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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Saint SWITHIN WELLS, layman, 1591


“ I have been long in durance and endured much, but the future reward makes pain seem pleasure. And truly now the solitariness causes me not grief, but rather joy, for thereby I can better prepare myself for that happy end for which I was created and placed here by God. I am also sure that however few I see yet I am not deserted, for ‘ whose companion is Christ is never alone.’ When I pray I talk with God ; when I read He talketh to me. Thus, though I am bound and chained with gyves, yet am I loose and unbound towards God, and it is better, I deem, to have the body bound than the soul in bondage. I am threatened, Lord, with danger of death ; but if it be no worse I will not wish it better. God send me the grace, and then I weigh not what flesh and blood can do to me. These answered many anxious and dangerous questions, but I trust with good advisement, not offending my conscience. What will become of it God knows best, to whose protection I commit you. From gaol and chains to the Kingdom. Thine to life’s end.”—(Letter from prison.)

“ So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free, by the freedom whereby Christ has made us free.”—Gal. iv.31.

St Swithun, Bishop of Winchester, who was the name saint of Saint Swithin Wells

Saint SWITHIN WELLS, layman, 1591


His father was renowned in Hampshire as a confessor for the faith, and Swithin himself— kindly, pleasant, courteous, generous, brave, a leader in every kind of field and manly sport— was an example of a Catholic country gentleman. Much of his diversions he gave up, however, to train youths in the faith and learning, who thus became staunch Catholics. Apprehended and condemned for having had Mass said in his house, he was led out to die with his wife, sentenced for the same offence. She was however remanded, and after ten years in Newgate of fasting, watching, and prayer, she died in 1602. On Swithin’s way to the scaffold, which was erected opposite his own door, meeting an old friend he said : “ Farewell all hawking and hunting and old pastimes ; I am now going a better way.” The butchery of Father Genings be­fore his eyes only hastened his own desire to die. “ Despatch,” said he ; “ Mr. Topcliffe, despatch; are you not ashamed to let an old man ^Stand here so long in his shirt in the cold. I pray God make you of a Saul a Paul, of a persecutor a Catholic professor.” And in such-like Speeches, full of Christian charity, piety, and courage, he happily ended his course, December 10, 1591.

 “He began to be mighty on the earth, and he was a stout hunter before the Lord.”—Gen. x, 8,9

Monday, December 15, 2014

Saint EDMUND GENINGS, priest, 1591

Then the Protestant Bishop of London began, 

"You are greatly abused by those whom you call your Superiors. Think now of my counsel, which is to help yourselves, and to acknowledge your fault and error ; then doubtless I dare promise you from the Queen’s Majesty sure pardon. You miserable men do what in you is, to kill yourselves, which is a damnable thing, unless you now repent.’ On this Mr. Genings began to smile, and said that, though young, he thought he could answer the Bishop’s allegation. ‘ Peace,’ said the Bishop, ‘ I see you are all willful. Here I acquit myself before all this audience, that I have given you sound counsel. At the latter day, when you and I shall all stand before the Judge, this my word now shall condemn you,’ and with that the old dissembler wept, as it seemed, and wiped his eyes, trickling down with tears, every one as big as a millstone. ‘ Almighty God pardon your obstinacy. I may not stay to hear the just sentence of blood pronounced against you, because it is not according to my profession; ’ which said, he presently departed from the Bench. Many silly people commended his great charity and tender heart, as I heard them speak.”

“ And they went not into the hall, that they might not be defiled, but that they might eat the Pasch.”—John xviii. 28.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Saint EDMUND GENINGS, Priest., 1591

On December 4, 1591, Father Genings and his companions were brought upon their trial, and a jury was empanelled to find them all guilty, yet nothing could any prove against them but that one of them had said Mass in Mr. Well’shouse, and that one of them had heard the said Mass. Many bitter words and scoffs were used by the judges and others on the bench, particularly to Father Genings, because he was very young and had angered them with disputes. And the more to make him a scoff to the people, they vested him not now in his priestly garments (in which they had before carried him throughthe streets), but in a ridiculous fool’s coat which they had found in Mr. Well’s house. On his return to Newgate, Topcliffe, Justice Young, and others called on him and offered him life, liberty, a benefice, and promotion if he would go to church and renounce his religion. But finding him constant and resolute they were highly offended, and thrust him into a dark hole, where he could not even see his hands nor get up or down without rjsk to his neck. Here he remained in prayer and contemplation without any food tili the hour of his death.

“And Herod with his army set Him at nought and mocked Him, putting on Him  a white garment, and sent Him back to Pilate.”—Luke xxiii.11.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Saint EDMUND GENINGS, priest, 1591


He was executed with St Swithin Wells opposite the latter’s house in Gray’s Inn, where he had said Mass.
On the scaffold, in answer to Topclifife’s gibes, he professed his loyalty to his dear anointed Queen, and declared that being a priest and saying Mass in noways made him a traitor. Of these things he acknowledged him­self guilty, and rejoiced in having done such good deeds, and with God’s help would do them again at the risk of a thousand lives. Topcliffe, angered at this speech, bade them turn the ladder and cut the rope, so that the holy priest stood scarcely stunned on his feet, till the hang­man tripped him up, and quartered him while living. After he was dismembered he cried out in agony, “ It smarts ! ” To which Mr. Wells replied, “ Alas, sweet soul, thy pain is great, but almost past; pray for me now, most holy Saint, that mine may come.” After Father Genings was ripped up and his bowels cast into the fjre, the blessed martyr, his heart being in the executioner’s hands, uttered these words, “ Sancte Gregori, ora pro me,” at which the hangman swore a most wicked oath : “Zounds, his heart is in my hand, and yet Gregory is in his mouth. O egregious Papist.”

“ And the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the Saints ascended up before God by the hand of an angel.”—Apoc. viii. 4.

Friday, December 12, 2014

+ Blessed THOMAS HOLLAND, Jesuit, 1642

Born in Lancashire, he was educated at St. Omer’s, where he was repeatedly, on account of his piety, elected prefect of the Sodality of Our Blessed Lady. Thence he was sent to Valla­dolid, and was chosen to make a Latin oration at Madrid before Charles Prince of Wales (Charles I), on occasion of a marriage then pro- posed with the Infanta Maria. Returning to Flanders, he entered the Society of Jesus, and was sent on the English Mission to London, 1634. He was then in very bad health, and his illness was increased by the close confinement imposed upon him by the unremitting house- searching of the pursuivants. Yet, notwith- standing the vigilance of his enemies and his own infirmities, through the various disguises he adopted, so as to be unrecognisable even by his friends, his perfect knowledge of French, Fle­mish, and Spanish languages enabling him to assume any character, he reaped auring two year's labour a rich harvest of souls. At length in 1642 he was apprehended on suspicion and sentenced. In prison his holy counsel and deep spiritual wisdom sanctified the throngs, English and forejgü, who came for his last words. He said Mass and administered the Sacraments up to the day of his execution at Tyburn, Decem­ber 12, 1642.

“ I became all things to all men that I might save all.”—1 Cor. ix. 22.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

+ Blessed ARTHUR BELL, Franciscan, 1643


Born of a good Catholic Worcestershire family, he was educated first at St. Omer’s, then at Valladolid. He asked for admission into the Order of St. Francis in the Province of the Immaculate Conception, and took the habit at the Convent of Segovia, August 9, 1618. He was distinguished by a rare union of learning with a sweet, joyous, and ardent temper, and an over- flowing sympathy with hisfellow-creatures which drew them like a magnet to his side. From his earliest years he had s- special devotion to Our Blessed Lady. He bound himself by vow to recite her office daily, and was in the habit of saying it alternately in Latin, Hebrew, Greek, Spanish, French, Flemish, and English. He was successively Guardian of his Order and Professor of Hebrew at Douay, first Provincial in Scotland, and then laboured on the English Mission. Our Lady’s protection was manifested throughout his life. He was professed on the Feast of her Nativity, September 8, 1619. On the same Feast, 1634, he was sent on the Eng­lish Mission, and his death sentence, for which he had prayed her twenty years, and had recited daily the Psalm xxxv., Dixit injustus, was pronounced on the Feast of her Immaculate Con­ception, 1643.

“Blessed is the man that heareth Me, and that watcheth daily at My gates, and waiteth at the posts of My doors.”—Prov. viii. 34

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

+ St Eustace WHITE, priest, 1591


He was born at Louth, Lincolnshire, and his conversion so much offended his father, an earnest Protestant, that he laid his curse upon him ; but God turned the curse to a blessing, and Eustace White became a priest and entered on the English Mission, October 1588. He was apprehended at Blandford, and having confessed himself a priest, a certain minister, one Dr. Houel, a tall man, reputed of great learning, was sent for to dispute with him, but was ignominiously vanquished, as he failed to disprove a certain text which White affirmed to be in the Bible
. At the Bridewell, London, he was once hung by Topcliffe in iron manacles for eight hours together ; but though the torment caused the sweat from his body to wet the ground beneath, nothing could be extracted from him of the least prejudice to Catholics. Under the extremity of his passion he cried out, “ Lord, more pain if Thou pleasest, and more patience.” To his torturer he said, “ I am not angry at you for all this, but shall pray to God for your welfare and salvatiön.” Topcliffe replied in a passion that he wapted not the prayers of heretics, and would have him hung at the next session. Then said the martyr, “ I will pray for you at the gallows, for you have great need of prayers.” He suffered at Tyburn, December 10, 1591.

“And His sweat became as drops of blood running down to the ground.”—Luke xxii. 44. 

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Blessed JOHN MASON, layman, 1591


He had been servant to Mr. Owen of Oxford- hire, who was condemned at the bar as an aider and abettor of priests, and was himself first indicted for knowing and not revealing a seminary priest, but pleaded successfully that the three days allowed for such denunciations had not expired. He was then charged for abetting a priest to escape. On Topcliffe trying to enter the room where Father Gennings
was saying Mass, Mason seized him and thrust him downstairs, falling with him, and Topcliffe met with a broken head. This much the young man confessed. On this charge Mason was condemned, and executed the morrow after. Asked if he were not sorry for the fact, he re- plied, “No; if it were to do again, I would resist the wicked, that they should not have God’s priests, yea, although I were to be punished with twenty deaths.” There suffered with him a fellow-servant, Robert Sydney Hodgson, who, finding himself unpinioned, on the belief that he had recanted, boldly declared that, although he had asked Her Majesty’s pardon, he would not have the judge think that he would deny his faith, for that he would rather die twenty times first. They were suffered to hang tili they were dead, and together they won their crowns.— Tyburn, December 10, 1591.

“ And one of them that stood by, drawing a sword, struck a servant of the High Priest, and cut off his ear.”—MARK xiv. 47.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Feast of Our Lady Vulnerata

The image of Our Lady Vulnerata (the Wounded One), is venerated at the Royal English College of St. Alban in Valladolid, Spain. Originally a beautiful medieval image of Our Lady and the Christ Child, it was horribly mutilated in 1596 by the swords of English soldiers during the 16th century persecution of the Catholic Church. Many of the English martyrs prayed in reparation before this image before returning to their hidden ministry and death in England. Today, the image continues to be venerated with great love, pity and devotion in a spirit of spiritual reparation for all insults to the Mother of God and her Divine Son, and for the courage of missionary evangelization.

The Feast Day is on the Sunday after today's Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

"She shall crush thy head" GEN iii. 15

Saint RALPH SHERWIN, Priest, 1581


A NATIVE of Rodesby, Derbyshire, as a fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, he was accounted as an acute philosopher and an excellent Greek and Hebrew scholar. But grace called him to yet higher distinction. He became a Catholic, entered the English College, Rome, (also here for more history) and returned a priest to England in August 1580. After some months' zealous work he was apprehended while preaching in Mr. Roscarrock's house, and imprisoned, first in the Marshalsea and then in the Tower. He was there nearly a year, and in divers conferences with ministers won the admiration of his audience. After his first racking he was set out in great snow, and Mr. Roscarrock was kept in a dark corner hard by to hear his pitiful groans.

After his second racking he lay five days and nights without food and in silence. All this time he slept, as he thought, before our Saviour on the Cross, and on coming round found himself free from pain. Tortures unavailing, the Bishops of Canterbury and London offered him the second Bishopric in England if he would but go to St. Paul's Church. After B. Campion was executed, the hangman took hold of Sherwin with his hand all bloody to terrify him, but the martyr reverently kissed the martyr's blood, and then shed his own, December 1, 1581.

"When He shall give His beloved sleep."— Ps. cxxvi. 2.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Saint JOHN ALMOND, Priest, 1612


AT the scaffold one of the preachers urged that the Catholic Church taught that good works justified faith. Almond answered that faith and good works justified together. The minister said that faith alone justified. He asked what faith an infant could have ere he had the use of reason ? The minister left that question and reason and talked of something else. On the scaffold, kneeling down, he humbly begged God's mercy, not doubting that, many as his sins were, Christ, by His death and the shedding of His blood, would remit and pardon, and that He would now accept his willingness to shed his blood for His greater glory. 

" What," said a minister, " can you match and compare Christ's bloodshedding with yours? Cannot Christ by Himself work your salvation?" "You mistake me," replied the martyr; "my sins, though venial, deserve Christ's wrath and punishment. It is His death alone, and the shedding of His blood alone, that is not only efficient but also sufficient to save us all. I have not much more to say, one hour overtaketh another, and though never so long at last cometh death, and yet not death, for death is the gate of life unto us, whereby we enter into life everlasting, and life is death to those who do not provide for death."

" Faith without works is death."—JAS. ii. 20.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Saint JOHN ALMOND, priest, 1612


ST. PHILIP’S zeal for the faith made him wish to go to the Indies to shed his blood for his Master, but as his Indies were to be in Rome he had a great love for those who were granted the privilege denied to himself. Thus when he met the students of the English College he would salute them with the words, “Salvete Flores, Martyrum,” and one by one the students used to repair to St. Philip’s room to receive the holy old man’s blessing before starting on their mission. It is said that the only Student who did not receive St. Philip’s blessing failed to win his crown, and St. Philip’s sons inherited his de- votion to the future martyrs. In 1602 Father John Almond, a native of Allerton, near Liverpool, as a Student having completed his seven years’ course of philosophy and theology, made his public disputation under the patronage of Cardinal Baronius, 

and when it was over, that maiv-of holy memory, as though foreseeing the Still more glorious defence of the faith he was göing to make before English persecutors, embraced him many times, and kissed his tonsure and that blessed brow which was so soon to be en- circled with the martyr’s crown. 

Cardinal Tarugi, who was also present, paid him like homage.

 “These were purchased from among men, the first fruits of God and to the Lamb, and in their mouth there was found no lie, for they are without spot before the throne of God.”—APOC. xiv. 4, 5.

Friday, December 05, 2014

+ Saint JOHN ALMOND, priest, 1612


ON the scaffold he flung some seven or eight pounds in silver, with his beads, his points, and his discipline, for those to get them who would, and gave to the hangman an angel, not to spare him, but to treat him as he should. He had come hither, he said, to shed his bloöd for his Saviour’s sake, who had shed His blood for his sins. In which respect he wished that every drop that he would shed might be a thousand ; that he might have St. Lawrence’s gridiron to be broiled on, St. Peter’s cross to be hanged on, St. Stephen’s stones to be stoned with, to be ript, ript, ript, and ript again. Then, being in his shirt, he kneeled down, and often repeating “In manus tuas, Domine, &c.”—“Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit ”—he waited tili the hangman was ready without any sign of fear; but, ever smiling, he protested he died chaste, but not through his own ability or worthiness, but by Christ’s special grace, and that he ever hated those carnal sins, for which the Catholic religion had been slandered. At last, the cart was drawn away, and with the words “ Jesu, Jesu,” his soul flewto Him for whom he Shed his blood, Tyburn, December 5, 1612.

“Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people by His own blood, suffered without the Gate.”— HEB. xiii 12

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Saint ALEXANDER BRIANT, Jesuit, 1581


WHETHER this that I say be miraculous or no, God knoweth. But true it is, and thereof my conscience is a witness before God. And this I say that in the end of the tortures, though my hands and feet were violently racked, and any adversaries fulfilled their wicked lust in practising their cruel tyranny on my body, yet notwithstanding, I was without sense or feeling, well-nigh of grief and pain; and not so only, but as it were comforted, eased, and refreshed of grievousness of the tortures bypast. I continued still with perfect and present senses in quietness of heart and tranquillity of mind; which thing, when the commissioners did see, they departed, and in going forth of the door they gave Orders to rack me again the next day following after the same sort. Now when I heard them say so, it gave me, in my mind, by-and-by, and I did verily believe /and trust that, with the help of God, I should be able to bear and suffer it patiently. In the meantime (as well as I could) I did muse and meditate upon the most bitter Passion of our Saviour, and how full of innumerable pains it was.” 

“For He woundeth and He cureth. He striketh and His hands shall heal.”—JOB v. 18.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Saint ALEXANDER BRIANT, Jesuit, 1581


WHEN he went to Westminster Hall to be condemned he made a cross of such wood as he could get, apparently a small wooden trencher, and upon it he drew with charcoal a figure of our Lord. This rough crucifix he carried with him openly. He made shift also to shave his crown because he would signify to the prating ministers which scoffed and mocked him that he was not ashamed of his Holy Orders, nor yet that he would blush at his religion. When then the ministers reproached him and bade him cast his crucifix away, he answered : “ Never will I do so, for I am a soldier of the Cross, nor will I henceforth desert this Standard until death.” Another stretched forward and snatched the cross from his hands, upon which he said : “ You may tear it from my hands, but you cannot take it from mv heart. Nay, I shall die for Him who first died on it for me.” On the scaffold, with his fair and honest face beaming with joy, he expressed his great happiness in being made worthy to die for the faith, and in Company with Edmund Campion whom he heartily revered. As the words of the Miserere were on his lips the cart was drawn away.

“God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world.”— GAL. vi. 14.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Blessed JOHN BECHE, Benedictine, 1539

He was Abbot of Colchester, and, like his brethren of Glastonbury and Reading, took the oath of Supremacy on it being tendered him in 1534 ; but he had a great devotion to Cardinal Fisher and Sir Thomas More, and they stood him in good cause at the end. When called upon to surrender the Abbey, he refused, denied the King’s right to take it, and asserted his loyalty to the Holy See, and for this speech he was committed to the Tower. At his trial in November 1534 he endeavoured to explain away what he had said, re-asserted the King’s supre­macy, and made a piteous appeal for mercv. But however lamentable his defection, he atoned for it fully by shedding his blood for the faith. He was sent down to Colchester and tried there by a special commission on the former charges. He was condemned, and suffered at Colchester, December 1, 1539. On his pectoral cross, still preserved, is inscribed: “ May the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ bring us out of sorrow and sadness. This sign of the Cross shall be in the Heavens when our Lord shall come to judgment. Behold, O man, the Redeemer suffered for thee. He that will come after Me let him take up his cross and follow Me.”

“ Turn again, O God of hosts, look down from heaven and see and visit this vineyard . . . which Thy right hand hath planted.”—Ps. lxxix. 15,16.

The judge rides away after the trial at Colchester.

Monday, December 01, 2014


The Beginnings
The first official movement for the canonization of the 'great cloud of witnesses' (cf. Hebrews 12:1) who gave their lives in defence of the Catholic religion, from the time of the schism under Henry VIII (1534) until the end of the seventeenth century, began during the pontificate of Urban VIII (1623-44). In 1643, at the request of the English Benedictines in exile, the Pope appointed the Archbishop of Cambrai in northern France (in default of the existence of Catholic Bishops in England and Wales) to set up an official process to collect and examine the evidence for the cause, fact and constancy of martyrdom of all those who were known to have suffered for the faith up to that time. Unfortunately, all attempts to collect the evidence were thwarted by the English authorities and the task had to be postponed. All the time, however, the victims of the long drawn-out persecution continued to be regarded and venerated as true martyrs, abroad as well as in secret at home (cf. Bishop Challoner's Memoirs of Missionary Priests, first published 1741-42, most recent edition 1924). When England's Catholic Hierarchy was at last restored in 1850, work on the cause of the martyrs began in earnest. The devotion and knowledge of men like Fr John Morris, Dom Bede Camm, Fr John H. Pollen and others, led to successive petitions to the Holy See by the restored English and Welsh Hierarchy, in 1859, 1866 and 1874, requesting the authorization of a process that would lead to the beatification and canonization of the martyrs. The necessary permission was eventually given, and a process was held at Westminster in 1874, to investigate the causes of 353 servants of God, to which another eight were later added. On examination of the evidence by the Sacred Congregation of Rites in Rome, forty-three of these were almost immediately postponed on the ground that the proof of martyrdom was not sufficiently cogent, while the cause of the others was further investigated.

The 'Equipollents'
During the ensuing discussions in Rome (called the 'Apostolic Process') special attention was given to the frescoes painted in 1583 in the Venerable English College, Rome, which were patently inspired by the veneration contemporaneously paid to sixty-three martyrs who had suffered in England during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I up to that time (1535-1583): a devotion which had endured through the centuries to the extent that such veneration was judged by Pope Leo XIII to constitute a legitimate and immemorial cult. In accord with the legislation established by Urban VIII, such a confirmation of cult was the equivalent of papal approval of the fact of martyrdom;1 it resulted in the beatification of sixty-three martyrs (fifty-four on 29 December 1886, and nine more on 13 May 1895) equipollently or per viam cultus.

Two of those equipollently beatified in 1886, John Fisher and Thomas More, were perhaps the best known of all the martyrs of the Reformation because of their consistent mention in the history of the time as men of special eminence: the one a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, the other Lord Chancellor of England. After the beatifications of 1929, a massive petition from the Catholic Church in England and Wales persuaded Pius XI to authorize an exhaustive examination into the fact and cause of their martyrdom; the outcome was the canonization of these two martyrs on 19 May 1935.

Beatification of 136 Martyrs (1929)
In the light of numerous publications and intensive historical work in the first two decades of the present century, the Sacred

Congregation of Rites authorized Cardinal Francis Bourne, then Archbishop of Westminster, to resume the Apostolic Process (begun in Rome in 1880) on 15 June 1923. The process took six years to complete; and although 234 martyrs were finally cleared for formal beatification by the Promoter of the Faith (popularly known as the Devil's Advocate), only 136 were beatified. That left 116 martyrs, whose causes, the Apostolic Letter declared needed further study 'in order that their martyrdom might be more clearly manifested.'

The Canonization of Forty Martyrs (1970)
(Cf. The Canonization of the Forty English and Welsh Martyrs: Commemoration presented by the Postulators of the Cause (127 pp., with photographs of the Canonization Ceremony, Office of the Vic Postulation, London, 1971).
The outbreak of the Second World War, and the many difficulties experienced in giving fresh impetus to the historical study of the lives of the great number of the Blessed Martyrs, and stimulating devotion to them, caused a hiatus in the normal progress from beatification to canonization. Eventually the Hierarchy decide to petition the Holy See for the reassumption of the cause of small group of martyrs, according to specific criteria: firstly, the extent and quality of the devotion to certain beati amongst the whole group; and secondly, their representative nature with regard to place of origin, state in life, and so on. In 1960, the Holy See agreed that this group, when it was eventually draw up, should form one cause. From the historical point of view, was judged necessary to present documentary proof of martyrdom of those equipollently beatified (the first eleven of the forty This proved to be a very sizeable task: a fact confirmed by the publication in 1968, by the Historical Section of the newly established Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints, of volume of more than four hundred pages.( Cause of the Canonization of the Blessed Martyrs John Houghton, etc Official Presentation of Documents on Martyrdom and Cult (xliii -379 pp. Vatican Polyglot Press, Rome, 1968).In addition to the historical research, the Holy See required proof of widespread devotion to the group of forty, and also the presentation of two authentic miraculous interventions through the martyrs' intercession. After preliminary enquiries into a great number of alleged cures, two cases were eventually selected on the advice of the medical panel of the Sacred Congregation. Special tribunals were set up in the dioceses where they took place, and the exhaustive examination of one of the cases proved positive: it was declared to be miraculous in the strict sense. By the gracious intervention of Pope Paul VI, further investigation into the second cure was dispensed with, and in May 1970 the Pope announced that the canonization of these martyrs would take place in St Peter's on Sunday, 25 October 1970.
Extensive section removed on ecumenical aspects
(The reality of their sanctity and their intercession in the heavenly courts could not be affected by ecumenical considerations, despite the reservations of the British Council of Churches which were waived on 17 December 1969 with the statement which can be judged for itself that all Christians share in “the martyr tradition as one in which all have shared and which all may draw strength”. Subsequent decisions by the Anglican Church have rendered the passage entirely redundant)

The Resumption of the Cause of Beatification of eighty-five Venerable Martyrs
(Since the rescript of St Pius X (26 August 1913), the title 'Venerable applies only to those servants of God whose virtue has been declared heroic, but are not yet beatified. Formerly, the title was conferred soon as the cause was formally introduced in Rome (the opening of Apostolic Process). It still applies to those whose causes were thus introduced before 1913, but who have not yet been beatified.)

When the cause of the Forty Martyrs was resumed, the Hierarchy simultaneously decided that the directive of the Holy See concerning these martyrs whose causes of beatification were postponed in 1929 should be implemented. This was especially opportune, seeing that the resumption of the cause of the forty was accompanied by a renewed interest in the whole field 'recusant history'. The first task was to discover whether contemporaneous documentation on the fact of martyrdom of the 116 martyrs who were not beatified in 1929 was still extant. It soon became clear that there was little hope of establishing sufficient evidence of martyrdom for ten Venerable martyrs who had suffered during the reign of Henry VIII; and gradually, as the research went forward, others had to be eliminated, either for a similar lack of documentary evidence, or because it became impossible to disentangle the true motive of martyrdom from the political involvement of the individuals concerned.

The documents concerning the cause, fact and constancy of the martyrdom of the Venerable George Haydock and his eighty-three companion martyrs, which were declared authentic by Cardinal Hume, the present Archbishop of Westminster, on September 1978, were received by the Historical Section of the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the beginning of October. Those on Venerable George Douglas were added later (see p. 44). More accurate versions of the pertinent documents already submitted in the processes of 1874 and 1923-29 were provided, and many new documents added; whilst all likely sources in public and private archives and libraries at home and abroad— especially in Rome, Brussels, Madrid, and Valladolid—have been searched, in order to render the documentation as complete as possible.

The documentation submitted deals substantially with the martyrs' arrest, examination, trial, sentence and execution; and though official trial records are extant only in relatively few cases, equivalents have been discovered and presented. These are mainly contemporary or early accounts of martyrdom, establishing the charge on which the various martyrs were condemned, and also frequently recording the sentiments with which they received their sentence, their edifying words and courageous bearing in the scaffold.

Seventy-five of them were condemned under the statute of Elizabeth I passed in 1585, 'against Jesuits, seminary priests and such other like disobedient persons.' According to this law, Catholic priests returning to England after ordination abroad committed high treason by their very presence on English soil, whilst those who assisted them in any way were guilty of felony: the sentence in the first case was death by hanging, drawing and quartering; in the second by hanging only.

Of the ten remaining martyrs, Haydock the priest and Carter the layman were hanged, drawn and quartered for allege committing high treason under the ancient statute of 1352 (Edward III). A priest and six laymen were condemned for being reconciled or persuading others to be reconciled to the ancient Faith: acts declared to be treasonable under the Elizabeth statute of 1581. Finally the layman, John Bretton, was arraingned for allegedly uttering 'seditious words and rumours against Queen's Majesty': a felony punished by hanging.

All these eighty-five men, priests and laity, were regarded from the time of their death onwards by their fellow Catholics at home and abroad as martyrs for the Faith.
James Walsh, S.J.
Vice Postulator

Feast of St Edmund Campion and his fellow-martyrs, 1978

The Eight-Five were subsquently beatified on 22nd November 1987

The Mass the martyrs died for

Saint EDMUND CAMPION, Jesuit, 1581


In the splash and mud of a wet December morning, Campion was led forth from the Tower, still in his old gown of Irish frieze. Undaunted he saluted the vast crowd, saying, “ God save you all, gentlemen ! God bless you and make you all good Catholics!” After kneeling in prayer he was strapped on the hurdle, Sherwin and Briant being together bound on a second hurdle. They were dragged at the horses’ tails through the gutter and filth, followed by an in- sulting crowd of ministers and rabble. Still some Catholics were consoled by a word from him, and one gentleman, like Veronica on another Via Dolorosa, most courteously wiped his face all spattered with mire and filth. Passing under the arch of Newgate, whereon still stood an image of Our Lady, Campion raised himself and saluted the Queen of Heaven, whom he hoped so soon to see. At the gallows he began with a sweet firm voice, “ Spectaculum facti sumus Deo Angelis et hominibus,” but the Sheriffs interrupted him, and urged him to con- fess his treason. He repeatedly maintained his innocence, and having declined to join in prayer with the ministers, asked all Catholics for a Credo for him in his agony, and while again pro- fessing his loyalty to the Queen he went to his reward.

“ We are made a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men.”—1 Cor. iv. 9.

Feast of All Martyrs of Oxford University

There are about 70 beatified or canonised Catholic martyrs associated with Oxford. Five of these were killed in Oxford and their stories are presented below. Out of the seventy, 4 were born in Oxford. Many of the martyrs studied at various colleges in Oxford:
St John's (8)
Trinity (7)
Brasenose (6)
Gloucester Hall [now Worcester] (5)
New College (4)
Exeter (3)
Oriel (3)
Corpus Christi (3)
Lincoln (2)
Hart Hall [now Hertford] (2)
St Mary Hall [now Oriel] (2)
Queen's (2)
Broadgates Hall [now Pembroke] (2)
Magdalen (2)
Christ Church (2)
Jesus (1)
St Edmund (1)
Balliol (1)
and Canterbury Hall [now Christ Church] (1)

Eight others are known to have studied in Oxford, but the exact colleges are unknown.

1. Bl Thomas Belson, layman; hanged 5 July 1589
The younger son of a well-known Catholic landowner of Buckinghamshire, Augustine Belson. Born in 1565 at Brill. His recusant father, when summoned to answer for his non-attendance at Anglican services, pleaded that he had no property to pay for fines although in the previous ten years he had defrayed the cost of sending Thomas to Exeter College, Oxford and Douai College, Rheims, to complete his education. Thomas returned to England in 1584. By June 1585 he was imprisoned in the Tower of London charged with 'conveying intelligence' for a Catholic priest, but he was released five months later on condition that he leave the country. Some time before 1589 Belson returned to Oxford, joining Fr George Nichols.

2. Bl George Nichols, Seminary priest; hanged, drawn and quartered 5 July 1589
A graduate of Brasenose College (1573), Nichols then taught at St Paul's School, London. After contacts with some Catholics in London, he was received into the Church. He went overseas, and enrolled at Douai College in 1581. Because he was known to be a pious, learned man already over thirty, he was ordained to the priesthood in September 1583, less than six months after his ordination to the diaconate. He studied for a further year at Rheims before returning on a mission to Oxford. The number of Catholics in Oxford was increasing rapidly. When a notorious highwayman, Robert Harcourt, expressed penitence, Nichols went in disguise to the prison garden on the morning appointed for Harcourt's execution and received him into the Church.

3. Bl Humphrey Pritchard, layman; hanged 5 July 1589
Humphrey Pritchard was a Welsh serving man who, by 1589, had been for twelve years in the employ of a Catholic widow, the proprietor of the Catherine Wheel Inn on St Giles', Oxford. The date and place of his birth are unknown, as is the name of the brave woman he served.

4. Bl Richard Yaxley, Seminary priest; hanged, drawn and quartered 5 July 1589 Yaxley was born in 1560 at Boston, Lincolnshire. He was enrolled at Rheims as a student on 29 August 1582 and ordained there in 1586, shortly before returning to England. He made his way to Oxford, stopping briefly at Denham to visit his college friend Bl Robert Dibdale, who was chaplain to a Catholic family until his own martyrdom at Tyburn in 1586.

Capture and martyrdomAll four men were apprehended at the Catherine Wheel Inn on St Giles', in Oxford (directly opposite the altar dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria in the north-east corner of St Mary Magdalen church), which is now part of Balliol College. Spies had reported it to be the headquarters of Catholic activity in Oxford. Their pursuers first searched a house at Stanton St John belonging to Henry Rooke, a known priest-harbourer. Finding nothing, they returned to Oxford and at midnight, battered on the door of the Inn on St Giles', demanding admittance. The servant Pritchard was arrested when he unbarred the door, so the innkeeper requested a few minutes to dress and used the time to warn Belson, Nichols and Yaxley.

As there was no way for them to leave without being seen, they faced the intruders and answered their questions without giving grounds for suspicion. Not satisfied, the spy insisted on a search, and vestments were found. It was assumed that at least one of them must be a priest, so all three were arrested. The mistress of the inn and her servant Pritchard were also placed under arrest. By that time, friends and neighbours had congregated and obstructed the searchers by destroying some of the evidence.

The next day the five captives were interrogated by Martin Heton, Vice-Chancellor of the University, with other officials, including Lillie, Master of Balliol College, and Willis, President of St John's College. Nichols and Yaxley refused to admit their priesthood, hoping to protect their lay helpers from a charge of harbouring. When this failed, Nichols admitted his priesthood to shield the younger priest Yaxley. The lay people were confined in Oxford Castle and the priests in the old Bocardo prison at the north gate, where they were visited by Anglican clergymen who sought to engage them in theological argument. They were later taken in irons to Christ Church where they were questioned about other Catholics. When all refused to answer, the woman was bailed and the men were sent bound to London.
Pritchard was badly injured when his horse threw him, but the escort merely laughed and forced him to ride on. People living along the route came to see 'the monsters' they had been told to expect, but were amazed by their gentleness. A Magdalen postgraduate, Ellis, was so impressed by the cheerful behaviour of the prisoners that he rode beside them all the way to London. For this, and to prevent him from reporting the escort's cruelty, he was declared insane and committed to a madhouse for the rest of his life, even though many people confirmed that he was in his right mind.

Accused of being a traitor by the Privy Council, Nichols responded, 'I am here to teach the law of God, not to seduce people from their allegiance to the Queen.' He admitted his priesthood before the Council; Yaxley and Belson said only that they were gentlemen. The priests were then tortured in the Bridewell, being suspended from their hands for fifteen hours. During that time, they were identified as priests by two apostate priests.

To terrify Catholics and their sympathisers, the Council decided that the four men should be tried and executed in Oxford. They were transferred there by Sir Francis Knollys. On his arrival, Knollys summoned the innkeeper of the St Catherine's Wheel to answer her bail. She asked to be tried with the men, but he refused. Instead he confiscated all her property and sent her to prison for life. A carefully selected jury of convinced Protestants found the accused men guilty of treason. A scaffold was erected in the Town Ditch, where Broad Street now runs. On 5 July, Belson and Pritchard walked to it, but the two priests were dragged through the crowded streets tied to horse-drawn hurdles.

Fr Nichols was the first to be hanged, and was not allowed to speak. Silently he made the sign of the cross, mounted the ladder, raising the rope to his lips at each step and blessing it. Fr Yaxley, whose youth, good looks and noble bearing deeply moved the onlookers, did the same, kissed his friend's corpse and asked for his prayers. Belson followed, and lovingly clasped the two bodies before the ladder was taken away from under him.

Finally Pritchard mounted the scaffold and addressed the crowd, 'I beg all the people here present to bear witness, in this world and on the Day of Judgement, that I die because I am a Catholic, that is, a faithful Christian of Holy Church'. An Anglican minister exclaimed, 'Poor wretch, you say you die a Catholic, though in your ignorance you do not know what a Catholic means.' Pritchard replied, 'Though I may not be able to tell you in words what it means to be a Catholic, God knows my heart, and he knows that I believe all that the Holy Roman Church believes, and that which I am unable to explain in words I am here to explain and attest with my blood.'

When all four were dead, the priests' limbs were hacked off and exposed on the castle walls, where they were further mutilated with knives before being fixed to the town gates.

5. Bl George Napper, Seminary priest; hanged, drawn and quartered 9 November, 1610 Napper (or Napier) was born at Holywell Manor (now an annexe of Balliol College), Oxford in 1550, to Edward Napper (a Fellow of All Souls' College) and Anne Peto, the niece of William, Cardinal Peto. He entered Corpus Christi College in 1566, but was ejected in 1568 as a Catholic recusant. He visited Douai College eleven years later, but by December 1580 he had been arrested and imprisoned at Wood Street Counter, London. He was released in June 1589 when he acknowledged the Royal Supremacy. Napper entered Douai College in 1596, was ordained, and sent on a mission in 1603. On his return he lived for a time with his brother William at Holywell.

Early on the morning of 19 July 1610, he was arrested at Kirtlington, and a small reliquary and a pyx containing two unconsecrated altar breads were found on him. Napper was brought before Sir Francis Eure at Upper Heyford and searched thoroughly, and this further yielded a breviary, holy oils and a needle case. The possession of oils was held to be conclusive of his priesthood and he was condemned, but reprieved. Held at Oxford Castle, he reconciled a fellow prisoner named Falkner, and this was held to aggravate his crime. As he refused the Oath of Allegiance, he was condemned to death.

On 9 November, he celebrated Mass in the morning, and between one and two in the afternoon, he was hanged, drawn and quartered. His head was placed on the Tom Gateway at Christ Church, and his quarters on the four city gates. Some of the remains were removed secretly by his brother and buried in the chapel (later the barn) of Sanford Manor.

Some of the other martyrs associated with Oxford are:

Bl John Forest, priest, Franciscan o{ Greet avich Observant Friary. Studied at Greyfriars, Oxford.
Confessor to Queen Catherine of Aragon. Burned to death at Smithfield, London, 22 May 1538.

Bl Adrian Fortescue, layman, lay Dominica::. From Stonor Park, Oxford. Condemned by Bill of Attainder, untried. Beheaded at Tower Hill, London, 9 July 1539.
St Edmund Campion, priest, Jesuit. Born in London. Educated at Bluecoat School; scholar and fellow of St John's College, Oxford. After conversion, studied at Douai. Admitted to Society of Jesus at Rome in 1573. Ordained priest at Prague, 1578. Worked on the English mission June 1580-August 1581. Condemned for the fictitious plot at Rome, Rheims and elsewhere. Hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, London, I December 1581.

Bl Thomas Pilcher, seminary priest. Born at Battle, Sussex. Studied at Balliol College. Converted, and studied at Rheims. Ordained priest at Laon m 1583. Worked on the mission in Hampshire and Dorset, 1583. Condemned for priesthood. Han/ed, drawn and quartered (aged 30) at Dorchester, 21 March 1587. No executioner could be found, so a butcher was persuaded to disembowel him, but stopped halfway, alarmed. The martyr (still conscious) asked gently, 'Is this your justice?'

Bl Stephen Rowsham (alias Rouse), seminary priest. Born in Oxfordshire. Studied at Oriel College, Oxford. Vicar of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford. L.onverted, and studied at Rheims. Ordained priest in 1582 at Soissons. Imprisoned soon after his return to England and banished; returned, and arrested again. Condemned for priesthood. Hanged, draw., and quartered at Gloucester, March 1587.

Bl Robert Sutton, seminary priest. Born at Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire. Educated at Burton Grammar School and Christ Church College. Anglican minister of Lutterworth, Leicestershire. Apologised to his parishioners for having misled them for over five years, and declared his intention of becoming a Catholic. Converted, and studied at Douai and was ordained there in 1578. Worked on the mission in Staffordshire for nine years. Condemned for priesthood. Hanged, drawn and quartered at Stafford, 27 July 1588.

Bl William Davies, seminary priest. Born at Croes-yn-Eirias, Denbighshire. Studied at St Edmund Hall and Rheims, where he was ordained priest in 1585. Worked on the mission in North Wales. Condemned for priesthood. Compelled to attend Evensong during which he recited Vespers loudly and protested to the crowd that he 'would rather die than take part in an heretical service.' Hanged, drawn and quartered at Beaumaris, Anglesey, 27 July 1593.

Bl John Sugar {alias Cox), seminary priest. Born at Wombourne, near Wolverhampton, Staffordshire. Educated at St Mary Hall, Oxford. Left without taking the degree, not wishing to take the Oath of Supremacy. Convert Anglican minister of Cannock. Studied at Douai, where he was ordained priest in 1601. Worked on the mission in Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire. Condemned for priesthood. Hanged, drawn and quartered at Warwick, 16 July 1604. On the scaffold, he reminded an attendant Anglican minister that the Catholic Faith was ancient but 'the new religion crept into the country in the time of Henry VIII'.

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