Category Archives: Forty Martyrs of England & Wales

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.

1_Shrine_of_St_Oliver_Plunkett,_Drogheda_2007-10-5

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

Oliver_Shrine

OliverPlunkettHead

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

Hymn to St Oliver Plunkett

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Matthew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert_Southwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Southwell: Thou art a bad man.

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

Southwell: What, all?

Topcliffe: Ay, all.

Southwell: What, soul and body too?

robert_southwell

The Burning Babe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Robert Southwell, SJ

A VALE OF TEARS.
By Robert Southwell, SJ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Matthew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NPG D25344,Edmund Geninges,by M. Bas

-St Edmund Gennings, priest & martyr

swithin-wells

-St Swithun Wells, layman & martyr



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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Matthew