Thursday, 21 February 2008

Lenten 40 Martyr Reflections: Saint John Stone

John Stone, an Augustinian Friar thought to be from Canterbury, was hanged drawn and quartered after refusing to sign the deed of surrender which recognised King Henry VIII as the supreme head of the Church.

He entered the friary in Cantebury and after going away to study and teach, he came back to the friary just as Henry began to split the Church in England into two. On November 3 1534, parliament issued the Act of Supremacy, declaring Henry as the head of the Church in England. With immediate effect, John began denouncing the king's second marriage from the pulpit as well as his claim as the head of the Church. This, under the new law, was treason.

Four years after the Act, the Bishop of Dover arrived in Canterbury to close the orders. When encountering Friar Stone, Bishop Richard Ingworth got more than he bargained for. John was said to have launched an attack on the bishop for loyalty to the king over God. He said that the king's claimed prerogative belonged only to the pope. John refused to sign the deed and was promptly arrested to avoid other members of the community from being influenced by his line.

The friar was thrown into the Tower of London without charge for a year. He was sent for trial at the Guildhall (now demolished) in Canterbury. Whilst awaiting his fate, John fasted and prayed solidly for three days and is said to have heard a voice which urged him to stand strong and be prepared to die for his profession of faith.

A jury confronted with an indictment for High Treason unsurprisingly found the defendant guilty. His execution was set for December 27. He was dragged on a hurdle from his cell at Westgate Tower to a prominent hill called Dane John (Dungeon Hill), the place of his martyrdom. As he stood on the scaffold, he would have seen his beloved Augustinian Friary, now barred and empty, beneath him.

"Behold I close my apostolate in my blood, In my death I shall find life, for die for a holy cause, the defence of the Church of God, infallible and immaculate", he said as the executioners prepared to tighten the noose. After being hanged, drawn and quartered, his head and quarters were displayed at the city gates, to deter any Catholics living there from refusing to join the newly formed Church of England

The Catholic Chaplaincy building at the University of Kent, in Canterbury, is named St. John Stone House in memory of the saint.

Saint John was loyal to the Church of Rome and to the Pope in the face of certain death. He was even prepared to lecture a bishop about his betrayal of God in favour of the monarch. This saint serves as an example for every Catholic to stay close to the Pope and his teachings - which lead to Christ - in spite of any ridicule or persecution they may encounter from the state or society. The friar fully embraced and answered Jesus' cry of "Do not be afraid", and encourages us to do so as well. His witness to Christ may also lead people to Augustinian vocations.

Saint John Stone, pray for us.


BevansInc said...

That's exciting - we shall have to make a little film about him!

leutgeb said...

Thanks for writing that.