Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Blessed Peter Wright

Last Tuesday I went from Kettering to Thrapston for a Mass to celebrate the feastday of Blessed Peter Wright. Blessed Peter, a Jesuit priest, was from the village of Slipton in Northamptonshire. He was hanged and quartered on May 17, 1651. The Mass was at St Paul the Apostle RC Church which has a shrine dedicated to Blessed Peter. It was celebrated by Father Brian Leatherland, with Canon John Koenig (parish priest at St Edward's, Kettering) concelebrating.

Blessed Peter is one of the 85 Martyrs of England and Wales. It seems he was from a Recusant family, despite earlier accounts that said he was from a Protestant background. For ten years he worked in a solicitor's office in Thrapston. Enlisting in the English army in the Low Countries, he deserted after just one month. In 1629 he entered the Jesuit novitiate at and after studying philosophy and then theology at Liege he was ordained a priest there in 1636. One of his first appointments was as an army chaplain to Colonel Sir Henry Gage's English regiment in the service of Spain.

Wright returned to England with Gage in 1644. He administered the sacraments to Gage on his death bed on January 11 1645. After this Wright became the marquess's chaplain in his London house, and was seized there pursuivants who burst in on Candlemas day, February 2, 1651. He was put to trial at the Old Bailey less than two years Charles I had been put on trial there and subsequently executed. Gage's brother, Thomas, a former Dominican priest turned informer, gave evidence against him. Wright was convicted of being a Catholic priest. A crowd of more than 20,000 came to watch his martyrdom at Tyburn, an indication of how popular he was.

At the end of the Mass last Tuesday, a fascinating talk was given by former teacher Jerome Betts on the Catholic family of Elwes at Great Billing in Northamptonshire. Mr Betts has also written an interestingly shaped book on Blessed Peter which I bought for the special offer of £5.

It was great to discover another glorious martyr of that period and to join in the veneration of him with his native people.

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