at Much Woolton in Lancashire for his school years, before moving to Ireland with his parents where he was to finish his education and stay until reaching adulthood.
He then went on to study in Reims, France, where he pursued his vocation into the priesthood.
At the age of 20 he went to the English College in Rome where he would be ordained into the priesthood in1598 and then returned to the dangers of England as a missionary priest in 1602. Remembered as a great public debater, it was during the end of his time in Rome that he gave a public defense of theses that cover the whole course of philosophy and theology, and known as the “Grand Act” which was warmly congratulated by Cardinal Caesar Baronius and Cardinal Francesco Maria Tarugi.
John’s love for his homeland and his fellow English Catholics made him eager to return and once there he travelled from house to house, village to village and town to town ministering to Catholics and sternly defending the Catholic Faith to those that opposed or questioned him. Saint John Almond never tired of trying to win back Protestants to the Catholic creed through his discussion and modesty.
Saint John Almond continued to minister to the faithful and labored in his mission for 10 years, during that time he would eagerly speak out against the anti-Catholic powers of the state.
He was first arrested for his papist behaviour in 1608, and then again in 1612 for high treason on account of his priesthood. He had many debates with the Anglican authorities that would try to convince him that the Catholic Church was wrong but they soon found that Saint John Almond was unbeatable in discussions on the subject. This lead to him gaining many enemies in the higher Anglican clergy, including Dr King, the Protestant bishop of London.
It was during the November of 1612 that seven priests made good their escape from prison. The successful escape was considered to infuriate the Catholic persecutors and it was the Protestant bishop of London, Dr King, who was most irritant at John Almond. Thus it was on the 5th December 1612 that Saint John Almond was taken to Tyburn to be hung, drawn and quartered.
He was known as a ‘reprover of sin’ and many considered him as a good example to follow because of his ingenious and acute understanding, sharp and apprehensive in his conceits and answers, yet complete with modesty. Saint John Almond was full of courage and was ready to ‘suffer for Jesus Christ, who had suffered for him’. He courageously displayed modesty and humbleness and died with the name of Jesus upon his lips.
He refused to sign the Oath of Allegiance in the form in which it was offered him, but offered to swear that he bore in his heart “so much allegiance to King James as he, or any Christian king, could expect by the law of nature, or the positive law of the true Church, be it which it will, ours or yours.”
He was committed to Newgate and within a few months was brought to trial as a seminary priest. Having been duly convicted he was hanged, drawn, and quartered on 5 December 1612 at Tyburn, London.
On the scaffold he flung some seven or eight pounds in silver, with his (rosary)beads, his points(?), and his (penetential/uncomfortable garment) discipline, for those to get them who would, and gave to the hangman an angel, not to spare him, but to treat him as he should.
He had come hither, he said, to shed his blood for his Savior’s sake, Who had shed His blood for his sins. In which respect he wished that every drop that he would shed might be a thousand ; that he might have St. Lawrence’s gridiron to be broiled on, St. Peter’s cross to be hanged on, St. Stephen’s stones to be stoned with, to be ript, ript, ript, and ript again.
Then, being in his shirt, he kneeled down, and often repeating “In manus tuas, Domine, &c.”—“Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit ”—he waited till the hangman was ready, without any sign of fear; but, ever smiling, he protested he died chaste, but not through his own ability or worthiness, but by Christ’s special grace, and that he ever hated those carnal sins, for which the Catholic religion had been slandered.
At last, the cart was drawn away, and with the words “ Jesu, Jesu,” his soul flew to Him for Whom he shed his blood, Tyburn, December 5, 1612.
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine