English and Welsh Martyrs – Week 1

in preparation for their feast on the 4th May

For the description and related prayer for these reflections, please follow the post:
English and Welsh Martyrs – Prayer

Daily Reflections: 13th – 19th April
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Wednesday 13th April Day 1
Martyrs of the London Charterhouse

“And the Spirit of God was moving across the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2)

Biography

London_Charterhouse_52 (1)St John Huoghton, St Robert Lawrence, and St Augustine Webster were martyred together on 4th May 1535. They were the first martyrs of the English Reformation. John Houghton came from Essex and had studied at the University of Cambridge. He joined the London Charterhouse about 1515, was elected Prior of Beauvale in Nottinghamshire in 1531, and later the same year became Prior of London. Robert Lawrence was a monk of the London Charterhouse who had succeeded John Houghton as Prior of Beauvale. Augustine Webster, a monk of Sheen Charterhouse, near London, and also a graduate of Cambridge, had been Prior of Axholme in Lincolnshire since 1531.

After the Act of Supremacy of 1534, which declared King Henry VIII to be supreme head of the Church in England, Lawrence and Webster came to London to consult with John Houghton about the religious issues involved. The three Priors approached Thomas Cromwell, the King’s chief minister, and tried to get for their communities a form of the oath of supremacy that would be acceptable in conscience, but they failed and were committed to the Tower of London. At their trial they pleaded not guilty of the treason with which they were charged and firmly maintained that the King could not be head of the Church. The jury deliberated at length without result, but were finally coerced by Cromwell’s threats into bringing in a verdict of guilty.

Reflection

In their days of prayer to discern how to respond to King Henry VIII’s demands, the brothers of the London Charterhouse experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in a dramatic way, consoling them and guiding them, preparing them to lay down their lives. “Some perceived it with their bodily senses; all felt it as it thrilled their hearts. And then followed a sweet, soft sound of music…God being thus abundantly manifested”.[1]

The holy martyrs teach us that in times of trial and difficulty we turn to God, to his Holy Spirit for wisdom, consolation and strength. That Spirit never abandons us, he is always moving over us and within us seeking to perfect us and our actions to make us more like Christ. With gratitude, then, we turn to the Holy Spirit at the beginning of each day, at the beginning of very action and work to invoke his assistance and guidance.  As a people of the Spirit, Christ’s disciples aim to live Spirit-led lives.

[1] Cf. Dom Maurice Chauncey, The History of the Sufferings of Eighteen Carthusians in England, Burns, and Gates, 1890


Thursday 14th April Day 2
St John Houghton

“Sweet Jesus, what will you do with my heart?”

Biography

[for St John Houghton’s biography, see the previous Martyrs of the London Charterhouse]

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This was the prayer of St John Houghton, Prior of the London Charterhouse, as he was being executed. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:21), the Lord tells us. St John’s heart was immersed in Christ; his life was spent in the silence of the monastery seeking Christ, each day making a sacrifice of his heart. It was this daily sacrifice of the heart which led him to stand by Christ even when king and country opposed him.

The holy martyrs urge us to set our hearts on Christ, on the heavenly things and not on things of this earth (Cf. Col 3:2). Our treasure is not to be found here, but in the pierced heart of Christ, and in his kingdom. There the Lord will give us our heart’s desire, what will truly satisfy our deepest longings.


Friday 15th April Day 3
St Richard Reynolds

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.” (Ezk 3:17)

Biography

St Richard Reynolds (1492-1535) joined the Bridgettine Order at Syon Abbey, Isleworth, on the outskirts of London, in 1513, after a distinguished career at Cambridge, where he had been a Fellow of Corpus Christi College. It was thought that if such a learned and saintly man were to accept the King as head of the Church, this would put many consciences at rest. He was therefore tendered the oath of supremacy, but he absolutely refused to take it.

As a result he was tried with the three Carthusian Priors and hanged, drawn and quartered with them at Tyburn on 4th May 1535. The last of the four to suffer, he encouraged his fellow martyrs with the promise of ‘a heavenly banquet and supper for their sharp breakfast, taken patiently for their Master’s sake’. Like them, he also refused the pardon offered for a last-minute acknowledgment of the King’s supremacy.

Reflection

A man of simplicity and goodness, a man more at home with books than the machinations of the world, and yet when St Richard learned of Henry’s plans he knew this was not of God and he could not remain silent. A keen mind may at the service of the world; or in the service of God, open to truth and insight. From the hiddenness of the Bridgettine Abbey, this watchman gave warning.

The holy martyrs remind us that we too are to heed the voice of the Lord and speak the Word of God to the people of our time. There are times when this will be difficult, when we will need to gather courage and be prepared to face opposition, anger and rejection, and perhaps even death. The disciple of Christ is to a prophet, a witness, a voice that will never fail to speak, not even in the wilderness (Cf. Isaiah 40:3).


Saturday 16th April Day 4 
St John Stone

“I die for a holy cause, the defence of the Church of God”

Biography

St john Stone (d. 1539) was an Augustinian Friar belonging to the Canterbury house of that order. In 1538 Henry VIII had started on the dissolution of the monasteries and on the 14th December 1538 Richard Ingworth, an apostate Dominican, and at that time Bishop of Dover, called on the Friary to close it down. Every friar had to sign a formal document explicitly acknowledging Henry VIII as head of the Church in England. John Stone refused to sign. He was sent to London and left in the Tower for many months.

However, on 27th October 1539, Friar Stone was sent back to Canterbury to be tried for treason under the 1535 Treason Act, which declared that the penalty for High Treason was to be executed on anyone who might ‘maliciously desire to deprive the King of his title of Supreme Head of the Church’. There was no appeal allowed. We do not know the exact date of his trial in December 1539. It seems likely that the execution took place on 27th December.

Reflection

As others fell into confusion at the choice of God or king urged on them by an apostate bishop, St John flew into a rage. Incensed, a righteous anger took hold of him and he denounced the bishop’s betrayal of the Christ and his Church.  The shocked bishop demanded obedience, the humble Augustinian friar refused – the cleric could not use his precedence in the Church to force a child of the Gospel to abandon Church teaching.

The holy martyrs call on us to remain true to the Gospel and never abandon it even if an angel should appear and try to tempt us away (Gal 1:8). In confusing times, with so many strange teachings and interpretations of the Word of God thrown about, they urge us to be attentive to the motherly care of the Church, to her ancient teaching learned as it was at the feet of her Divine Spouse (Cf. Lk 10:39).


Sunday 17th April Day 5
St Cuthbert Mayne

“Into your hands…”

Biography

Saint Cuthbert Mayne (1544-1577), protomartyr of the English seminaries, came from the West Country. Born near Barnstaple in Devon, he studied at the University of Oxford, where he took orders in the Church of England and became chaplain at St John’s College. Under the influence of Catholic friends, among whom was St Edmund Campion, Mayne became uneasy about his religious position. He left Oxford, was reconciled to the Catholic Church, and eventually entered the newly established English College at Douai, where he was ordained priest in 1575.

At his own earnest request he returned to England the following year and began to work in Cornwall. He took up residence at the manor house of Francis Tregian in that county, where his work as steward of the Tregian estates was for a time an effective disguise for his priestly ministry. He was taken, however, a year later and condemned to death at Launceston Assizes, on a trumped-up charge of bringing into the country and promulgating a papal bull. He was hanged, drawn and quartered at Launceston on 30th November 1577.

Reflection

“The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God, no torment shall ever touch them” (Wis 3:1), and as he was pushed to his death, St Cuthbert gave his soul into the hands of the Lord who had proved faithful.  His journey seeking truth had brought him to the Catholic faith and to the English seminary in Douai, it brought him to a hidden ministry in Cornwall and eventually to martyrdom. And this truth was not a concept or a mere way of life, but a person, Jesus Christ, whom Cuthbert found in every moment of his day.

The holy martyrs teach us to look for Christ in our lives, to seek him so we may find him; to realise that we are always in his hands. Like a gentle mother he cares for us (Mt 23:37), as our shepherd he defends us, as our Saviour he died for us. He calls the weak and overburdened to come to him, it was to this loving Lord Cuthbert confidently entrusted his life; he urges us to do the same.


Monday 18th April Day 6 
St Edmund Campion

“Let us now praise great men” (Sir 44:1)

Biography

Saint Edmund Campion (1540-1581) studied in his native city – London – and then at the University of Oxford, where he became a Fellow of St John’s College. He took deacon’s orders in the Protestant Church about 1566, but, gradually becoming more and more dissatisfied with the new religion, he left Oxford in 1570. After spending some time in Ireland, he crossed to the Continent and entered the English College at Douai. In 1573 he joined the Society of Jesus in Rome. Ordained priest in Prague in 1578, he and Fr Robert Persons were chosen as the first two Jesuits to be sent on the English mission.

Campion landed at Dover in June 1580 and during the next year worked in various parts of England, using the disguise of a fashionable gentleman. He also published, from a secret printing press at Stonor Park, near Henley-on-Thames, his Decem Rationes – ten reasons demonstrating the truth of the Catholic religion. Three weeks later he was captured at Lyford in Berkshire and brought to London. Imprisoned in the Tower of London and severely tortured, he could still more than hold his own in disputation with Protestant adversaries, against whom he argued with spirit. Tried with St Ralph Sherwin and St Luke Kirby on a false charge of plotting against Queen Elizabeth I, he put up a brilliant defence, but the rigged jury brought in a verdict of guilty.

ReflectionSt Edmund Campion

In condemning him, they condemned all that was noble in England: the faith of their ancestors, the Saints who made them a great nation; and most renowned among them Edmund Campion. All that is good is seen, to the corrupt mind and wayward heart, as evil; all that is evil, good (Is 5:20). Sin overshadows the light and beauty is torn apart. Sound teaching is not endured and people wander into comforting myths (2 Tim 4: 3-4). And yet, lights will shine in the midst of it all, those who teach virtue and holiness (Dan 12:3), like Edmund Campion.

The holy martyrs fill us with hope and call on us to see that we are lights in the world: through us the light of Christ the teacher must shine to lead souls to him. We are his missionaries, faithful and true, rejoicing in his presence. As his disciples we have the task to proclaim him without fear. “The expense is reckoned”, St Edmund reminds us, “the enterprise is begun! It is of God, it cannot be withstood. So the Faith was planted, so it must be restored.”

Learn more with CTS booklet Edmund Campion, by Alexander Haydon : Life of the brilliant scholar and heroic martyr


Tuesday 19th April Day 7
St Margaret Clitherow

“Let them take all I have and save my wife, for she is the best wife in all England and the best Catholic also.”

Biography

St Margaret Clitherow (1556-1586) was a butcher’s wife in York. Her husband, John, once a Catholic, had conformed to the new religion, in which she herself also had been brought up. In 1574, three years after their marriage, Margaret was reconciled to the Catholic Church and became a zealous helper of the Catholic cause.

Priests were constantly harboured in her house, and she kept a Catholic schoolmaster for her own children and those of a few neighbours. During twelve years of such apostolic activity she spent a total of nearly three years in prison. Eventually the Sheriff’s men searched her house and threatened one of the pupils attending her school until he revealed to them the priest’s hiding place and the Mass vestments. When brought before the Judge, Margaret refused to plead, in order to save the conscience of the jury and spare her children and servants the ordeal of giving evidence against her. On 25 March 1586 she was crushed to death.

Read more: Saint Margaret Clitherow: calm and courage,

Reflection

Margaret_Clitherow 1And indeed she was. John Clitherow, a butcher in York, lamented the condemnation of his beloved wife for her faith. She had loved him, cared for him, gave him children and reared them; worked long hours with him in his shop. She brought joy and peace to his life and his home; she made Christ present there and made him a better man. Who could find a better wife? (Prov 31:10) She committed no offence, her conscience was clear, her deeds heroic, and yet they took her from him.

The holy martyrs who lived the married life testify to the heroic nature of such love: their sacrifice emerges from lives of conjugal fidelity rooted in Christ. The love of spouses is at times a martyrdom, where each must lay down their life for other and for their children. But in dying for each other, and for Christ who lives in their midst, they come to life with a new life (Cf Mt 16:25); they are raised up, the house of the heavenly Father is theirs; they are the symbol of Christ’s love for his people.

Learn more with CTS booklet Margaret Clitherow,  by Jean Olwen Maynard : Life of the famous martyr of York

And A Year with the English Saints, edited by Fr Marcus Holden

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