Friday, 8 February 2008

The 40 Martyrs of England and Wales

I've always been quite baffled why the Church in this land doesn't really make a fuss about its martyrs - those courageous men and women, priests and laity, who were subjected to the most gruesome of deaths because of their faith.

Of the 40 English and Welsh Martyrs, I barely know half their names, let alone what they did to keep the faith alive in hostile times. This is despite me going to both a Catholic primary and secondary school. Apart from Blessed Nicholas Postgate, one of the Yorkshire based 85 martyrs, after whom one of the "houses" were named at St Mary's College, I wasn't educated about a single one of the saints of the penal times. It was only when we did an RE project in Year 9 about modern day saints that I knew they existed.

We were asked to pick someone who we considered as a modern day saint. I was struggling - until my dad suggested an actual Saint - Margaret Clitherow. He introduced me briefly to her story and then handed me a book about the martyrs of the Middlesborough Diocese, which included a lengthy chapter on the "Pearl of York". I went back to my teacher, Fr Noel Wynn, to ask if 500 years was "modern" enough. He let me off and so the enthralling essay began.

I remember being absolutely inspired by her story. The courageous Catholic convert who harboured priests so that they could celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass in a secret room of her house in the Shambles. Her death sentence for her "crimes" was "peine forte et dure" - to be pressed to death. I remember being astounded at this - reflecting that if it wasn't for the witness of St Margaret and the other martyrs keeping the faith alive, maybe it would still be illegal for me to go to Mass today? In recent years I have tried to pray to St Margaret after every Mass, considering her as one of the "saints of the Mass" and asking her to help me grow in love for the Eucharist.

Of course, I am in admiration of the whole Communion of Saints and ask for the help of those who are internationally known. But I've never understood in my lifetime why there isn't an enthusiastic admiration en masse for "our own saints", particularly as they were only canonised in 1970. Just think how much they can help us in our daily struggle against a secular Britain. Surely their prayers would give zeal to others - particularly to pro-life politicians at the moment given the current legislation before parliament which will essentially change the definition of human life and the family.

I think there should be some sort of celebration in 2010, 40 years on from the martyrs' canonisation. What about a massive pilgrimage to Rome around October 25?
In the meantime, I thought it would be really helpful for me and others to give reflections on each of the 40 saints. There are 40 days in Lent, one's already gone and I won't be able to post every day. But hopefully I can blog on the 40 before Good Friday. It's an appropriate season to do this, when we are encouraged to come closer to Christ and His Church through the help of the saints. Feel free to add your comments and further stories about these remarkable people, especially if you have local connections to them.


bernadette said...

St John Kemble was one of the Welsh martyrs and one of his severed hands is still in St Francis Xavier's Church on Broad Street, Hereford, near me. Well worth a visit. Father Kemble lived to be eighty and he seems to have had quite a dry sense of humour. He was arrested under suspicion of being involved in an assasination attempt on King Charles 11, in order to have him replaced by the Catholic, James. When he heard the King's men were on their way to arrest him, he said that he might as well stay put, as at his age it would be an honour to suffer and die for the faith (my paraphrasing). He was hung, drawn and quartered in Hereford on 22nd August 1679. His offence: guilty of being a Catholic priest. The assasination charge was never proved. One of his attributed miracles was the healing of a woman with throat cancer.
I do think this is a v good idea, Richard.. we can all learn more about our saints from people, as you say, with some local knowledge. AND, if your idea of a pilgrimage to Rome comes off, we could well have our first saint SINCE the 40 martyrs by then, in St John Newman.

Mrs Jackie Parkes MJ said...

Margharet Clitherow was something else!

MaggieClitheroe said...

Just discovered your blog via Father Tim Finnigan's - well done for making the effort to promote our wonderful martyrs - and starting off with my patroness!
God Bless!