Friday, 14 March 2008

Lenten 40 Martyr Reflections: Saints Robert Lawrence and Augustine Webster

These saints went to their deaths with St Richard Reynolds and John Houghton on May 4 1535.

Saint Robert is one of the earliest of the martyrs but one we know little about. Even his birthplace is unknown, although he could have been from the Dorset area.

His first ministry as a priest is thought to have been a chaplain to the Catholic Duke of Norfolk and may have spent time as a monk at the London Charterhouse.. After joining the Carthusians, he served as prior of the Charterhouse at Beauvale, Nottinghamshire, at the time when King Henry VIII broke with Rome and launched the dissolution of the monasteries. It was in 1535 when he returned to the charterhouse in London.

Saint Augustine was a graduate of Cambridge University. He became prior of the Carthusian house near Epworth on the Isle of Axholme in North Lincolnshire.

Both of these saints met with John Houghton to discuss the consequences of the now compulsory Act of Supremacy. They went to meet Thomas Cromwell to tell him why they could not sign the oath. They spoke articulately in support of papal authority and were thrown into the Tower of London for their refusal to sign. Robert refused to speak at the trail because of his vow of silence. After being found guilty by a jury who were threatened by Cromwell to make that decision, the pair, along with Richard Reynolds and John Houghton, were dragged through the backstreets of Tyburn and hanged, drawn and quartered. Both of their bodies were brutally ripped apart by the knife of the executioner when they were still conscience.

Despite being two of the first English martyrs, very little is known about Saints Robert and Augustine. That is a virtue in itself. We are very lucky to have many stories about a lot of the martyrs passed down. So to have sketchy details about two saints emphasises the simple life that they led which was totally devoted to Christ and His Church. They were adamant that nobody on the face of the earth could just assume the authority of the Vicar of Christ, let along the king. Their refusal to defend themselves verbally is courageous. If we were on trial for treason, I doubt any of us would choose to keep silent. The Carthusian martyrs teach us that sometimes silence is the most appropriate way to approach things and is certainly an essential way of praying and listening to what God has to say as well as presenting our petitions.

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