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Homage to the Martyrs at Deepdale

Friday 2nd October 2020

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

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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Saluting our modern-day martyrs: dare we too confess our faith?​

Friday 5th June 2020

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Saluting our modern-day martyrs: dare we too confess our faith?

Stefan Kaminski

While we remain locked in debate over Covid-19 statistics, social distancing and lockdown measures, it’s a good time to remember that many of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world have more immediate concerns: they are (readily) putting their very lives at risk by professing and practicing their faith.

On 8th January, four young Catholic seminarians were kidnapped from the Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna, north-west Nigeria, by gunmen. Kaduna is not a small shanty town: it is the capital of Kaduna state with a population of well over three-quarters of a million, and is a busy trade and transportation hub. The seminary is located on a main highway, and houses around 270 young men.

But in January it was raided by a kidnap gang disguised as soldiers, led by Mustapha Mohammed. Their intention was to use the hostages for ransom. In the weeks following the raid, they released three of the seminarians, aged between 19 and 23, in exchange for $25,000. Michael Nnadi, 18 years old, was never released.

Speaking to Nigeria’s Daily Sun newspaper after his arrest, Mustapha said that he was not able to have any peace from the moment they took the young men, because Michael “continued preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to him”. The seminarian “told him to his face to change his evil ways” or risk eternal life. In the end, Mustapha decided “to send him to an early grave” as he did not like the young man’s confidence. 

Michael Nnadi, 18-year old seminarian killed for preaching Jesus Christ. ‘He continued preaching the gospel’ to his kidnappers, telling their leader ‘to his face to change his evil ways.’ The leader decided ‘to send him to an early grave’ as he did not like the young man’s confidence.

Michael Nnadi’s bold witness shines among many such martyrs. Only 10 days later, Lawan Andimi, a member of the Christian Associationof Nigeria, was decapitated.

Today, some 120 other Christians remain hostage in the hands of Boko Haram; among them are many young women such as Leah Sharibuand Grace Taku, who refused to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. All these are part of a worsening and systemic attack on Christians, whose villages are attacked, farms set ablaze, adults kidnapped and killed, and women taken as sex slaves.

The Nigerian archbishops have repeatedly appealed to the country’s government for collaboration andprotection, but many Christians have accused the state of ignoringthe reality of Christian persecution.

Despite the assurances given, they point to the inconsistent protection offered by security forces and the consistently late responses to such incidents.

A woman prays against the shut door of Westminister Cathedral on Easter Sunday. Such public demonstrations of faith when lockdown allows will be a powerful witness to the continued importance of religion in modern life

Hopefully, the thought that such atrocities are not being challenged and responded to effectively fills us with horror. Equally hopefully, the fact that men and women just like ourselves are dying gruesomedeaths because they practice their Christian faith moves us to some desire for solidarity with them.

Meanwhile, we are no doubt thankful that such persecution does not take place in our liberal and tolerant Western society. However, thegrowing challenges to Western governments over their own discrimination against religious practice in their responses to Covid-19 should tell us that we are not entirely immune either.

Last month, several Catholic groups successfully appealed to the French Council of State, which ruled that the government’s ban on gatherings at places of worship was ‘disproportionate’ and ‘seriously and manifestly illegal’. A number of states in the USA have seen legal challenges against their closure of churches and bans on religious gatherings, with, most recently, the governor of Virginia facing two lawsuits over this issue.

Our own government sidelined public religious expression by declaring it as ‘non-essential’ at the beginning of the lockdown. The assignment of churches to an importance lower than garden centres can hardly, therefore, inspire great confidence in the public perception of the place of religious freedom. More to the point, if such a freedom is not seen to be demanded and practised, its fundamental importance will stop being appreciated.

A number of public figures have now stepped up to question this state of affairs. Edward Leigh MP pointed out on Twitter not long ago: ‘If MPs can socially distance in Parliament, why can’t people socially distance for private prayer in churches?’

Two weeks ago, a letter was sent to Catholic Bishops, as well as to Robert Jendrick (Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Governance), requesting the re-opening of churches, and signed by 19 peers, politicians and other notable Catholics. Another letter went to Boris Johnson this week signed by 20 MPs, requesting the same. And in a recent interview on BBC Radio 4, Cardinal Nichols asked the government for “a bit more sensitivity” to people’s spiritual needs.

As Pentecost approaches and we once again pray for the same courage that the Holy Spirit gave to the Apostles in those early, turbulent times, it is perhaps an opportunity to make our own stand for our faith. It would be a fitting act of solidarity with Michael Nnadi, and the many other men and women, young and old, who are suffering brutal treatment and death, to make our own faith public, in however small a way.

Until such a time as our churches are reopened, the first thing that can be done is to write to local MPs and/or to Robert Jendrick. It need not be a long email, but simple enough to register the fact that as Christians, our faith is of fundamental importance to us; and as Catholics, it is essential to be able to access our churches and the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Besides this, a group of young Catholics, led by Anton’ de Piro (a trustee of the Christian Heritage Centre) has set up the website This allows Catholics to register their name, contact details, diocese and parish in order to help manage the safe re-opening of churches. Volunteer details will be passed directly to the relevant diocese or parish, and will provide priests with the necessary help for to reopen their churches.

Lastly, but most importantly: when our churches do reopen, it is imperative that those Catholics who are able to do so safely provide a public witness to our faith. If every able-bodied and healthy Catholic in the country made the point of making a visit to their parish church once during the working week, the steady stream – even trickle – of visitors would make for a very visible statement.

Christians in Kwara stateprotest in February against thecurrent persecution

It is an opportunity not simply for outward effect, but also for the deepening and renewal of one’s interior life.

The small efforts and sacrifices we make are always observed by the Good Lord, who repays with His grace in His own way and time.

After the period of absence we have suffered from the Eucharistic Lord, what better way to mark the season of Pentecost – the era of the Church – by going out of our way to witness to the Lord, in solidarity with our martyred brethren?

Stefan Kaminski is the Director of the Christian Heritage Centre, Stonyhurst.

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Communicating the faith through stories of the saints and martyrs

Friday 6th September 2019

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Communicating the faith through stories of the saints and martyrs

Sr Emanuela Edwards looks at storytelling and how, even in our hi-tech digital age, it remains a powerful way to communicate the faith.

One of the greatest challenges, if not the greatest, for the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst is the communication of the faith to the people of our time. The Christian faith we possess, and the roots of our Christian Heritage must be rendered interesting and challenging and be communicated to everyone. It should be done in such a way that it can reinforce the faith of those who believe, whilst at the same time reach out to the periphery to speak of God’s love for all even to those who would not usually be interested!

One way of achieving this aim is to use the ancient art of storytelling. Since primitive times, stories have been used to transmit important truths, events and lessons to successive generations. In fact, the faith was originally handed on by the Apostles who testified or told the story of what they witnessed and learned from Christ. Artefacts and relics, like those in the Stonyhurst Collection, physically bring the stories of the martyrs and saints into proximity to those who look upon the objects. Pope Leo I asked, “why should the mind toil when the sight instructs” and indeed, looking at these artefacts and explaining their story presents an opportunity to recount the Christian faith in a captivating way.

Writing in the 4th Century Tertullian said, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the faith”. Encountering the stories of the lives of the saints and martyrs who have shaped our Christian Heritage sows the seeds of the faith in successive generations. Each artefact in the Stonyhurst Collections works like a silent sermon because it testifies to the life and witness of the martyr in question making their stories enter the present time and touch the life of the person viewing the object perhaps causing them to consider its lesson. Therefore, the stories of the Saints and martyrs become living lessons in the faith that can teach and inspire new generations hopefully calling them to a deeper conversion.

Oscar Romero Relic and Triptych. Relic is the property of a private individual on loan to Stonyhurst College. Triptych and bust of Romero are property of Stonyhurst College Photo: Property of Stonyhurst College

One of the most striking stories in the Collections is told by the relic of the rope that bound St Edmund Campion to the hurdle on which he was dragged through the streets of London before his execution. (The actual relic is the property of the British Jesuit Province on loan to Stonyhurst College). That rope tells the story of a Priest who, on penalty of death, nevertheless came to England in 1580 to preach the Gospel, confess and offer the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass to the Catholics driven underground in order to practice their faith. He preached and disseminated his famous Decem Rationes – ten reasons demonstrating the truth of the Catholic religion and was eventually captured, imprisoned and tortured before his execution at Tyburn on the 1st December 1581. His story raises an interesting question: why did St Edmund not yield to the tortures and inducements to conform in order to save his life? By word and deed St Edmund most eloquently testified that the Catholic faith is worth dying for. He did not change the course of his life as he knew that a seed must die to yield fruit (cfr. Jn 12:24). Today, that fruit is harvested in the hearts of those who are told of this heroic Priest whose behaviour was inspired by the truth of Christ and are brought into contact with the faith he died to proclaim.

Drawing of Edmund Campion SJ by Charles Weld, c1850, from a 17th century original painting.

The Collections also have a part of the vestment worn by St Oscar Romero who was killed in El Salvador in 1980 whilst offering the Holy Mass. This relic serves as a poignant reminder that Christian martyrdom is not an ancient reality but that this story still continues today.

Another English martyr whose story is told through the artefacts and relics of the Stonyhurst Collections is St Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor of England, who was martyred for refusing to take the Oath of Succession in 1535. This saint’s story demonstrates how artefacts and relics can show the faith of the saint rather than just tell of it hence providing a more powerful source of Christian inspiration. During the homily for the Canonisation of St Thomas More, Pope Pius XI spoke of the “ardour of his prayer” and the “practice of those penances by which he kept his body in subjection.” Indeed, this can be borne out by close inspection of his golden crucifix with spikes on the back that was worn as a penance by the Saint. Here we learn something of the intimate life of the Saint that was founded on a deep prayer life. In fact, it was this intimacy with Christ that strengthened him to resist the tears of his wife and children over his condemnation and to be, “content to lose goods, land and life as well rather than to swear against his conscience”. In this way, the stories of the Saints also teach us that Christian witness is borne through a closeness to Christ in prayer and is not the fruit of the passing moment.

It is hoped that a visit to this beautiful collection will make the stories of the Saints vibrate in our hearts giving us a living lesson in the truths of the faith. May the stories of the martyrs strengthen us by imparting the knowledge of the faith and the inspiration to live it so that we too can witness to our rich Christian heritage that shaped our past and partake in its reconstruction in our own time.

Sr Emanuela Edwards

Missionaries of Divine Revelation
Trustee of the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst

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Of all England’s martyrs, few left a poetical legacy as rich as St Robert Southwell​

Friday 1st March 2019

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Of all England’s martyrs, few left a poetical legacy as rich as St Robert Southwell

Graham Hutton

Among countless other precious possessions stored in its archives, Stonyhurst College is privileged to hold a rich collection of manuscripts of the prose and poetry of St Robert Southwell, the 16th century Jesuit martyr.

 These, like all of his writings, are an extraordinary testimony to the fervent faith and ardent love for Christ which impelled Southwell during his formation in Douai and Rome and throughout the years of his English mission.

By delving into the courageous life of St Robert, guests staying at The Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst’s Theodore House will surely be strengthened and inspired in their Christian faith.

Robert Southwell was born and brought up at Horsham St Faith in Norfolk. Although it is often difficult to discern the religious allegiances in these early days of the Elizabethan reformation, it seems that he was probably brought up in the old faith by a Catholic mother and a sympathetic, though compromising, father. At the age of 15 he was sent to the continent to complete his Catholic education at the Jesuit school, Anchin College, while living at the English College at Douai. 

In 1578 he went to Rome hoping to join the Jesuit order and we see the first signs of the emotion which was to be a hallmark of his later writings when, having at first been refused entry, he lamented that he must live “in anguish and agony that find myself disjoined from that company, severed from that Society, disunited from that body wherein lieth all my life, my love, my whole heart and affection”.

Fortunately for the cause of Catholicism in England his persistence was rewarded with admission to the order later in the year and he soon became convinced that his calling was to join the Jesuit mission to England, which gave him “the highest hope of martyrdom”.
Once back in England in 1586 he began what one of his biographers, Pierre Janelle, has called his “apostolate of letters”, writing an extensive body of fervent poetry on the main themes of the Catholic faith: love for the Sacraments and for Christ, the ugliness of sin and the need for repentance, the glory of Our Lady and the saints. Throughout his works he transforms the language and conventions of love poetry into a hymn of love for Christ. The poems, as much as his letters, were clearly intended as tools of conversion for sinners and consolation for his suffering co-religionists.

One of the delightful marks of his poetry is his unfolding of the Christian mystery through paradox. In his sequence on the Virgin Mary he describes her conception in these terms:

Our second Eve puts on her mortal shroud, 
Earth breeds a heaven, for God’s new dwelling place. and again Behold the father, is his daughter’s son:
The bird that built the nest, is hatched therein:
The old of years, an hour hath not run
Eternal life to live doth now begin. 
Repeatedly he emphasises the Christian mystery of strength in weakness, nowhere better seen than in the helpless babe of Bethlehem.
This little babe so few days old, Is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake,
Though he himself for cold do shake.

The poetry is suffused with a passionate love for Christ whose own love for mankind is manifested as a cleansing fire.

In the extraordinary poem The burning babe the child of Bethlehem and the crucified Lord are shown as one and the same. The appearance of the babe to the poet in the cold winter’s night ‘made my heart to glow’ and when the child sheds tears of suffering caused by the excessive heat of the flames in which He burns we are told that ‘Love is the fire’ which will work for the good of ‘men’s defiled souls’. It is the same divine love which causes the Baptist to leap in his mother’s womb after Mary’s breast has ‘Shot out such piercing beams of burning love’ and which brings St Peter to repentance in Saint Peter’s Complaint when Our Lord fixes him with his glance:

These blazing comets, lightning flames of love,
Made me their warming influence to know:
My frozen heart their sacred force did prove,
Which at their looks did yield like melting snow.

The sense of the dreadful consequences of man’s sin and the call to repentance is a constant theme of the poetry. In Sin’s Heavy Load we have a startling image of the weight of sin again expressed in paradox when the poet addresses Christ as one who can hold up the entire universe with His little finger:

But now thou hast a load so heavy found,
That makes thee bow, yea fall flat to the ground.
and the reader is admonished Alas, if God himself sink under sin,
What will become of man who dies therein?

Yet we should not despair, for God provides the remedy for sin through grace. In The prodigal child’s soul wrack, after a harrowing description of the symptoms of sin the sinner finds redemption:

When chained in sin I lay in thrall,
Next to the dungeon of despair, Till mercy raised me from my fall, And grace my ruins did repair.

Above all, as we would expect from one who daily risked his life to feed the faithful with the Bread of Life, it is the Mass which is God’s chief remedy for man’s fallen plight. In The Blessed Sacrament of the Altar the eucharist provides satisfaction of all mankind’s deepest needs:

To ravish eyes here heavenly beauties are,
To win the ear sweet music’s sweetest sound,
To lure the taste the Angels’ heavenly fare,
To sooth the scent divine perfumes abound,
To please the touch he in our hearts doth bed,
Whose touch doth cure the deaf, the dumb the dead.

In 1592, as the Elizabethan Terror intensified, after six years of faithful ministry to the Catholics of London and the Home Counties during which he was almost apprehended on a number of occasions, St Robert Southwell was betrayed and arrested at Uxenden by the fanatical priest hunter Richard Topcliffe.

He was repeatedly tortured, imprisoned for a time in conditions so bad that his clothes became infested with lice and kept in solitary confinement in the Tower of London for two-and-a-half years. Finally, in November 1595, he was brought to trial at which time his fellow Jesuit, Henry Garnet wrote that he could not even stand “as a result of his bitter tortures”, yet he continued to pray, mediate and bless people as he was dragged on a hurdle through the streets of London to his execution at Tyburn – bringing to him the crown of martyrdom which he had long ago prayed might be his reward.

Each of the martyrs of the Elizabethan regime did incalculable service to the English Church but perhaps none left so rich a devotional legacy as did St Robert Southwell.

Graham Hutton is a Trustee of The Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst and Chair of the Catholic charity, Aid to the Church In Need.

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Stained glass of a Yorkshire Martyr finds a home in Lancashire

Friday 6th July 2018

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

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.

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The witness of St Edmund Campion: a heroic story of faith

Friday 8th June 2018

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

The witness of St Edmund Campion: a heroic story of faith

Graham Hutton

Last month we thought about the martyrs for the faith associated with the Tower of London, all of whom suffered under Henry VIII and who will be commemorated by the Christian Heritage Centre when Theodore House opens at the end of the summer.

Sadly, as the story of St Edmund Campion reminds us – and whose life and death has so many associations with our project – in the reign of Elizabeth I, the Tower would once again be adorned with the presence of many confessors for Christ, most of whom paid the supreme penalty.

The first of these was Blessed John Felton, imprisoned and tortured on the rack three times before being hanged, drawn and quartered at  Tyburn for having affixed a copy of Pope St Pius V’s Bull of excommunication of Elizabeth, Regnans in Excelsis, to the gates of the Bishop of London’s palace near St Paul’s Cathedral. Others included St Ralph Sherwin, Protomartyr of the English College, also racked in the Tower and then executed at Tyburn, and St Philip Howard, who left an inscription on the wall of his cell in the Beauchamp Tower which reads ‘The more suffering with Christ in this world, the more glory with Christ in the next’.

Of all these glorious martyrs, however, the one who is closest to the heart of the CHC is St Edmund Campion. When in 1564 Queen Elizabeth visited Oxford University, where Campion was a fellow, his learning was such that he was chosen to give a Latin oration in praise of the Queen. His oration won great praise and earned him powerful  patronage at Court. Ordained as a deacon in the Church of England he would undoubtedly have risen to high office in that Church had he not gradually became convinced by the claims of the Catholic Church.

This led him to renounce the brilliant career which lay ahead of him and to leave England for the continent where he was reconciled with the Church of Rome.

Portrait of St Edmund Campion

At first he studied at Douai but in 1573 left for Rome to join the Society of Jesus. It was quickly decided that he should join the Austrian Province
of the Society and in 1573 he travelled first to Vienna and then on to Brunn and finally to Prague where he remained for six years. Here he was Professor of Rhetoric and Philosophy and Latin preacher. In 1580 it was decided that the Society of Jesus which, until then, had provided no priest for the mission to England, would send two, and Campion was chosen to be one of them. He returned first to Rome and from there made his way through France with Robert Persons, and a lay brother, to St Omer. On 24th June 1580 Campion set foot in England for the first time in nine years; he knew that he was returning to almost certain death.

Campion’s mission was to the Catholics of England. It was now 21 years since the second break with Rome and few of the old priests ordained under Queen Mary I remained alive. The Mass had been proscribed by a law which imposed a fine of 100 marks and 12 months’ imprisonment for the hearing of it in addition to the large fines which were imposed on so-called recusants for failing to attend the services of the state Church.

The Tower of London's White Tower. Photo by Bernard Gagnon - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Nevertheless, many remained loyal to the Church, and  Catholicism was particularly strong in some of the great aristocratic households of the Thames Valley and the Sacred County of Lancashire. It was to these houses, with their secret Catholic chapels and holes in which the sacred vessels and vestments (as well as the priests themselves in time of emergency) could be hidden, that Campion went to minister. In disguise he travelled  extensively ‘through the most part of the shires of England’ (Persons) hearing confessions and saying Mass for the faithful who would have had no access to the sacraments for many years and yet who had kept faith.

During this time Campion wrote Decem Rationes defending the claims of the Church against those of the state church. This document was widely circulated and led to an increase in the government’s

determination to track down Campion. Betrayed by a spy at one of the Catholic houses, Lyford Grange in Berkshire, and after an extensive search of the house, he was found lying in one of the secret priest’s holes.

Campion was, of course, taken at once to the Tower where he was initially imprisoned in the cell known as the Little Ease because it was so small that a man could neither stand upright not lie down in it. Here he had to crouch in the halflight for four days before he was taken out for examination by senior officials of the Crown. He was then promised that even now he could obtain freedom and great preferment if he would renounce the Church of Rome and return to the state Church. Campion, of course, refused and was returned to the Tower where those who had offered him his freedom now  authorised his being put to the torture.

For three months Campion suffered intermittent torture on the rack. By the time he came to trial in November he was so physically broken that he was not even able to raise his right hand to take the oath. At the trial he was found guilty of treason and condemned to the usual barbaric form of execution. On hearing the dreadful sentence he and the other priests condemned with him burst into singing the Te Deum.

Despite his broken body, Campion was now forced to take part in a series of disputations in the Tower in St Peter ad Vincula. Despite the disadvantages, Campion acquitted himself well and put up a strong defence of his faith.

On 1st December St Edmund Campion along with two other priests met at the Coldharbour
Tower. It was raining as it had  been for several days and the London streets were foul with mud. The three priests were bound on hurdles (as was customary) and dragged by horses for several miles through the muddy streets from the Tower to Tyburn. The rope with which he was bound is held in the Collections at Stonyhurst.

"Chamber of Little Ease" in the Tower of London

One witness records how one gentleman along the way wiped Campion’s face ‘all spattered with mire and dirt’. At Tyburn St Edmund made a brief speech before being hanged, drawn and quartered. Standing near the front of the enormous crowd was Henry Walpole. He came of a Catholic family but had fallen into indifference. Now, when St Edmund’s entrails were torn out by the executioner, a spot of the martyr’s blood splashed his coat. In that moment he was converted and immediately afterwards left England, became a priest and 13 years later suffered the same martyrdom as St Edmund, although in his case at York rather than Tyburn.

Why do stories like this  matter? It’s because they remind us of the price paid for the religious freedoms that we enjoy today and the central importance of upholding the right of every man and woman to believe, not to believe, or to change their belief. In promoting freedom of religion
and belief, The Christian Heritage Centre will shine a light on today’s Towers and today’s tortures – from Eritrea to Nigeria, from North Korea to Pakistan.

Graham Hutton is a Trustee of the CHC and Chairman of Aid to the Church In Need.

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Stonyhurst yields its mystical treasures

Friday 4th May 2018

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Stonyhurst yields its mysteries

Jonathan Luxmorre

Through the wide windows of a rambling but stately greystone building, the northern Lancashire countryside sweeps toward the Irish Sea in a maze of fields and woodlands. Inside, spring sunlight plays over shelves and glass cases, containing faded books and ancient artifacts amassed over four centuries.

When Stonyhurst College was founded at Saint-Omer in the Spanish Netherlands by the recusant Jesuit Fr Robert Persons in 1593, persecuted Catholic priests faced a mandatory death sentence if caught ministering in England.

More than four centuries later, Stonyhurst, the world’s oldest Jesuit school, houses a remarkable collection of relics relating to the country’s many martyrs. “Many things were being destroyed in Reformation England, so when Catholic boys came abroad to the school, they’d bring vestments, manuscripts and precious objects for safe keeping,” explained Jan Graffius, the collection’s curator. “This makes us part of the story Stonyhurst yields its mystical treasures and means we know what it was like to be targeted,” she said. “At a time when people know little about the struggles of the past, these relics provide a graphic reminder of what Catholics faced in upholding their faith.” 


The collections at Stonyhurst College provide a fascinating insight into the sometimes bloody history of the struggles faced by Catholicism in England
Church vestments form a substantial part of the Stonyhurst Collections

In 1794, when the school was forced to flee the French Revolution, its collection was already extensive. It was lucky to have the current site donated by a former student, Thomas Weld, father of Cardinal Thomas Weld (1773-1837). The Stonyhurst Collection, now being opened to visitors, has continued expanding.

 Its earliest exhibits include a piece of jawbone, documented to early medieval times, said to come from St Stephen. Its most recent relic is a piece of the bloodied vestment worn by St Oscar Romero of El Salvador when he was assassinated on 24th March 1980, while celebrating Mass.

“The idea is to provide an accessible public resource with a narrative tracing back 2,000 years,” Graffius said. “These objects tell their own stories, and people engaging with them can feel uncomfortable, even revolted. But no-one remains indifferent and everyone has questions to ask,” she added.

England’s Catholic Church was effectively outlawed under Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), who implemented her father’s break with Rome while officially seeking a Protestantled compromise, or “middle way”.

 Persecution was stepped up after Pope Pius V declared the Queen excommunicated and deposed in 1570 and following the 1588 rout of the Spanish Armada invasion fleet. It intensified following the failed 1605 Gunpowder Plot by Catholic militants against King James I, although Masses continued to be secretly celebrated at great personal risk by undercover Jesuit priests.

Choking off Catholic education was seen as key to stifling adherence to the traditional faith. It survived, but at a high price. In all, 23 Stonyhurst pupils were executed between 1610 and 1680; three have been canonised as martyrs and a dozen beatified.

The school’s Arundel Library includes works connected with the rebel Jacobite cause, as well as verses by the St Robert Southwell (1561-1595) and holographs by the 19th-century poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, who trained as a priest at Stonyhurst.

The Stonyhurst Collection also contains some macabre items: a piece of the battered skull of the 12th-century martyr St Thomas Becket, preserved after his Canterbury shrine was smashed in 1539; the shoulder blade of a priest executed at Durham in 1590, still bearing knife slashes; and the eyeball of a beatified Jesuit, Fr Edward Oldcorne, brutally killed at Worcester for alleged complicity in the Gunpowder Plot.

Although religious restrictions began to be eased in England after the 1829 Catholic Relief Act, Catholic persecution victims were publicly commemorated only after the canonisation of 40 English and Welsh martyrs by St Paul VI in 1970. The keeping of relics, stamped out with the Reformation, has been much less common here than in continental Europe.

Where they survive, they provide a tangible link with past martyrs and faith witnesses and can be a challenging but valuable asset for the prayer life of Catholics, Graffius said. “For young people especially, without much awareness of history, they can also be a good teaching resource, evoking youngsters like themselves who made difficult choices and decisions,” she said. “Today, we still ask our children to do the right things in a world not very sympathetic to religious values. And though conditions are now quite different, Christians are still being persecuted. It isn’t just ancient history.”

Beyond the window, the Ribble Valley undulates toward Clitheroe over a landscape used by the visiting J.R.R. Tolkein as a setting for his monumental Lord of The Rings trilogy as the latest generation of Stonyhurst pupils returns from afternoon activities.

Having had barely a dozen pupils when it relocated here, the school quickly became one of England’s best, and now welcomes men and women students from around the world.

While a third of its students are non-Catholic, all must attend services in the college’s six churches and chapels and subscribe to the Jesuit ethos of prayer and service. That ethos has produced outstanding alumni, including seven Catholic archbishops, assorted government leaders, artists, missionaries, war heroes and revolutionaries.

Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the sleuth Sherlock Holmes, studied here, as did Joseph Plunkett, executed for his part in Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising, and Thomas Meagher, an Irish-born American Civil War general and later governor of Montana.

Stonyhurst College has called the stunning Ribble Valley home for over two hundred years.

So did Daniel Carroll, a signatory of the US Articles of Confederation and the US Constitution, and his brother John Carroll, founder of Georgetown University and the first American Catholic bishop, along with Oscar-winning actor Charles Laughton and George Walker, greatgrandfather of US President George W. Bush.

 Yet it’s the collection of relics that lends the most poignancy. “A centre like this should be viewed as a cultural resource, an expression of everyone’s search for God,” Graffius said.

“Faith is a lifelong journey, which requires us to open up and ask profound questions – to follow hearts and consciences without fearing the consequences. Objects like these show us how previous generations approached this vital task.”

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Fr John chose to die rather than yield to Protestantism

Friday 8th January 2018

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Fr John chose to die, rather than yield to Protestantism

Br Samuel Burke, OP

“I am willing to die, and I had rather die than doubt of any point of faith taught by our holy mother, the Roman Catholic Church.” In his ‘last testament’, St John Plessington, a Catholic priest, foretold his own fate.

He died a martyr’s death. He was hanged, drawn and quartered at Gallow’s Hill in Boughton Cross, Cheshire, overlooking the River Dee, on 19th July, 1679. His offence: taking Orders in the Church of Rome and returning to the realm as a Catholic priest contrary to Act 27 of Elizabeth, 1585.

For his troubles, for his fidelity, for his ultimate sacrifice, as Paul VI declared in 1970 along with 39 others, Plessington numbers among the Saints in heaven. But the story doesn’t end there because the question remains: how do we honour the memory of this Saint and others like him?

Our first task is to remember, which is easier said than done. At least in the case of recent Saints, remembering is not a matter of fabled legend, it is an historical exercise, which often requires diligent research. Good, accurate information is important because it bring us closer to the person; they serve to make their memory more real to us; the details matter.

John Plessington was born around 1637, the youngest of three children, at Dimples Hall near Garstang in Lancashire. His father, Robert, was a committed royalist and Governor of Greenhalgh Castle, which stood on a hill overlooking a boggy plain about a quarter of a mile from the family estate. The family were both Royalist and Catholic.

St John Plessington

During John’s childhood, Robert fought for the Crown in the Civil War, for which he was later imprisoned and forfeited his property. The Parliamentarians also destroyed Greenhalgh Hall and a lone western tower is all that now remains of the fortress. As Catholics, the family kept a priest and a chapel.

Their chaplain, the Venerable Thomas Whitaker, was captured and martyred in 1646. Perhaps this was one of John’s earliest memories, aged about nine. Did the martyrdom of the family priest inspire his own priesthood and martyrdom? 

Educated by the Society of Jesus, John left the family home first for Scarisbrick Hall, near Ormskirk, and subsequently leaving Lancashire for St Omers in France, a forerunner to Stonyhurst College. The Jesuits were famed not only as “the schoolmasters of Europe”, they have also been dubbed “the shock troops of the Counter-Reformation”, a glib remark that fails to do justice to valiant mission and unparalleled sacrifice which they made to the Greater Glory of God and for the preservation of the faith in England during penal times.

If our first task was to remember, our second task, I think, is to understand the human context. Part of this is speculative, of course, but we must seek to understand the motivations and challenges that the martyrs faced if we are to appreciate their witness in its fullness.

From France to Spain where John, taking the pseudonym ‘Scarisbrick’ — perhaps in tribute to his early educators — studied at the Royal College of St Alban, Valladolid, along with five other fellow seminarians in November 1660.

St Winefride's Well, at Holywell, in Flintshire, Wales, where Father Plessington ministered

As a welcome gesture, they were given a good supply of tobacco to help them settle in. Within a very short time, John was ordained a priest on 25th March in 1662 at Segovia. Not long after, ill-health curtailed his studies and, though a priest, he returned to England with his theological studies incomplete. Little is known about his early ministry in Lancashire. What is known is that he subsequently lived and ministered at the St Winefred’s Shrine at Holywell in North Wales. The area had a strong Catholic community supported by secular priests, including Plessington, based at a local Inn, Ye Cross Keyes, and a Jesuit mission based at another pub, Ye Old Star Inn, a pub which plays another role in Plessington’s tale to which I will return.

Some time before 1670, perhaps as early as 1665, Fr Plessington is to be found at Puddington Hall, home to the Massey family near Burton, on the Wirral. Officially, he was tutor to the Massey children but in reality he was the resident priest, supporting the family and Catholics in the surrounding area. For a brief time, there was relative toleration for Catholics and Fr Plessington would have probably gone about his ministry discretely but without too much trouble. This was not to last.

In 1678 Titus Oates’ feigned to reveal an elaborate conspiracy to assassinate Charles II and replace him with his Catholic brother, James. Catholics, especially priests, were rounded upon by authorities.

They stood accused as conspirators in the ‘Popish Plot’. In all, some 45 Catholics were executed in this wave of persecutions. On the Wirral, directions came from the King’s Ministers in Whitehall for the local authorities to exercise great vigilance and near panic ensued.
It seems that Fr Plessington was targeted following the report of a Protestant landowner who was grieved at the refusal of a match between his son and a Catholic heiress. It was presumably on the basis that a Protestant husband would be unwilling to risk keeping a priest, and, as a consequence, such matches would inevitably result in the falling away from Church.

On 28th December 1678, the priest hunter Thomas Dutton raided the house at Puddington and, despite the house having a priest hole by the chimney, Fr Plessington was found and taken into custody. Dutton received a handsome reward of £20 for his troubles.
The trial of Plessington, which followed was defective in several respects. Three lapsed Catholics testified against him but their evidence was seemingly insufficient. The first witness was deranged, as confirmed by her father and neighbours, and the second Fr Plessington had never met. This left only a third valid witness, a man named Robert Wood.

However, for a capital offence, at least two witnesses were required for a conviction, as Fr Plessington pleaded in the court. Nevertheless, the jury still convicted him. Such was the ill-feeling at the conviction that the judge granted a reprieve only to have this overturned by Whitehall.
Though awaiting death for nine weeks in a damp underground cell at Chester gaol, Fr Plessington maintained a lively sense of humour. When his friend, Sir James Poole visited him at the same time as an undertaker who was apparently measuring him for a coffin, Fr Plessington joked that he was giving orders for his last suit!

Dragged on a hurdle through the city of Chester from the Castle to Gallow’s Hill, overlooking the River Dee, Fr Plessington was hanged, drawn and quartered on 19th July 1679. His body was later committed to Puddington Hall, where it was ordered that the body parts be displayed on the four corners of the property. In open defiance of this charge, the Massey family laid out Plessington’s dismembered body on an oak table.

Where the martyr’s remains are is a matter of some debate. 140 years after Plessington’s death, a collection of bones bearing fractures consistent with his death, wrapped in children’s clothes of the period were discovered in a trunk in Ye Olde Star Inn. There is good, albeit circumstantial, evidence to suggest these are the bones of St. John Plessington.

A few years ago, an appeal was made by the Bishop of Shrewsbury to conduct DNA tests on the bones. Let us hope that will happen soon so we can honour the relics and memory of this martyr.

This brings me finally to our third task in honouring the martyrs: learning the lessons of history. It is to this third task especially that the new Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst is committed.

Painting by Daphne Pollen (1904-86) commissioned for the 1970 canonization of the forty martyrs of England Wales.

This special museum is housed at the very school at which Plessington was educated, no longer in exile on the continent but in his native Lancashire. We will strive not simply to retell his story, important though that is, and not only to understand the human context, but crucially to ask also what lessons we can draw from the witness of martyrdom, even as they are made today.

Bloodshed, oppression and discrimination against Christians takes place the world over. One thinks particularly of the genocide of Christians in the Middle East.

There is much to learn from the life and death of St John Plessington about the importance of Catholic education; the mentality of the mob and scare-mongering; about the importance of legal process; about maintaining a sense of humour in the face of adversity; about faith and, yes, about Christian heroism – if we can learn some of that, we will have truly honoured the memory of the martyrs.

Br Samuel Burke, OP, is a Trustee of the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst.

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St Edmund’s rope binds us to the memory of his sacrifice

Friday 3rd November 2017

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

St Edmund’s rope binds us to the memory of his sacrifice

Christopher Graffius

At Stonyhurst there’s a rope. Among all the treasures of the College this receives the most honour. Housed in a reliquary, it is placed on the altar on the great feast days. The pupil who carries it there, amid the candles and the incense, on its feast day on 1st December, will never forget the experience.

A simple rope, some five hundred years old. The rope that bound St Edmund Campion to the hurdle on which he was dragged to execution. A rope smuggled away from the butchery and worn by Fr Robert Persons, the founder of the college who escaped the martyrdom of his companion, round his waist for the rest of his life. What’s the point of a rope? Is it merely a cultural artefact collected amid the gore? Or does it hold a greater meaning? As the new Christian Heritage Centre rises at Stonyhurst these are questions worth asking.

Museums must have some relevance or the exhibits are merely dry as dust. That simple rope holds a message as important to us today as it was when it played its part in Campion’s sacrifice.

As Westminster Cathedral, Stonyhurst and many other buildings are floodlit red on 22nd November – Red Wednesday – and Christians commemorate the killing of today’s modern martyrs, there is a direct link to Campion and others who have died for their faith.

Stonyhurst College lit up for Red Wednesday in solidarity with those persecuted for their faith

Campion epitomises the heroism of recusant England.

Fr Clement Tigar, who championed the cause of the Forty Martyrs, wrote: ‘In June 1580, when Campion landed on these shores in disguise, he brought with him the spirit of chivalry in defence of the ancient Faith. By his holiness of life, his unquenchable good humour, his charm of manner, his burning eloquence, he put new heart, new courage, new enthusiasm, into the persecuted, dejected Catholics of England.’

It hadn’t always been so. Campion was a scholarship boy and learned early to please the establishment. He was chosen to speak before Queen Mary on her visit to the City and later, as a student at Oxford, to debate before Queen Elizabeth. He was described as “one of the diamonds of England”. Great men offered him patronage. In the turmoil of the Reformation this promised safety. His friend, Tobie Matthew, urged him to embrace the opportunities. Campion accepted ordination as an Anglican deacon and barred himself from the sacraments for twelve years.

His conscience troubled him. Matthew, who told him not to bother, went on to become the Anglican Bishop of Durham and Archbishop of York. As Evelyn Waugh says in his classic biography of Campion: ‘Tobie Matthew died full of honours in 1628, there but for the Grace of God went Edmund Campion.’

‘Hope, greatest and
ever-present to the Dead,
Hope is the Host
which I behold;
Here, be assembled
here,I pray;
Here celebrate God, and for
the afflicted seek peace.’

– An extract from Anima. The
original copy of Anima, which
Edmund Campion composed in
Latin in 1581 as he was
returning to the mission field in
England – and to certain death
– is held in the Collections

A 1581 illustration of St Edmund Campion and his execution.

Nevertheless, many remained loyal to the Church, and  Catholicism was particularly strong in some of the great aristocratic households of the Thames Valley and the Sacred County of Lancashire. It was to these houses, with their secret Catholic chapels and holes in which the sacred vessels and vestments (as well as the priests themselves in time of emergency) could be hidden, that Campion went to minister. In disguise he travelled  extensively ‘through the most part of the shires of England’ (Persons) hearing confessions and saying Mass for the faithful who would have had no access to the sacraments for many years and yet who had kept faith.

During this time Campion wrote Decem Rationes defending the claims of the Church against those of the state church. This document was widely circulated and led to an increase in the government.

He escaped overseas and was reconciled at Douai. He walked to Rome to join the Jesuits. He was assigned as a school master to the college at Prague. He might never have seen England again. A life in community and academia beckoned.

The call to the English mission came as a surprise. Campion answered it despite his fear that he had not the “constitutional courage”. He entered the country disguised as a jewel merchant and with Persons and others began the reorganisation of the scattered and dispirited Catholics. He travelled across the country between safe houses, confessing, offering the Mass, putting new spirit into those worn down by fines and imprisonment. “The harvest is wonderful…I cannot long escape the hands of the heretics; the enemy have so many eyes…I am in apparel to myself very ridiculous…”

With Persons he set up a secret printing press to circulate his ‘Ten Reasons’ for being a Catholic and his ‘Brag’ a justification of his mission and a challenge to the authorities. ‘And touching our Society, be it known to you that we have made a league—all the Jesuits in the world…cheerfully to carry the cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments, or consumed with your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God; it cannot be withstood. So the faith was planted: so it must be restored.’

In the summer of 1581 he rode out of London, pausing at Tyburn to pray under the gallows. “Because”, says Persons, “he used to say that he would have his combat there.” He stopped at the Catholic house of Lyford Grange to say Mass, but there was a priest hunter in the congregation. The Gospel of the day was prophetic, ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets.’

Captured, he was bound to his horse with the sign ‘Campion, seditious Jesuit’ pinned to his hat. He disappeared into the Tower for four months of interrogation and torture. Rumours flew, he had recanted, accepted a bishopric, betrayed his hosts. When he emerged, brought to debate with the Anglican divines, it was the same gentle, eloquent Campion who confounded his adversaries. Except, at his trial, he couldn’t lift his right arm to take the oath because of the racking.

Condemned to death by perjured witnesses and a packed jury, Campion spoke for all Catholics: “In condemning us, you condemn all your own ancestors, all our ancient bishops and kings, all that was once the glory of England; the island of saints, and the most devoted child of the See of Peter.”

He was dragged to execution on 1st December, his feast day. He greeted the crowd “God save you all, and make you all good Catholics.” His final words were to pray for the Queen; that “we may at last be friends in heaven, when all injuries shall be forgotten”.

The Campion Rope, which tied him to the hurdle and is now owned by the BritishProvince of the Society of Jesus.

So to the rope. We all face the same choice, whether to conform or stand for the truth. Today, we will probably not be called to a physical martyrdom. Instead we face the hostility of secularism, of licence masquerading as liberty and the marginalisation of spirit and faith. That’s as much a threat as anything the martyrs faced. Meeting it demands the constant courage and faithfulness that Campion inspires

That’s what the rope means.