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Homage to the Martyrs at Deepdale

Friday 2nd October 2020

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Homage to the Martyrs at Deepdale

David Gorman

David Gorman looks back 50 years to when 20,000 flocked to Preston’s Deepdale Stadium for Mass to celebrate the Canonisation of the Forty Martyrs, a quarter of whom came from Lancashire.

The cause for the canonisation of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, which eventually took place on 25th October 1970, stretches its roots back to the mid-19th Century. 

Following the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales in 1850, Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman and Cardinal Henry Manning led a campaign for the recognition of those who had been Martyred for the faith. 

Just a year previously, in 1849, Frederick William Faber had written the rousing hymn Faith of Our Fathers in memory of the Martyrs. Born and raised an Anglican, Faber converted and was ordained a priest, later becoming an Oratorian Father. 

By 1935 nearly 200 Reformation Martyrs had been beatified, earning the title ‘Blessed’, but only two, John Fisher and Thomas More, had been canonised; both on 19 May 1935 by Pope Pius XI.

Following the end of the Second World War, the cause, which had been largely dormant for some time, was gradually revived and, in December 1960, the names 

the Lancaster Evening Post, 3 July 1961

of 34 English and six Welsh Martyrs were submitted to the Sacred Congregation of Rites by Cardinal William Godfrey, Archbishop of Westminster. All had been Martyred between 1535 and 1679. The list of names was drawn up in consultation with the Bishops of England and Wales and an attempt was made to ensure the list reflected a spread of social status and religious rank, together with a geographical spread and the existence of a well-established devotion.

Of the 40, 33 were Priests (20 religious and 13 secular) and seven were lay people. It is worth noting that around a quarter of these Mar-tyrs came from within the historic boundaries of the County Palatine of Lancashire, a reminder, albeit a poignant one, that the region remained a true stronghold of the faith despite the persecutions and difficulties that brought.

On 24th May 1961, the re-opening of the cause was formally decreed by Pope John XXIII. It was no surprise, therefore, that once the list of 40 names had been submitted, and the decree issued, the Diocese of Lancaster was quick off the mark in organising a rally in support of the cause. The rally took place on Sunday 2nd July 1961 at Deepdale, home to Preston North End, and was attended by more than 20,000 people including over 200 clergy. 

Pontifical High Mass at the Forty Martyrs Rally, Deepdale, Preston

Parishioners, school children, scouts, guides, cubs and brownies all processed through the streets of Preston from their respective churches to the stadium while others, from parishes further afield, arrived by coach. The Lancashire Evening Post reported that: ‘It started back in the parishes where three huge processions based on St Joseph’s, St Ignatius’ and St Gregory’s formed and walked through the streets with banners and bands to converge at Deepdale’.

A ‘Pageant of the Martyrs’ took place with 40 individuals each dressed as a martyr in the colourful costumes associated with the Tudor and Stuart periods. Narrators announced brief details of each martyr’s life and death, and once all were assembled on the dais ‘they presented a huge tableau, strangely set in a modern football stand, of figures who suffered the strife and religious persecution in England and Wales 400 years ago’.

The pageant was followed by Pontifical High Mass celebrated by Monsignor Thomas Eaton, the Vicar General of the diocese, in the presence of Bishop Thomas Flynn of Lancaster. 

For the canonisation to proceed it was necessary for two miracles, granted through the intercession of the 40 as a group, to be recognised. A list of 24 miracles was collated and submitted by the English and Welsh bishops and, after careful examination, two of these were chosen for further scrutiny. The Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints granted a special dispensation whereby it was decided, subject to Papal approval, that one of the two miracles would be sufficient to allow the canonisation of all 40 Martyrs to proceed. This was the “cure of a young mother affected with a malignant tumour (fibrosarcoma) in the left scapula, a cure which the Medical Council had judged gradual, perfect, constant and unaccountable on the natural plane”.

On 4th May 1970 Pope Paul VI confirmed the “preternatural character of this cure brought about by God at the intercession of the 40 blessed Martyrs of England and Wales”. The path was now open for the canonisation to take place on a date to be set, and thirty-four English and six Welsh Martyrs were submitted to the Sacred Congregation of Rites by Cardinal William Godfrey, Archbishop of Westminster. All had been Martyred between 1535 and 1679. The list of names was drawn up in consultation with the Bishops of England and Wales and an attempt was made to ensure the list reflected a spread of social status and religious rank, together with a geographical spread and the existence of a well-established devotion.

Parishioners on Skeffington Road, Preston about to leave St Joseph's Church for Deepdale

However, there was concern in some quarters about the effect the canonisation might have on the ecumenical agenda. In November 1969, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Michael Ramsey, had “expressed his apprehension that this canonisation might rekindle animosity and polemics detriment to the ecumenical spirit that has characterised the efforts of the Churches recently”. 

It was clear, however, that the majority of people within both faiths supported the canonisation and, on 18th May 1970, Pope Paul VI declared, during a consistory, that the canonisation would take place on 25th October that year “pointing out, with serene frankness and great charity, the ecumenical value of this Cause, also laying particular stress on the fact that we need the example of these Martyrs particularly today not only because the Christian religion is still exposed to violent persecution in various parts of the world, but also because at a time when the theories of materialism and naturalism are constantly gaining ground and threatening to destroy the spiritual heritage of our civilization, the 40 Martyrs – men and women from all walks of life – who did not hesitate to sacrifice their lives in obedience to the dictates of conscience and the divine will, stand out as noble witnesses to human dignity and freedom”.

Some 10,000 English and Welsh pilgrims, together with the bishops of England and Wales and representative bishops from Scotland and Ireland, were among the large congregation which attended the canonisation Mass at St Peter’s. Special guests included descendants of many of the martyrs, including the Duke of Norfolk, England and Wales’s most senior Catholic layman and himself a collateral descendant of the soon to be St Philip Howard. In recognition of the unique significance of the event for English and Welsh Catholics, the Maestro Perpetuo of the Sistine Chapel Choir, which would normally sing at all canonisation Masses, agreed that the Westminster Cathedral Choir could sing in its place. The Catholic writer, Auberon Waugh, described the canonisation as “the biggest moment for English Catholicism since Catholic emancipation”.

This article is from a series published in the Catholic Voice of Lancaster this month, commemorating the 50th anniversary of canonisation of the Forty Martyrs.

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Sacred places that speak of the Catholic Faith throughout the ages

Friday 2nd August 2019

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Sacred places that speak of the Catholic Faith throughout different ages

Stefan Kaminski

Times change; people and places come and go. But the one Person a Christian relies on never changes or leaves: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8).  This fundamental conviction remains true for all Christians regardless of the age or society in which they live. It provides the same foundational inspiration for every authentic Christian life, and unites people throughout history – and indeed outside of history – in the hope of the Resurrection.

Up in Lancashire, within the space of about 10 miles (as the crow flies) one can visit the ruins of Whalley Abbey, the Shrine of Ladyewell at Fernyhalgh and Stonyhurst College. Each of these speaks in a particular way of a different era and dimension of the Catholic faith: each place witnesses to individuals and communities that bore out the conviction expressed by St Paul at various times and in various walks of life.

The Cistercian abbey at Whalley dates from the Middle Ages

Whalley Abbey testifies to monastic life, in the form of Cistercian monks, during the late Middle Ages. Established in 1296, it had a relatively short life of less than 250 years, before being dissolved by Henry VIII. Despite the bad press that is sometimes meted out, monasteries served as an important cultural driving force, maintaining the art of writing and illuminating manuscripts, generating artistic and architectural trade, and working the land to sustain their communities. If the Cistercian monks were more aesthetic and orientated to a life of prayer, all the more because of their desire to serve God alone.

Although the Shrine at Fernyhalgh pre-dates the Abbey with a devotional history extending back to the 11th century, it speaks most powerfully of the harshest period of the Protestant Reformation and the testimony of the Martyr-saints. The staunch faithfulness of local recusant Catholics, the determination of missionary priests and the willingness of all to lay down their lives for their belief in the one Church established by Jesus Christ, is vividly expressed in the collection of relics and in the famous Burgess Altar. This latter is a beautifully carved wooden altar, complete with a triptych of panels and a Nativity Scene underneath, which closes up to disguise itself as cupboard. Saints Edmund Campion and Edmund Arrowsmith are amongst the many priests to have offered Holy Mass at it, risking their lives and those of their congregation for this greatest of Mysteries.

Stonyhurst College of course begins its history precisely because of the Reformation, with the establishment of the school at St Omers in France, in 1593. Its story on English soil starts in 1794. Across both periods however, the school’s story is a testimony to the creativity, ingenuity, learning and sheer hard work of the Jesuit order. The great learnedness of the Society’s members is evidenced in multifarious ways in the school’s operations: the contribution to astronomy through the work of its observatory; the design and operation of its own powerplant; the writing and production of whole series of plays; numerous musical contributions.  All of this has its inspiration and final end “ad majorem Dei gloriam” (for the greater glory of God).

Across this panoply of Catholic activity, the underlying dynamic is the same: a personal conviction that God became man, and that He died and rose on the Cross for our salvation. If we wonder at the force of the conviction held by those monks, martyrs and school masters, it is because it was not simply a belief: it was faith. And therein lies a subtle, but substantial, distinction. In a society which tends towards viewing beliefs as a private matter, each as valid as the next, which may be held freely so long as they do not interfere in the lives of others, it is easy to lose a sense of the grandeur of the theological faith that the Church holds.

The Burgess Altar at the Ladyewell Shrine, Fernyhalgh

Beliefs are common to everyone – be they beliefs in a political system or in the wisdom of their favourite TV personality – and indeed everyone has some belief about God. In all its guises however, belief remains an intellectual act that begins and ends with the human individual. As such, it only has its foundations in that same person.

Faith, on the other hand, is a response. It is firstly the acceptance of Truth: the highest and final Truth, which is valid for all people in all places. This Truth is known to be true by the Christian, not because he or she thinks it an attractive thing to believe, but because it comes from God. How do we know it comes from God? Because we choose to believe the corporate witness of the Church: from those first Christians who saw the God-man walk this earth, down to each and every man, woman and child who has testified to that Truth with their lives over the last two millenia.

Such a faith does not remain a personal belief for private consumption: it prompts an obedience (literally, a “listening to” as the Latin roots signifies) and subsequent action. From Abraham taking all his family and possessions to an unknown destination across the Arabian desert, to those parents of the 17th and 18th centuries illicitly sending their sons across the Channel to receive a Catholic education, they all acted on “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1): they had faith.

We might be tempted to wonder dubiously at our own faith (or indeed, to avoid asking ourselves what might feel like an embarrassing question!). However, Rome was not built in a day, and neither were places such as Whalley Abbey, Ladyewell and Stonyhurst. The real work started with the daily prayer and attentiveness to God of each individual concerned in all of those histories. The places that remain – be they merely the stones of a ruined church or a functioning school – reach back to beyond the external achievements of those Catholics: they bear witness firstly to lives that were centred around God. Without that continued response of faith – an acknowledgement of God, a prayerful listening to His Word, a striving to live out His teachings – there would be nothing for us to marvel at.

Visiting sites such as Fernyhalgh and Stonyhurst, one should therefore see “through” each physical place to the faith of the men and women that built them. They might be of another era and walk of life, but they follow the same Lord Jesus. They are now united with Him in the great “cloud of witnesses” that watches over us, waiting for us to pick up the baton and run the good race in our own time, and so join them in our heavenly destination (cf. Hebrews 12:1).

Stefan Kaminski is the Director of The Christian Heritage Centre

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A Lancashire tribute to Our Lady

Friday 1st February 2019

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A Lancashire tribute to Our Lady

Ladyewell has withstood persecutions, sackings, pillage and violence, and
stands today as an enduring example of a county’s loyalty to the faith

If you are planning to stay for a few days at the Christian Heritage Centre’s Theodore House at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, you should aim to make a visit to the ancient shrine at Fernyhalgh, better known as Ladyewell.

Before your visit you might want to delve into two books which tell something of the story of Ladyewell – the Walsingham of the north.

In 1875, the Reverend T.E.Bridget compiled his classic book Our Lady’s Dowry; or how England gained and lost that Title, and in 1957 H. M. Gillett published Shrines of Our Lady in England and Wales. Both drew down on a tradition which is woven through centuries of Christian devotion in these islands.

Drawing on these sources we can construct some of the paths taken by the pilgrims of old and connect with a tradition that has always been part of the Christian life in Britain. People who have little understanding of why Catholics honour Mary often try to discount this tradition as something foreign or alien. Not only do they misrepresent Marian devotion but they misunderstand their own history.

In the 14th century Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, explained the devotion well. He wrote that ‘the contemplation of the great mystery of the Incarnation has drawn all Christian nations to venerate her from whom came the first beginnings of our redemption. But we English being the servants of her special inheritance and her own dowry, as we are commonly called, ought to surpass others in the fervour of our praises and devotions.’

The Shrine at Ladyewell

All over Britain there were guilds and fraternities dedicated to Mary. These institutions reached back to
the earliest Saxon times, and were organised for the performance of works of charity and piety. On the great Marian feast days pilgrims
would gather, walk in procession, hear Mass and lay flowers. The most common devotion to Our Lady in Old England was to Mary’s joys but pilgrims would also meditate on her words, on her sadness and on her glory. Here are the origins of the ‘mysteries’ on which Catholics set their hearts, as they say the Rosary.

In the 13th century St Edmund said that she might apply to herself the words of the prophet: ‘Call me not beautiful, but rather call me bitter; for the Lord Almighty has filled me with bitterness and with great grief.’ (Ruth: 1.20) By the 15th century hymns and carols were regularly dedicated to Mary: ‘Mother and maiden was never none but she; Well might such a lady God’s mother be’. Another, the Alma Redemptoris Mater, draws on St Luke’s Gospel narrative of the angel Gabriel’s dramatic intervention in Mary’s life.

In the 16th century, sacred drama, intended to be represented on the afternoons of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, again recalled Simeon’s prophecy and places Mary standing at the foot of her Son’s cross. Typical of these are the Chester Plays,  which include The Lamentation of Mary: ‘I pick out thorns by one and one, For now lieth dead my dear Son dear’.

While Bishop of Rochester, St John Fisher gave the funeral address following the death of Lady Margaret, Countess of Richmond (mother of Henry VII). In it he describes how this devout woman began her devotions at five in the morning, starting with the Matins of Our Lady, and continued thoughout the day to use the Office of Our Lady. After Fisher’s execution and the Reformation, secret  devotion to Our Lady continued but the shrines and chapels were desecrated and despoiled. In Lancashire, the county which clung most tenaciously to the Catholic Faith, the devotion to Mary, and through her to her son Jesus, never failed.

St Mary's Church at Fernyhalgh

Fr Christopher Tuttell was a missionary priest at Fernyhalgh – pronounced ‘ferny-huff’   – between 1699 and 1727 and wrote a personal account of its origins. The name comes from the Anglo-Saxon for ancient shrine and has been in use as a baptismal well since at least the seventh century.

Fr Tuttell wrote that in 1471 a wealthy merchant found himself in great distress during a passage on the Irish Sea. He ‘made a vow, in case he escaped danger, to acknowledge the favour of his preservation by some remarkable work of piety. ‘After this the storm began to cease and a favourable gale wafted the ship into the coast of Lancashire … a voice somewhat miraculous, yet providential, admonished him to seek a spot called Fernyhalgh and there to erect a chapel…’

Having found the spot he discovered a statue of the Virgin and erected a chapel. The spring became known as Lady Well, usually abbreviated to Ladyewell. An earlier chapel existed on this spot and the merchant may have discovered its remains. The chapel was pulled down during the suppression but Lancashire Catholics continued to throng there, shrine or no shrine. By 1685 a house of prayer was constructed next to the Holy Well, and made to look like an ordinary house. Cuthbert Hesketh of the Whitehill in Goosnargh bought the house at Fernyhalgh and paid the rent for the following 16 years. A Madam Westy was another benefactor, as was Bishop James Smith, first Vicar Apostolic of the Northern District, who died in 1711.

In 1687 Bishop Leyburn confirmed more than a thousand people at Fernyhalgh but the authorities did not always turn a blind eye. As late as the 18th century soldiers were sent to plunder the chapel, although they stopped short of destroying it. On one occasion, in 1718, a renegade priest, a Mr Hitchmough, led 20 soldiers to Fernyhalgh to plunder and strip it. By 1723 prayers began to be offered at the shrine.

Fernyhalgh’s sufferings were still not over. In 1745, as Prince Charles and his Highlanders pushed south to Manchester, during the second Jacobite Rising, a hostile mob attacked the Lady Well chapel, sacked and burned it. Another priest, also by the name of Tuttell, rebuilt the chapel and as numbers increased they began work on a new church, which was opened in 1794. Built to escape notice from the outside, the cruciform shape and interior design leave today’s pilgrim in no doubt that this church, built 35 years be- fore Emancipation and 14 years after the Gordon Riots, represented a statement of enduring faith. It has continued since then to draw pilgrims who continue to give thanks from being spared the shipwrecks which threaten every life.

Even in our own times, on the feast of the birthday of the Virgin Mary, on September 8th 2000, the shrine was desecrated. An effigy of Blessed Padre Pio, brought from Rome by a Liverpudlian family, was ripped from its base and a chapel was daubed with blue paint. A priest at the shrine, Fr Benedict Rucsilo, described the attack as “sickening.” The attack came after five churches in the same part of Lancashire had been torched by an arsonist.

Endurance is summed up by one other aspect of Fernyhalgh. Here, too, is the tombstone of the last of the English Carthusians of the old traditions. It reads: ‘Sacred to the memory of the Reverend James Finch, the last of the English Carthusian Monks. He died March 3rd, 1621, aged 72. Good Christian, on this Stone, shed not a tear for virtue lies entombed, enshrouded here. Religion, resignation both combine over these remains to raise a heavenly Shrine. R.I.P.’

A Marian procession at Fernyhalgh

Mary is venerated at Fernyhalgh as Our Lady Queen of Martyrs. The statue depicting the Virgin holding her son was brought to Fernyhalgh from Bolzano by the sisters of the Holy Child of Jesus after the restoration of the English and Welsh Hierarchy. Beside the shrine is a prayer room called Stella Maris, built in 1996 in the shape of a ship. Nearby is the Martyrs Chapel, a modern building, beautifully simple, housing statues of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher. Around the walls are the names of more than 300 Catholics from these islands who gave their lives for their faith.

Approaching Fernyhalgh, along Fernyhalgh Lane, today’s pilgrim passes St Mary’s Church and school, which is where Adam Butler, who wrote the famous Lives of the Saints, was educated. There is a quiet Lancashire lane, wooded embankments, and a reminder, in the distance, of the M6 and the cares of this world as well as the next. In May you will see the timeless processions of pilgrims from the Lancaster Diocese.

It is possible to leave a car by St Mary’s or further along the Lane at a small car park. Next to the shrine is Ladeywell House. Upstairs there is a reliquary which is home to the Burgess Altar, and which folds away as a sideboard. This was the secret altar on which many of the martyrs, including St Edmund Campion, St Edmund Arrowsmith and Blessed John Woodcock, celebrated Mass There is also a display of the vestments which were used by many of the priests before their arrest and execution. Here too is part of the skull of St.Thomas a Becket, murdered in 1170 in Canterbury Cathedral, and taken to Castelfiorentino in Tuscany during the desecration of the shrines by Henry VIII.

Ladyewell House has been developed as a pilgrimage centre, with seats, an outside altar and Rosary Way. In a modern chapel each of the names of the Catholic martyrs is inscribed on a roll call, the names themselves a reminder that the same faith was once held by all the people of these islands. Like the ancient pilgrims who recited the Jesus Psalter and had a great love of the Virgin, today’s pilgrims will find peace here.

There is no doubting that this is hallowed ground.

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Stained glass of a Yorkshire Martyr finds a home in Lancashire

Friday 6th July 2018

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Stained glass window of a Yorkshire martyr finds a home in Lancashire

Margaret Clitherow provides a fine example of a woman strong in her faith

The white rose of Yorkshire will find a special place in the red rose county of Lancashire with a beautiful new piece of stained glass commissioned for Theodore House at the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst, which tells the story of York’s great martyr, St Margaret Clitherow, and recording the memory of her unborn child.

The Jesuit poet, Gerard  Manley Hopkins SJ – who walked and worked in the Stonyhurst grounds of the Christian Heritage Centre and Theodore House – was deeply touched by the story of ‘the Pearl of York’ and left an unfinished poem Margaret Clitherow dedicated to ‘God’s daughter Margaret Clitherow’, paying tribute to her faith and courage in the face of a cruel death.

The new stained glass depicts  St Margaret holding an unopened bud of a white rose, representing Margaret’s unborn child, crushed to death with her. It also depicts the Shambles in York, where Margaret lived, and Stydd chapel, near  Ribchester, where many believe she was laid to rest in an ancient chapel.

The trustees of the Christian Heritage Centre charity hope this beautiful commission will inspire visitors to celebrate the lives of mothers and their unborn children – particularly in a country where one baby in the womb is aborted every three minutes, 20 every hour, 600 every day. Traditionally and locally made in Padiham, near Burnley, the window is a replica of a piece of work for  the Ribchester parish of St Peter and St Paul, near Stydd, and made possible through the generosity of the family of John Kennedy KSG.

Margaret Clitheroe stained glass
The stained glass of St Margaret Clitherow, in Theodore House

On many levels, St Margaret’s story speaks powerfully into our own times. Her practical support and hospitality towards outlawed priests; the tolerance practiced within her own family; her spirituality, courage and fortitude act as a stirring rebuke to our half-heartedness. Canonised in 1970 by Pope Paul VI, Margaret was crushed to death – peine forte et dure – in York, on Good Friday, 25th March 1586, for harbouring Fr Francis Ingleby, a Catholic priest. The York assizes had ordered her to be stripped naked; to be laid on a sharp rock; and for an immense weight of stones and rocks to be placed on a door. This was placed on top of her, crushing the life from her body. After an earlier arrest, her third child, William, had been born in prison. Now pregnant with her fourth child, and aged 30, she was executed on Lady Day. Her body was thrown on a dung heap. Her last words had been “Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, have mercy on me.”

Stydd Chapel in Ribchester, where St Margaret's remains may lie

The story has it that six weeks later a group of Catholics recovered the body, embalmed it, and had it taken to a secret place. Margaret’s right hand was removed from her body and is today kept at York’s Bar Convent. The location of her grave is an unsolved mystery but visitors to Theodore House can go to Stydd chapel where many believe she is buried. Stydd is close to the village of Ribchester – a one-time Roman garrison town complete with baths and temple.

In 1789, it was here, before emancipation in 1829, that Catholics built a small barn church, dedicated to St Peter and St Paul. But it is the nearby chapel of St Saviour, with its Saxon origins, and a structure dated to the mid-12th century – and beautifully restored by its Anglican guardians – that holds the clues to the possible whereabouts of St Margaret.

Originally the chapel was part of a small priory of Knights Hospitallers of St John – skilful herbalists and healers, caring for lepers, the sick, and pilgrims. St John’s holy well,  aid to have healing waters, is close by. The knights were here for 300 years, until Henry VIII confiscated their houses.

Legend has it that Margaret’s posthumous journey to Stydd began when Fr Francis Ingleby, the priest she took into her home, arranged for her body to be taken west to a relative. Ingleby was related to the Catholic Hawksworth family of Mitton, near Ribchester. Missionary activity in the area was centred on Bailey Hall, in the parish of Mitton and it is believed that  Margaret’s body was first taken to Bailey Hall.

But in 1716, after the Catholic Shireburn family supported Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Hall was forfeit and to ensure that the body was not desecrated it is said to have been removed to Stydd. In 1915 some students from Stonyhurst College excavated the ruins of a burial crypt next to the Hall and found the mausoleum empty.

Yorkshire’s Catholic Vavasour family have an oral tradition that Margaret “was taken a horse’s journey at night and was buried; there she will
remain until the Church is restored to its own.” That Catholics held Stydd to be especially holy ground is borne out by the request of Fr Sir Walter Vavasour – a Jesuit whose missionary work was based at Bailey Hall, and who died in 1789 – to be buried there. Two other Catholic priests – Fr Charles Ingolby and Fr Richard Walmsley – made the same request. More intriguing still is the white marble gravestone of Bishop Francis Petre.

It must be unique for a Catholic bishop – and Apostolic Vicar at that – to request burial in what had become an Anglican chapel. The Latin inscription on his tomb translates as follows: ‘Here lies the most Illustrious and Reverend Lord Francis Petre, Of Fithlars, of an illustrious and ancient family in the county of Essex, Bishop of Amoria and Vicar Apostolic of the Northern District; which he governed with discernment and care for 24 years, being its patron and ornament by his kind acts and apostolic virtues;
then full of days and good deeds, after bestowing many alms, he died in the Lord on the 24th December of the year 1775, aged 84. May he rest in peace.’

The Shambles in York. Photo by Peter K Burian - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The other interesting gravestone, dating from 1350, has a lovely floriated design and buried here are the Knight Sir Adam de Cliderow and his wife, Lady Alice Cliderow. Next to Bishop Petre’s grave is a simple cross and it is believed by many that this is where Margaret Clitherow lies. But, regardless of whether this is her final resting place, the Trustees of the Christian Heritage Centre believe her life and death should inspire us today. 

Hers is the story of a courageous woman whose family had to make sense of the religious conflicts of the day. A Catholic convert, and married to John, an Anglican, who lovingly stood by her throughout her ordeals. She became renowned for her personal holiness, gaining her strength by praying daily for an hour-and-a-half and fasting four times each week. Her story reminds us of the Christians who suffer persecution, death, and torture on a daily basis all over the world; it speaks about the need to respect difference. It recalls the wanton destruction of innocent unborn life.

On arrest, Margaret refused to plead – since a plea would  incriminate her family and her servants and she said that she wished to spare the jury’s conscience. She knew that the penalty for refusing to enter a plea was death by crushing. Her only statement was “Having made no offence, I need no trial.” This, then is a story about conscience – reminding us of the price paid by contemporary women, like the Glasgow midwives who lost their jobs after refusing to be complicit in the taking of the lives of children in the womb.

The new window, and a room, in Theodore House commemorating Margaret Clitherow will be a fitting tribute to a great northern woman. Visitors to The Christian Heritage Centre will take her story to their hearts.