Category Archives: Forty Martyrs of England & Wales

Nov 22 – Bl George Haydock, Priest & Martyr, (1556-1584) & the 85 Martyrs of England, Scotland, & Wales

st-_andrews_and_blessed_george_haydocks_catholic_church_cottam_lancashire_uk
-St. Andrew’s & Blessed_George_Haydock’s Catholic Church, Cottam, Lancashire, UK

A group of Catholic male martyrs, aged between 24 and 80 years old, including George Haydock and sixty-two laypeople and religious.   Sixty-three of these martyrs were ordained Catholic priests.  Twenty-two were laypeople from various social ranks and walks of life.

These martyrs were arrested, tried, and executed particularly during the reign of Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603) and Oliver Cromwell (r. 1653-1658), the Lord Protector, because they refused to accept statutes from these monarch/dictator that denied the Catholic Church’s role in their homeland.

George Haydock, singularly praised in this beatification, was born in 1556 at Cotton Hall, England, the son of Evan and Helen Haydock. He was sent to Douai, France, and then Rome, Italy, to be educated.

George was ordained a priest on December 21, 1581, probably at Reims, France. He returned to England to begin a missionary apostolate but was arrested soon after and placed in the Tower of London.He spent a year and three months in confinement in the Tower of London, suffering from a malarial fever he first contracted in the early summer of 1581 when visiting the seven churches of Rome.

About May, 1583, though he remained in the Tower, his imprisonment was relaxed to “free custody”, and he was able to administer the Sacraments to his fellow-prisoners. During the first period of his captivity he was accustomed to decorate his cell with the name and arms of the pope scratched or drawn in charcoal on the door or walls, and through his career his devotion to the papacy amounted to a passion.  On 16 January 1584, he and other priests imprisoned in the Tower were examined at the Guildhall by the recorder touching their beliefs.

He frankly confessed, with reluctance, that he was eventually obliged to declare that the queen was a heretic, and so seal his fate. On 5 February 1584, he was indicted with James Fenn, a Somersetshire man, formerly fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, William Deane who had been ordained priest the same day as himself, and six other priests, for having conspired against the queen at Reims, 23 September 1581, agreeing to come to England, 1 October, and setting out for England, 1 November. In point of fact he arrived at Reims on 1 November 1581.

On the same 5 February two further indictments were brought, the one against Thomas Hemerford, a Dorsetshire man, sometime scholar of St John’s College, Oxford, the other against John Munden, a Dorsetshire man, sometime fellow of New College, Oxford, John Nutter, a Lancashire man, sometime scholar of St John’s College, Cambridge, and two other priests. The next day, St Dorothy’s Day, Haydock, Fenn, Hemerford, Munden, and Nutter were brought to the bar and pleaded not guilty.

Haydock had for a long time shown a great devotion to St Dorothy, and was accustomed to commit himself and his actions to her daily protection. It may be that he first entered the college at Douai on that day in 1574-5, but this is uncertain. The Concertatio Ecclesiae says he was arrested on this day in 1581-2, but the Tower bills state that he was committed to the Tower on the 5th, in which case he was arrested on the 4th.

On Friday the 7th all five were found guilty, and sentenced to death. The other four were committed in shackles to “the pit” in the Tower. Haydock, perhaps in case he should die by a natural death, was sent back to his old quarters. Early on Wednesday the 12th he said Mass, and later the five priests were drawn to Tyburn on hurdles; Haydock, being probably the youngest and certainly the weakest in health, was the first to suffer. An eyewitness gave an account of their execution, which John Hungerford Pollen printed in the fifth volume of the Catholic Record Society.

Haydock was twenty-eight, Munden about forty, Fenn, a widower, with two children, was probably also about forty, Hemerford was probably about Haydock’s age; Nutter’s age is unknown.

Some of the better known martyred companions of George Haydock and the year they died are as follows:

William Carter (1584)
Hugh Grant (1585)
Marmaduke Bowes (1585)
Alexander Crow (1586 or 1587)
Nicholas Woodfen (1586)
William Pichard (1587)
Edmund Duke and Companions (1590)
Roger Thorpe (1591),
Thomas Watkinson (1591)
George Errington (1596)
William Gibson (1596)
Peter Snow (1598)
Ralph Grimstow (1598)
Christopher Wharton (1600)
Francis Ingleby (1586)
John Fingley (1586)
Robert Bickerdike (1586)
William Thomson (1586)
John Sandys (1586)
Richard Sargeant (1586)
John Lowe (1586)
Robert Dibdale (1586)
John Adams (1586)
Edmund Sykes (1587)
Stephen Rowsham (1587)
John Hambley (1587)
George Douglas (1587)
Richard Simpson (1588)
Edward Burden (1588)
Henry Webley (1588)
William Lampley (1588)
Nicholas Garlick (1588)
Robert Ludlam (1588)
Robert Sutton (1588)
Richard (Lloyd) Flower (1588)
William Spenser (1589)
Robert Hardesty (1589)
Thomas Belson (1589)
Richard Yaxley (1589)
George Nichols (1589)
Humphrey Pritchard (1589)
Nicholas Horner (1590)
Alexander Blake (1590)
George Beesley (1591)
William Pike (1591)
Mountford Scott (1591)
Joseph Lambton (1592)
Thomas Pormort (1592)
William Davies (1593)
Anthony Page (1593)
Christopher Robinson (1597)
John Bretton (1598)
Edward Thwing (1600)
Thomas Palaser (1600)
John Talbot (1600)
Robert Nutter (1600)
John Norton (1600)
Roger Filcock (1600)
Thomas Hunt (1600)
Thomas Sprott (1600)
Robert Middleton (1601)
Thurston Hunt (1601)
Robert Grissold (1604)
John Sugar (1604)
Robert Drury (1607)
Matthew Flathers (1608)
Roger Cadwallador (1610)
Thomas Atkinson (1616)
Roger Wrenno (1616)
John Thules (1616)
William Southerne (1618)
Thomas Bullaker (1642)
Henry Heath (1643)
Arthur Bell (1643)
Edward Bamber (1646)
John Woodcock (1646)
Thomas Whittaker (1646)
Nicholas Postage (1679)
and Charles Meeham (1679)

Pope St John Paul II beatified George Haydock and the other martyrs on November 22, 1987, The Solemnity of Jesus Christ the King of the Universe.

“This feast of Christ the King proclaims that all earthly power is ultimately from God, that His Kingdom is our first and lasting concern and that obedience to His laws is more important than any other obligation or loyalty.

Thomas More, that most English of saints, declared on the scaffold: “I die the King’s good servant but God’s servant first”. In this way he witnessed to the primacy of the Kingdom.

Today we have declared Blessed another eighty-five martyrs: from England, Scotland and Wales, and one from Ireland. Each of them chose to be “God’s servant First”. They consciously and willingly embraced death for love of Christ and the Church. They too chose the Kingdom above all else. If the price had to be death they would pay it with courage and joy.

Blessed Nicholas Postgate welcomed his execution “as a short cut to heaven”. Blessed Joseph Lambton encouraged those who were to die with him with the words “Let us be merry, for tomorrow I hope we shall have a heavenly breakfast”. Blessed Hugh Taylor, not knowing the day of his death, said: “How happy I should be if on this Friday, on which Christ died for me, I might encounter death for Him”. He was executed on that very day, Friday 6 November 1585. Blessed Henry Heath, who died in 1643, thanked the court for condemning him and giving him the “singular honour to die with Christ”.

Among these eighty-five martyrs we find priests and laymen, scholars and craftsmen. The oldest was in his eighties, and the youngest no more than twenty-four. There were among them a printer, a bartender, a stable-hand, a tailor. What unites them all is the sacrifice of their lives in the service of Christ their Lord.

The priests among them wished only to feed their people with the Bread of Life and with the Word of the Gospel. To do so meant risking their lives. But for them this price was small compared to the riches they could bring to their people in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The twenty-two laymen in this group of martyrs shared to the full the same love of the Eucharist. They, too, repeatedly risked their lives, working together with their priests, assisting, protecting and sheltering them. Laymen and priests worked together; together they stood on the scaffold and together welcomed death. Many women, too, not included today in this group of martyrs, suffered for their faith and died in prison. They have earned our undying admiration and remembrance.

These martyrs gave their lives for their loyalty to the authority of the Successor of Peter, who alone is Pastor of the whole flock. They also gave their lives for the unity of the Church, since they shared the Church’s faith, unaltered down the ages, that the Successor of Peter has been given the task of serving and ensuring “the unity of the flock of Christ”. He has been given by Christ the particular role of confirming the faith of his brethren.

The martyrs grasped the importance of that Petrine ministry. They gave their lives rather than deny this truth of their faith. Over the centuries the Church in England, Wales and Scotland has drawn inspiration from these martyrs and continues in love of the Mass and in faithful adherence to the Bishop of Rome. The same loyalty and faithfulness to the Pope is demonstrated today whenever the work of renewal in the Church is carried out in accordance with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and in communion with the universal Church.

Central to this renewal, to which the Holy Spirit calls the Church, is work for that unity among Christians for which Christ Himself prayed. We must all rejoice that the hostilities between Christians, which so shaped the age of these martyrs, are over, replaced by fraternal love and mutual esteem.

Seventeen years ago [1970] forty of the glorious company of martyrs were canonized. It was the prayer of the Church on that day that the blood of those martyrs would be a source of healing for the divisions between Christians. Today we may fittingly give thanks for the progress made in the intervening years towards fuller communion between Anglicans and Catholics. We rejoice in the deeper understanding, broader collaboration and common witness that have taken place through the power of God.

In the days of the martyrs whom we honor today, there were other Christians who died for their beliefs. We can all now appreciate and respect their sacrifice. Let us respond together to the great challenge which confronts those who would preach the Gospel in our age. Let us be bold and united in our profession of our common Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.”

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-plaque honoring Blessed George Haydock in St. Andrew’s & Blessed George Haydock’s Catholic Church, Cottam, Lancashire, UK.

“I pray God that my blood may increase the Catholic faith in England.” – Blessed George Haydock, speaking from the gallows

Blessed Martyrs of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, pray for us!

Love,
Matthew

Oct 29 – 158 Blessed Martyrs of Douai College, (d. 1577-1680) & The New Evangelization

douai Cartulaire_douai_3_colléges

We’re hearing a lot about martyrdom in the news these days.  Not so much Christian martyrdom, although that is regular, albeit unreported here, in more distant places in the globe; but another religion.

Christians, from the earliest Roman persecutions, were called to witness to Jesus Christ.  That’s what the word martyr means:  witness.

To be close to the beloved, recently deceased martyrs, and in prudence for their own protection, Christians would celebrate the Eucharist in the catacombs.  This is where the Catholic custom of relics of saints, especially martyrs, comes from.  Even when a physical church building is dedicated to a saint, and a relic of the saint is placed beneath the altar stone in the center of the altar, this recalls those early remembrances of the Last Supper celebrated on the tombs of the martyrs.

Montanism was an early Christian heresy.  Modern day Pentecostalism is the closest example we have to relate to today in attempting to understanding what Montanism was then.

As opposed to Catholics, ancient Montanists actively sought out persecution and martyrdom by the Romans.  The Romans were only too happy to oblige.  Christians are NOT to actively seek out martyrdom.  If, in the course of doing the Lord’s will, they are offered the crown of martyrdom, we are to accept with equanimity.  His will be done.  His Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven.  We go to Him:  our hope, our joy, our all.

-from “The First and Second Diaries of the English College, Douay” (Douai), Introduction by founder Cardinal William Allen, Sep 29, 1568, the founder & head of the institution in its earliest years.  The English College in Douai, France was a school for English speaking seminarians to be formed in the spirit and letter of the Council of Trent (1545-1563), part of the Catholic Counter-Reformation.  It was suppressed, finally, in 1793 as part of the French Revolution, and the students there then imprisoned for thirteen months in Doullens, Picardy.  They were released in November 1794, returning to Douai for only a few months before obtaining permission to return to England. They found their first refuge at Old Hall Green, Ware, and dedicated the new work of the college to St Edmund of Canterbury on his feast day, November 16th, 1794.

“In ordinary years we advance to the priesthood twenty, or thereabouts, and send as many every year to England. Since the college began we have given to the Lord’s work above 160 priests, concerning whose instruction, learning and method of training I will say a few words, at your request, if you will allow me to premise what follows…

Our students, being intended for the English harvest, are not required to excel or be great proficients in theological science, though their teachers ought to be as learned and prudent as possible; but they must abound in zeal for God’s house, charity and thirst for souls. True it is that the more knowledge they possess concerning the Scriptures and controversial divinity, and the greater the prudence and discretion which they couple with this knowledge, so much the more abundant will be their success. Still when they have burning zeal, even though deep science be wanting, provided always they know the necessary heads of religious doctrine and the power and nature of the sacraments, such men, among the more skilled labourers whom we have in nearly all the provinces of the kingdom, also do good work in hearing confessions and offering sacrifice, which are the points to which we especially direct our instructions according to the gifts and ability of each one…

Moreover we make it our first and foremost study, both, in the seminary and in England by means of our labourers, to stir up, so far as God permits, in the minds of Catholics, especially of those who are preparing here for the Lord’s work, a zealous and just indignation against the heretics. This we do by setting before the eyes of the students the exceeding majesty of the ceremonial of the Catholic church in the place where we live, the great dignity of the holy sacrifice and sacrament, and the devotion and diligence with which the people come to church, confess their sins and hear sermons: while at the same time we picture to them the mournful contrast visible at home, the utter desolation of all things sacred which there exists, our country once so famed for its religion and holy before God now void of all religion, our friends and kinsfolk, all our dear ones and countless souls besides perishing in schism and godlessness, every jail and dungeon filled to overflowing, not with thieves and villains, but with Christ’s priests and servants, nay, with our parents and kinsmen…

Then turning to ourselves we must needs confess that all these things have come upon our country through our sins. We ought therefore to do penance and confess our sins not in a perfunctory way as we used to do when, for custom’s sake, we confessed once a year; but we should go into our whole past life and perform the spiritual exercises under the fathers of the Society in order to perfect the examination of our consciences, and choose a holier state of life and one more fitted to secure our own salvation and that of others. We should likewise enter into a holy union with these fathers or others, so as to pray unceasingly with many for our church and country and the afflicted Catholics who live there, and we should excite ourselves to pity and tears for them, but above all for those who are perishing so wretchedly at home, and then consider in what way we, even we, may be able to snatch some of them from ruin, remembering that this would cover the multitude of our sins…

Lastly we should resolve to confess more frequently, communicate more devoutly and study more diligently, so as to prepare ourselves for the priesthood, which Christ has given us the opportunity of receiving even in exile, beyond all our hopes and deservings; seeing that we have found so much favor with foreigners that they assist us, nay more, that Christ’s own Vicar does not disdain us, miserable and unworthy though we be, but entertains us at his own expense for that end which God has predetermined.

For His name’s sake,  Therefore we should desire to correspond in some measure with God’s providence which has brought us forth unharmed from Sodom, and we should long to serve Him in the sacred priesthood, not because that order, as was formerly the case and always should be, brings with it profit or honor among men, but because we wish at this present time, when it is an office contemptible in the world’s eyes and perilous, to labour for Christ and the church and the salvation of our people in tears and penance.”

Martyrs of the College of Douai

1577
Cuthbert Mayne
1578
John Nelson, Thomas Sherwood
1581
Everard Hanse, Edmund Campion, Ralph Sherwin, Alexander Briant
1582
John Payne, Thomas Ford, John Shert, Robert Johnson, William Fylby, Luke Kirby, Laurence Richardson, Thomas Cottam, William Lacy, Richard Kirkman, James Hudson Thompson
1583
William Hart, Richard Thirkeld, John Slade, John Bodey
1584
George Haydock, James Fenn, Thomas Hemerford, John Nutter, John Munden
1585
Thomas Alfield, Hugh Taylor
1586
Edward Stranchan, Nicholas Woodfen, Richard Sergeant, William Thomson, Robert Anderton. William Marsden, Francis Ingolby, John Finglow, John Sandys, John Lowe, John Adams, Richard Dibdale
1587
Thomas Pilchard, Edmund Sykes, Robert Sutton, Stephen Rousham, John Hambley, Alexander Crow
1588
Nicholas Garlick, Robert Ludlam, Richard Sympson, William Dean, William Gunter, Robert Morton, Hugh More, Thomas Holford, James Claxton, Thomas Felton, Robert Wilcox, Edward Campion, Christopher Buxton, Ralph Crocket, Edward James, John Robinson, William Hartley, John Hewett, Robert Leigh, William Way, Edward Burden
1589
John Amias, Robert Dalby, George Nichols, Richard Vaxley, Thomas Belson, William Spenser
1590
Christopher Bales, Miles Gerard, Francis Dickinson, Edward Jones, Anthony Middleton, Edmund Duke, Richard Hill, John Hogg, Richard Holiday
1591
Robert Thorpe, Momford Scott, George Beesley, Roger Dickinson, Edmund Genings, Eustace White, Polydore Plasden
1592
William Patenson, Thomas Pormont
1593
Edward Waterson, James Bird, Anthony Page, Joseph Lampton, William Davies
1594
William Harrington, John Cornelius, John Boste, John Ingram, Edward Osbaldeston
1595
Robert Southwell, Alexander Rawlins, Henry Walpole, William Freeman
1597
William Andleby
1598
Peter Snow, Christopher Robinson, Richard Horner
1599
Matthias Harrison
1600
Christopher Wharton, Thomas Sprott, Robert Nutter, Edward Thwing, Thomas Palasor
1601
John Pibush, Mark Barkworth, Roger Filcock, Thurston Hunt
1602
James Harrison, Thomas Tichborne, Robert Watkinson, Francis Page
1603
William Richardson
1604
John Sugar
1607
Robert Drury
1608
Matthew Flathers, George Gervase
1610
Roger Cadwallador, George Napier, Thomas Somers
1612
Richard Newport, John Almond
1616
Thomas Atkinson, John Thulis, Thomas Maxfield, Thomas Tunstal
1618
William Southerne
1628
Edmund Arrowsmith
1641
William Ward, Ambrose Edward Barlow
1642
Thomas Reynolds, Alban Roe, John Lockwood, Edmund Catherick, Edward Morgan, Hugh Green
1643
Henry Heath
1644
John Duckett
1645
Henry Morse, John Goodman
1646
Edward Bamber
1654
John Southworth
1679
Nicholas Postgate, John Wall, John Kemble
1680
Thomas Thwing

Love,
Matthew

Jul 19 – St John Plessington, (1637-1679), Priest & Martyr

640px-King_Charles_II_by_John_Michael_Wright_or_studio
-King Charles II, by John Michael Wright, 1600-1665

As the son of Queen Henrietta Maria, King Charles II was naturally imbued with Catholic sympathies; and the story of his deathbed, when Fr Huddleston brought the Blessed Sacrament to him from Queen Catherine of Braganza’s chapel, is well known.

Yet during the collective mania whipped up by Titus Oates under the pretense of a “Popish Plot” (1678-79), King Charles did little or nothing to save Catholics who found themselves in mortal peril. The only potential victims on whose behalf he intervened were the Queen and Louis XIV’s emissary Claude de la Colombière, SJ, of prior note.

Some 35 Catholics were executed, nearly all of them entirely innocent of treason. Of course, Charles was under intense pressure from skilful and unscrupulous politicians such as Lord Shaftesbury, who knew how to manipulate the mob.

The essential point, though, was that the Merry Monarch had no intention of going on his travels again. It is not easy to warm to the complacency with which he appeared to regard the deaths of so many falsely accused men.

One of these was John Plessington. The youngest of three children, he was born in 1636 into a Catholic family at Dimples Hall, Garstang, near Preston in Lancashire. His father fought for the King in the Civil War and was taken prisoner.

John’s vocation may have been inspired by a family chaplain called Thomas Whitaker, who was captured and executed in 1646. At all events, Plessington, having attended the Jesuit school at Scarisbrick Hall, near Ormskirk, followed Whitaker in being educated at Saint-Omer and Valladolid. While abroad, he went under the name of William Scarisbrick. In 1662 he was ordained in Segovia. The next year, however, ill health brought him back to England.

For a while he served at the shrine of St Winifred in Holywell, North Wales. Then in 1670 he moved to Puddington Hall in the Wirral, as tutor to the Massey family.

For a while Plessington was able to minister openly to the local Catholic population. But when the scare of the Popish Plot extended to the north, a timeserver called Thomas Dutton collected a reward for arresting him.

There was no charge against Plessington, beyond his occupation as a Catholic priest, which sufficed for a death sentence. When the executioner came to measure him, Plessington joked that he was ordering his last suit.

According to a local tradition, St John was implicated at the insistence of a Protestant landowner simply because he had forbidden a match between his son and a Catholic heiress. Three witnesses gave false evidence of seeing St John serving as a priest: he forgave each of them by name from the scaffold.

He was hanged, drawn and quartered in Chester on July 19 1679. His speech from the scaffold at Gallow’s Hill in Boughton, Cheshire was printed and distributed: He said: “Bear witness, good hearers, that I profess that I undoubtedly and firmly believe all the articles of the Roman Catholic faith, and for the truth of any of them, by the assistance of God, I am willing to die; and I had rather die than doubt of any point of faith taught by our holy mother the Roman Catholic Church…

I know it will be said that a priest ordayned by authority derived from the See of Rome is, by the Law of the Nation, to die as a Traytor, but if that be so what must become of all the Clergymen of the Church of England, for the first Church of England Bishops had their Ordination from those of the Church of Rome, or not at all, as appears by their own writers so that Ordination comes derivatively from those now living.”


-displayed in St Winefride’s Church in Little Neston, on the Wirral, UK

“Dear Countrymen.

I am here to be executed, neither for Theft, Murder, nor anything against the Law of God, nor any fact or Doctrine inconsistent with Monarchy or Civil Government. I suppose several now present heard my trial the last Assizes, and can testify that nothing was laid to my charge but Priesthood, and I am sure that you will find that Priesthood is neither against the Law of God nor Monarchy, or Civil Government. If you will consider either the Old or New Testament (for it is the Basis of Religion […], St Paul tells us in Hebrews 7:12 that the Priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change of the Law, and consequently the Priesthood being abolished, the Law and Religion is quite gone.

But I know it will be said that a Priest ordained by authority derived from the See of Rome is by the Law of Nation to die as a Traitor, but if that be so what must become of all the Clergymen or England, for the first Protestant Bishops had their Ordination from those of the Church of Rome, or none at all, as appears by their own writers, so that Ordination comes derivatively to those now living.

As in the Primitive times, Christians were esteemed Traitors, and suffered as such by National Law, so are the Priests of the Roman Church here esteemed, and suffer such. But as Christianity then was not against the law of God, Monarchy or Civil Policy, so now there is not any one Point of the Roman Catholic Faith (of which Faith I am) that is inconsistent therewith, as is evident by induction in each several point.

That the Pope hath power to depose or give licence to Murder Princes is no point of our Belief.   And I protest in the sight of God and the Court of Heaven that I am absolutely innocent of the Plot so much discoursed of, and abhor such bloody and damnable designs. And although it be Nine Weeks since I was sentenced to die, there is not anything of that laid to my charge, so that I may take comfort in St. Peter’s words, 1 Peter 14-16, “Let none of you suffer as a Murderer, or as a Thief, or as an Evil doer, or as a Busy Body in other men’s matters, yet if any man suffer as a Christian let him not be ashamed or Sorry”. I have deserved a worse death, for though I have been a faithful and true Subject to my King, I have been a grievous sinner against God; [others would have lived] in a greater perfection [than] I have done had they received so many favours and graces from him as I have.

But as there was never sinner who truly repented and heartily called to Jesus for mercy, to whom he did not show mercy, so I hope by the merits of His Passion, He will have mercy on me, who am heartily sorry that ever I offended him.

Bear witness, good hearers, that I profess that I undoubtedly and firmly believe all the Articles of the Roman Catholic Faith, and for the truth of any of them (by the assistance of God) I am willing to die, and I had rather die than doubt of any Point of Faith, taught by our Holy Mother the Roman Catholic Church.

In what condition Margaret Plat one of the chiefest witnesses against me was before, and after she was with me, let her nearest relations declare. George Massey, another witness, swore falsely when he swore I gave him the Sacrament, and said Mass at the time and place he mentioned, and [I] verily think that he never spoke to me, or I to him, or saw each other but at the Assizes week. The third witness, Robert Wood, was suddenly killed, but of the Dead why should I speak? These were all the witnesses against me, unless those that only declared what they heard from others. I heartily and freely forgive all that have been or are any way instrumental to my Death, and heartily desire that those that are living may heartily repent.

God bless the King and the Royal Family and grant his Majesty a prosperous Reign here and a crown of glory hereafter, God grant peace to the Subjects, and that they live and die in true Faith, Hope, and Charity. That which remains is that I recommend my self to the mercy of Jesus, by whose merits I hope for mercy. O Jesus, be to me a Jesus.

FINIS*”

-St John Plessington

St John was buried in the churchyard of St Nicholas’s, Burton, after Puddington locals would not allow his quarters to be displayed. Attempts to locate and exhume his body, as recent as 1962, have been unsuccessful but vestments associated with him are kept at St Winefride’s in Neston and a small piece of blood-stained linen is treasured as a relic in St Francis’s Church in Chester.


-a portion of skull with a large hole apparently cut from inside, being impaled by a pike from the inside out, a way of picking up a decapitated head without having to touch it – consistent with having been impaled on a spike after the person was beheaded.

It matched vertebrae from a neck which they concluded appeared to have been hacked off and a section of leg which linked to bone from a pelvis also bearing the marks of being cut.

Together, the report concluded, the presence of what appeared to be one of the quarters of a body and the fact that had been preserved in a Catholic context, as well as date of the clothing they were wrapped in meant they were almost certainly those of an executed priest.


-a lock of hair reputed to be from St John Plessington

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/naming-the-unknown-martyr-could-these-remains-be-st-john-plessington-15408

Shrewsbury, England, Oct 14, 2015 / 02:03 pm ().-

“…In the late 19th century bones were discovered hidden in a pub next to St Winefride’s Well in Flintshire, a Welsh county which borders on Chester. The location was a headquarters of Jesuit missionaries, though Plessington was not a Jesuit.

These bones were taken to the Jesuit retreat house of St. Beuno’s and venerated as the relics of an anonymous martyr.

Bishop Davies and others hope that DNA testing of the bones can be matched with known relics, to prove they are the remains of St. John Plessington.

Forensic scientists who examined the bones and said they are the skull and the right leg of a priest hanged, drawn and quartered. The skull has a hole punctured by a pike pushed through the head. The bones were found in a garment dated to the period of St. John Plessington’s execution.”


-stained glass window in St Winifrede’s Church Holywell depicting St John Plessington ministering to a kneeling woman and below with a group at his execution.


-St John’s vestments

Oh God, in Whom there is no change or shadow of alteration, You gave courage to the English Martyr, John Plessington. Grant unto us, we beseech You, through his intercession, the grace to always value the Holy Mass. May we be strengthened to serve You in imitation of the courageous heart of John Plessington and all the English Martyrs. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

*Editorial Notes

In the first paragraph, the words “for no Priest or Religion” appear where the text above shows “[…]”. These words have been omitted here as the sense is not apparent. It seems likely that a line has been lost. By omitting the words, the sentence does make sense and it is hoped that it broadly conveys what Plessington was saying.

In the paragraph beginning “That the Pope” the words in the first square brackets have been added as this appears to convey the correct meaning of what is being said, and “then” changed to “than” as seems appropriate.

In the penultimate paragraph, the word “I” has been added, in square brackets, to make the meaning clearer.

Where spellings have an obvious modern equivalent, they have been updated as appropriate. Examples are “busy” for “busie” and “Catholic” for “Catholique”.

With these exceptions, the above wording faithfully records the document displayed in St Winefride’s Church in Little Neston, on the Wirral.

St John Plessington and all the Holy Martyrs of England and Wales, pray for us!

Jun 15 – Bls Peter Snow, Priest, & Ralph Grimston, Husband, (d. 1598), Martyrs

In 1845, two skulls (Peter Snow and Ralph Grimston) were discovered under the stone floor of the ancient chapel of Hazlewood Castle, near Tadcaster, UK.

Father Snow and Ralph Grimston were captured while journeying together to York. Father Snow was condemned to death by hanging, drawing, and quartering for being a priest. Ralph Grimston had previously been imprisoned for opening his home to priests.  Ralph Grimston was condemned to death by hanging for having assisted Father Snow and for having attempted to prevent the priest’s arrest when they were caught.

The Catholic Cathedral at Leeds, dedicated to St. Anne, has their skulls as relics, installed there when the new altar was consecrated. And, the University of Dundee reconstructed their faces based on their skulls.

aasnow

Nov 22, 2009, -Rev. Robert Barron, Cardinal Francis George Professor of Faith & Culture, University of St Mary of the Lake, Mundelein Seminary, IL & Founder, Word on Fire.

“…Bishop Roach took me to the far more modest cathedral of Leeds, led me to the main altar and then invited me to examine a treasure.

We crouched down and the bishop pulled out two heavy stones from the front of the altar, revealing a pair of well-preserved human skulls. These, he explained, were the remains of Blessed Peter Snow and Blessed Ralph Grimston.

Peter Snow was a Yorkshireman who had left Elizabethean England in order to study for the Catholic priesthood in France. At the time, of course, it was an offense to be a Catholic and a capital crime to be a priest. Snow had been ordained in Reims and subsequently smuggled into England, where he successfully ministered for two or three years, clandestinely celebrating the Mass, encouraging Catholics in their faith and instructing children in their catechism.

Like many other priests in England at that time, he was protected by Catholic families who hid him away in cellars, attics and hiding-holes concealed behind walls. In May of 1598, he was making his way to York in the company of Ralph Grimston, a layman who was travelling with him for protection. The two Catholics were waylaid by authorities. Grimston drew his sword and shouted at the young priest to ride off, but they were captured.

A trial was held in York, and Snow was convicted of being a priest and Grimston of harboring an enemy of the state. On June 15, they were executed. Grimston was hanged and then beheaded; Snow suffered the far worse fate of being hanged, slowly eviscerated and then cut into four pieces. Afterward, their heads were placed on pikes over the gate of the city in order to dissuade any who might be tempted to imitate them.

The heads were taken down and for many centuries were hidden away, eventually coming to rest at a Carmelite monastery. When that monastery was sold, Bishop Roach, who knew of the existence of the skulls, asked that they be transferred to the Leeds cathedral and placed in the new altar.

Before they were ensconced in the altar, the bishop allowed them to be examined by a forensic scientist in London who was able to reconstruct facsimiles of the faces, letting us see, after all of these centuries, what these men looked like. When I saw the photographs, I was deeply moved, especially by the face of the young priest (only 32 when he was killed). He looked for all the world like one of the students that I teach at the seminary.

It just broke my heart to think that this courageous kid could have been treated with such brutality and inhumanity, simply for saying Mass and administering the sacraments. I mused on the depths of human cruelty, on a wickedness that beggars the imagination and is, nevertheless, on full display up and down the centuries to the present day.

But above all, I found myself edified by his witness. During his years of study in France, he knew that he was preparing for a desperately dangerous mission. He was fully aware that many of his colleagues had already been arrested or killed, and yet he persevered.

His ministry in his home country was grim, haunted, and fearsome. How many terrible days and nights he must have endured, and yet he pressed on. Looking at his placid face, I thought about the transforming quality of God’s amazing grace, what God’s love can do with our frail and deeply compromised humanity.

Part of the genius of Catholic theology is that it clearly articulates both sides of the human condition. There is nothing naïve or blandly “optimistic” in Catholic anthropology. It takes original sin and its consequences with utter seriousness, arguing that human beings are weakened, twisted even, in both body and soul.

No moral outrage — Auschwitz, Hiroshima, the Cambodian killing fields or Elizabethan totalitarianism — really surprises the Catholic mind, for as Chesterton said, “we’re all in the same boat and we’re all seasick.” At the same time, Catholic teaching holds that we are made in the image and likeness of God and destined, ultimately, to share in the very dynamics of the divine life, loving as effortlessly and radically as God himself. This Catholic hope outstrips even the fondest dreams of any humanist philosophy.

Those two skulls in the altar at Leeds silently speak of the best and the worst in us human beings. Peter Snow and Ralph Grimston, pray for us.”

Father Snow, Holy Priest!  Ralph Grimston, Defender of Priests!  Ora pro nobis!

Love,
Matthew

 http://www.wordonfire.org/WoF-Blog/WoF-Blog/September-2010/Spirituality-Two-English-Martyrs.aspx

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.

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-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.

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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