25/10: Feast of the 40 Martyrs of England & Wales… So what? 

After King Henry VIII proclaimed himself supreme head of the Church in England and Wales, a violent wave of anti-Catholic persecution began – and lasted over a century. It started with the executions of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, but didn’t end there. Hundreds were killed between 1535 and 1679; the Church recognized the heroism of 40 martyrs from England and Wales in a canonization ceremony on October 25, 1970. (Later, a separate feast on May 4 was created to recognize the 284 canonized or beatified martyrs of the English Reformation.)

The group of 40 martyrs celebrated on October 25 contains a variety of Catholics. The group is composed of “13 priests of the secular clergy, three Benedictines, three Carthusians, one Brigittine, two Franciscans, one Augustinian, 10 Jesuits and seven members of the laity, including three mothers.”

The martyrs were gruesomely tortured before being hanged or killed, but remained steadfast in their faith, refusing to renounce their Catholicism.

Many of the saints were jovial at the prospect of death.

Cuthbert Mayne, a secular priest, replied to a gaoler who came to tell him he would be executed three days later: “I wish I had something valuable to give you, for the good news you bring me…”  Edmund Campion, a Jesuit, was so pleased when taken to the place of execution that the people said about him and his companions: “But they’re laughing! He doesn’t care at all about dying…”

One striking story of heroism under extreme torture comes from the martyrdom of a laywoman, Margaret Clitherow.

She was accused “of having sheltered the Jesuits and priests of the secular clergy, traitors to Her Majesty the Queen”; but she retorted: “I have only helped the Queen’s friends” … On Friday March 25th, 1588, at eight o’clock in the morning, Margaret, just thirty-three years old, left Ouse Bridge prison, barefooted, bound for Toll Booth … Her arms were stretched out in the shape of a cross, and her hands tightly bound to two stakes in the ground. The executioners put a sharp stone the size of a fist under her back and placed on her body a large slab onto which weights were gradually loaded up to over 800 pounds. Margaret whispered: “Jesus, have mercy on me.” Her death agony lasted for fifteen minutes, then the moaning ceased, and all was quiet.

Their resolve in the face of certain death is inspiring. They show us that our life on earth is indeed very short and what truly matters is our faithfulness to God. As St. Thomas More famously said: “I die the king’s faithful servant, but God’s first.”

Here is a list of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, whom we can invoke for their intercession in whatever persecution we may be enduring.

St. John Almond
St. Edmund Arrowsmith
St. Ambrose Barlow
St. John Boste
St. Alexander Briant
St. Edmund Campion
St. Margaret Clitherow
St. Philip Evans
St. Thomas Garnet
St. Edmund Gennings
St. Richard Gwyn
St. John Houghton
St. Philip Howard
St. John Jones
St. John Kemble
St. Luke Kirby
St. Robert Lawrence
St. David Lewis
St. Anne Line
St. John Lloyd
St. Cuthbert Mayne
St. Henry Morse
St. Nicholas Owen
St. John Payne
St. Polydore Plasden
St. John Plessington
St. Richard Reynolds
St. John Rigby
St. John Roberts
St. Alban Roe
St. Ralph Sherwin
St. Robert Southwell
St. John Southworth
St. John Stone
St. John Wall
St. Henry Walpole
St. Margaret Ward
St. Augustine Webster
St. Swithun Wells
St. Eustace White         Source 

Comment: 

So?  Our nearest cousins will be celebrating the Feast of the 40 martyrs of England & Wales on Thursday next, 25 October. So?  They suffered and died for the Faith during the Reformation – centuries ago.  What – if anything – do they have to teach us, today?  We’ve moved on from those days, when people were tortured and killed for their beliefs. We’re ecumenical now, we’re tolerant, we embrace equality and diversity… What on earth do medieval martyrs have to teach us enlightened folk today…  Shouldn’t the Feast days of martyrs be removed form the calendar, as a goodwill gesture, in the name of ecumenical progress?  Seriously?  Or, should that be “satirically”…  😀

The question for discussion really has to be: what is the most important thing the martyrs have to teach us all – north and south of the English border in this modern age? And if you have a particular favourite saint among the 40 martyrs, share that with us…

36 responses

      • Dear Editor. If you Google Margaret Clitherow, was she pregnant? you will receive a reply that she was pregnant with her fourth child on the day of her death. I cannot guarantee this fact but I have always understood this to be true. I happen to be a Yorkshireman at heart although I now live in Western Australia and I have always had a great love of St. Margaret Clitherow. I know the chapel in “The Shambles” where her house was, very well. I have been there many times.

            • Dear Madame Editor,

              These are taken from the propers for the Forty Holy Martyrs of Sebaste whose feast is March 9 on the Byzantine calendar. It’s from a few years ago, but I’m posting these because imo they also apply to the 40 martyrs whose feast you are celebrating:

              3. Bravely enduring the present happenings and rejoicing in things hoped for,
              the holy martyrs said to each other:
              We have not stripped ourselves of a garment,
              but we have put off the old person.
              The winter is bitter but Paradise is sweet.
              Although the chill is painful, it becomes sweet enjoyment.
              Let us not bow down, O captains.
              We suffer a little at present
              that we may receive the crowns of victory from Christ,
              since He is God and the Saviour of our souls.

              2. Throwing off their garments and going into the lake without trembling,
              the holy martyrs said to each other:
              Since we have lost Paradise,
              let us not care for a corruptible garment today.
              Having once been clothed in corruption through the serpent,
              let us now beseech resurrection for all.
              Let us despise the icy destroying cold and scorn the flesh,
              that we may receive the crowns of victory from Christ
              for He is God and the Saviour of our souls.

              1. Looking upon the tortures as pleasures
              and hastening towards the icy lake as towards the heat,
              the holy martyrs said to each other:
              Let us stand fearless in the winter season
              that we may escape the dreadful fire of Hades.
              Let a foot be burnt that it may rejoice forever;
              let a hand be lost that it may be lifted towards the Lord;
              let us not spare the dying nature.
              Let us now accept death
              that we may receive crowns of victory from Christ,
              for He is God and the Saviour of our souls.

              Source: http://lit.royaldoors.net/2014/03/01/march-9-204-first-sunday-of-the-great-fast-sunday-of-orthodoxy-octoechos-tone-1-holy-forty-martyrs-of-sebaste/

              Happy Feast Day!

              In Christ the King,

              Margaret 🇺🇸

              P.S. Please pray for the USA!

              • Margaret USA,

                Thank you for that – I hadn’t heard of those martyrs so did a quick search and find that they were a group of Roman soldiers who died for the Faith in the early 4th century – named in the early martyrologies.

                It’s just astonishing to think how much the early Christians suffered for the Faith while we, in our times, shy away from even SAYING something in defence of Christ and the moral law, that might/will be sure to offend the pagans around us.

                This is a very good day to ask the English and Welsh martyrs – along with the Martyrs of Sebaste ! – to strengthen out weak souls for the fight which we took on at our Confirmation.

  1. Here’s something of great interest, of which some bloggers may not be aware.

    Father Andrew Southwell, well known traditional priest, who, among other things, exercises wonderful influence over the young people who attend the Latin Mass Society summer school (which includes my own nephews) is a relative of the martyr Saint Robert Southwell.
    http://www.lmschairman.org/2011/07/spiritual-bouquet-for-lms-chaplain-fr.html

    Below, a clip from one of Father’s sermons…

    • Editor,

      That is amazing! I can’t imagine being related to a great saint, let alone a martyr from the Reformation times! Father must be extremely proud (in the best sense!)

      His sermon is very learned. What a clear speaker!

    • Well that’s great stock to come from. I like many others in my day I suppose especially as a boy didn’t see the real significance of Guy Fawkes until doing a bit of reading. The Faith and Courage of these Men and Women is staggering. Not only of course the way they died but probably more important the way they lived . On reading a book on the persecution around about Elizabeth 1st time the way that these brave Priests travelled around and said Mass was astonishing some of them living for days on end in spaces crafted for them not much bigger than a Coffin in lots of Houses. Ed you may have read the book about the Man of whom I cannot remember who crafted these spaces . He was a Hunchback and probably for good reason as he grafted in terrible circumstances making these hide outs for the Priests . A friend of mine loaned it to me about 20years ago I would love to read it again. Isn’t it great how Our Catholic Faith flourished under persecution and that’s what the Protestants Detested more than anything else . Am sure that St John Ogilvie was not the only Catholic Martyr of the time in Scotland,but correct me if am wrong. Am sure he was the only one who was Publicly Executed as after his Execution there was a surge in the Catholic Faith. They most certainly didn’t include Ecumenicism or Diversity in their lives .

      • FOOF,

        “These men and woman are staggering – not only the way they died but more important the way they lived…”

        Thought for the day…. EVERY day!

        Well said – spot on. I only hope they’re all paying attention 😀

  2. This from Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Letter to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (2006):

    “The martyrs of the past and those of our time gave and give life (effusio sanguinis) freely and consciously in a supreme act of love, witnessing to their faithfulness to Christ, to the Gospel and to the Church. If the motive that impels them to martyrdom remains unchanged, since Christ is their source and their model, then what has changed are the cultural contexts of martyrdom and the strategies “ex parte persecutoris” that more and more seldom explicitly show their aversion to the Christian faith or to a form of conduct connected with the Christian virtues, but simulate different reasons, for example, of a political or social nature.

    It is of course necessary to find irrefutable proof of readiness for martyrdom, such as the outpouring of blood and of its acceptance by the victim. It is likewise necessary, directly or indirectly but always in a morally certain way, to ascertain the “odium Fidei” [hatred of the faith] of the persecutor. If this element is lacking there would be no true martyrdom according to the perennial theological and juridical doctrine of the Church. The concept of “martyrdom” as applied to the Saints and Blessed martyrs should be understood, in conformity with Benedict XIV’s teaching, as “voluntaria mortis perpessio sive tolerantia propter Fidem Christi, vel alium virtutis actum in Deum relatum” (De Servorum Dei beatificatione et Beatorum canonizatione, Prato 1839-1841, Book III, chap. 11, 1). This is the constant teaching of the Church.”

    https://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/letters/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_let_20060424_cause-santi.html

    Having read that, the modernist definition of martyrdom, esp. under Francis, aligns with the Communist definition: victim-hood. In the Communist playbook, class warfare is ignited by convincing useful idiots that they are victims of something (e.g. capitalism, the patriarchy, white European males, heterosexuals, Christians), and then inciting them to revolution to correct this “injustice.”

    In Francis’ playbook, and those of his ilk, if you were Catholic (no matter how marginal – even a Jesuit!) and were killed under any circumstances, then since you were a victim, you were also a martyr. Voila!

    • RCA Victor,

      That is a really excellent post from you – I didn’t know that about the definition of martyrdom. I will make a note of that.

      It shows up the nonsense of the way the word martyr is used these days, as you suggest. I remember thinking that when an animal rights protester was knocked down (I can’t remember if she was killed or injured) but she was described as a martyr for suffering in the cause of animal rights.

    • Victor I have a Little Book about St Maximilian Kolbe and it’s a sort of Biography from a Devils Advocate stance on his Death . It’s called the Power Of Love . Where the author more or less takes St Maximilian death as were it for man or for The Glory of God. It is a great read and also opened up my eyes on True Martyrdom.

  3. To answer Editor’s lead question, though (sorry, Ed, I digressed): I think the martyrs teach us that their love of God and the Faith trumped all worldly things, including loss of human respect and especially loss of one’s life for the Faith. No ridicule, no threats, no intimidation, no punishment, no gruesome torture and death could deter them from that love.

    This lesson, I’m afraid, is completely lost among those wicked and spineless men who have run up the white flag, and/or the rainbow flag, over the Vatican. They either love their perversion foremost, or their prestige foremost, or both, and the one thing they fear is being unmasked (and even that fear, under this Pontificate, is rapidly disappearing in favor of brazen corruption).

    • Agh yes they most certainly have run up the Flag at this Sinnod and without a shadow of a Doubt it is most certainly not the Flag of Martyrdom or of even keeping the One True Holy and Apostolic Faith that now seems a step to far .
      God Help Our Church.

    • RCA Victor

      For one awful moment there, I thought you’d typed “disagreed” instead of “digressed”. Phew! Still, I never forget that…

  4. I think this excerpt from Abp. Vigano’s third testimony relates closely to martyrdom (in Dr. Mattei’s new article on Rorate Caeli):

    Turning to his brother bishops and priests, the Archbishop writes: “You too are faced with a choice. You can choose to withdraw from the battle, to prop up the conspiracy of silence and avert your eyes from the spreading of corruption. You can make excuses, compromises and justification that put off the day of reckoning. You can console yourselves with the falsehood and the delusion that it will be easier to tell the truth tomorrow, and then the following day, and so on. On the other hand, you can choose to speak. You can trust Him who told us, “the truth will set you free.” I do not say it will be easy to decide between silence and speaking. I urge you to consider which choice– on your deathbed, and then before the just Judge — you will not regret having made.”

    The Archbishop gives us the motivation which could certainly lead to martyrdom…or to eternal damnation. The martyrs all “chose to speak,” knowing what would befall them.

  5. We were in York at Easter and when visiting Margaret Clitherow’s house we read about her death. She was heavily pregnant alright when they put a heavy door on her abdomen and piled it with rocks, until she died. I think this took place on Ouse Bridge and there is a plaque there. She refused a trial by jury (which meant immediate execution) because she wanted to spare her children the terror of being called as witnesses. See here below:

    http://www.historyofyork.org.uk/themes/tudor-stuart/margaret-clitherow

    • Helen,

      That is shocking indeed. I hadn’t known that about Margaret Clitherow, or if I had, I’d forgotten it. Of all the things I’ve ever lost, I really DO miss my mind the most 😀

      Seriously, that is appalling, in the extreme. What a powerful saint she must be in Heaven.

  6. I just read that article posted by editor from an English blogger. We are told that at Judgement Day all our sins will be on display and then there is this sentence: ” Only on the sins of the good will God draw over a merciful veil.” Does that mean if we have repented and confessed our sins, they will not be publicly revealed?

    • Helen,

      I’ve never heard that before. One of our priests, young, newly ordained, told us some years ago that all sins will be revealed but we will not be shocked or embarrassed at all, because the purpose is to reveal God’s wonderful mercy.

      I’m praying that everyone will be so mesmerised by God’s wonderful mercy that they miss the list when it’s my turn 😀 (Don’t let the grin fool you – I mean it!)

  7. Here’s my favourite.

    CAMPION’S “BRAG”—1540-1581 Edmund Campion

    Whereas I have come out of Germany and Bohemia, being sent by my superiors, and adventured myself into this noble realm, my dear country, for the glory of God and benefit of souls, I thought it like enough that, in this busy, watchful, and suspicious world, I should either sooner or later be intercepted and stopped of my course.

    Wherefore, providing for all events, and uncertain what may become of me, when God shall haply deliver my body into durance, I supposed it needful to put this in writing in a readiness, desiring your good lordships to give it your reading, for to know my cause. This doing, I trust I shall ease you of some labour. For that which otherwise you must have sought for by practice of wit, I do now lay into your hands by plain confession. And to the intent that the whole matter may be conceived in order, and so the better both understood and remembered, I make thereof these nine points or articles, directly, truly and resolutely opening my full enterprise and purpose.

    i. I confess that I am (albeit unworthy) a priest of the Catholic Church, and through the great mercy of God vowed now these eight years into the religion [religious order] of the Society of Jesus. Hereby I have taken upon me a special kind of warfare under the banner of obedience, and also resigned all my interest or possibility of wealth, honour, pleasure, and other worldly felicity.

    ii. At the voice of our General, which is to me a warrant from heaven and oracle of Christ, I took my voyage from Prague to Rome (where our General Father is always resident) and from Rome to England, as I might and would have done joyously into any part of Christendom or Heatheness, had I been thereto assigned.

    iii. My charge is, of free cost to preach the Gospel, to minister the Sacraments, to instruct the simple, to reform sinners, to confute errors—in brief, to cry alarm spiritual against foul vice and proud ignorance, wherewith many of my dear countrymen are abused.

    iv. I never had mind, and am strictly forbidden by our Father that sent me, to deal in any respect with matter of state or policy of this realm, as things which appertain not to my vocation, and from which I gladly restrain and sequester my thoughts.

    v. I do ask, to the glory of God, with all humility, and under your correction, three sorts of indifferent and quiet audiences: the first, before your Honours, wherein I will discourse of religion, so far as it toucheth the common weal and your nobilities: the second, whereof I make more account, before the Doctors and Masters and chosen men of both universities, wherein I undertake to avow the faith of our Catholic Church by proofs innumerable—Scriptures, councils, Fathers, history, natural and moral reasons: the third, before the lawyers, spiritual and temporal, wherein I will justify the said faith by the common wisdom of the laws standing yet in force and practice.

    vi. I would be loath to speak anything that might sound of any insolent brag or challenge, especially being now as a dead man to this world and willing to put my head under every man’s foot, and to kiss the ground they tread upon. Yet I have such courage in avouching the majesty of Jesus my King, and such affiance in his gracious favour, and such assurance in my quarrel, and my evidence so impregnable, and because I know perfectly that no one Protestant, nor all the Protestants living, nor any sect of our adversaries (howsoever they face men down in pulpits, and overrule us in their kingdom of grammarians and unlearned ears) can maintain their doctrine in disputation. I am to sue most humbly and instantly for combat with all and every of them, and the most principal that may be found: protesting that in this trial the better furnished they come, the better welcome they shall be.

    vii. And because it hath pleased God to enrich the Queen my Sovereign Lady with notable gifts of nature, learning, and princely education, I do verily trust that if her Highness would vouchsafe her royal person and good attention to such a conference as, in the second part of my fifth article I have motioned, or to a few sermons, which in her or your hearing I am to utter such manifest and fair light by good method and plain dealing may be cast upon these controversies, that possibly her zeal of truth and love of her people shall incline her noble Grace to disfavour some proceedings hurtful to the realm, and procure towards us oppressed more equity.

    viii. Moreover I doubt not but you, her Highness’ Council, being of such wisdom and discreet in cases most important, when you shall have heard these questions of religion opened faithfully, which many times by our adversaries are huddled up and confounded, will see upon what substantial grounds our Catholic Faith is builded, how feeble that side is which by sway of the time prevaileth against us, and so at last for your own souls, and for many thousand souls that depend upon your government, will discountenance error when it is bewrayed [revealed], and hearken to those who would spend the best blood in their bodies for your salvation. Many innocent hands are lifted up to heaven for you daily by those English students, whose posterity shall never die, which beyond seas, gathering virtue and sufficient knowledge for the purpose, are determined never to give you over, but either to win you heaven, or to die upon your pikes. And touching our Society, be it known to you that we have made a league—all the Jesuits in the world, whose succession and multitude must overreach all the practice of England—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.

    ix. If these my offers be refused, and my endeavours can take no place, and I, having run thousands of miles to do you good, shall be rewarded with rigour. I have no more to say but to recommend your case and mine to Almighty God, the Searcher of Hearts, who send us his grace, and see us at accord before the day of payment, to the end we may at last be friends in heaven, when all injuries shall be forgotten.

    • Therese,

      I’m not sure of my ground here, but I remember taking visitors to see the oldest house in Glasgow – opposite the pre-reformation cathedral; both are popular with tourists

      There is a room in the oldest house, with an altar (set for the old Mass) and priest’s vestments laid out – Mary Queen of Scots is believed to have stayed there at some point, so that would possibly be the explanation.

      I also have a memory – and I could be totally wrong (bound to happen eventually 😀 ) that the vestments were explained – on one of my several visits over the years – as having been worn by one of the English martyrs. For some reason, St Edmund Campion sticks in my mind.

      Do you – or does anyone here – know if this is true or… fake memory?! I did a basic 3 second Google search just now but nothing appeared.

      Over to the CTDA (Catholic Truth Detective Agency)!

        • Vianney,

          When my poor father (RIP) was afflicted with that awful memory illness, one of my brothers quipped at his funeral that everyone knew he had serious memory problems, because it was obvious that he couldn’t remember me… he was so nice to me, treated me like I was (almost) a member of the family 😀

          The cheek of it!

          It was a uproarious quality of the laughter that bothered me the most… Like, everyone there knew something I didn’t know… 😀

  8. Happy Feast today to all our English and Welsh readers and bloggers.

    If you are not already attending the old Mass on a regular basis, today would be a great day to make that resolution. None of us has to make the ultimate sacrifice, as did the brave martyrs of the Reformation, so we really ought to do all in our power to STOP supporting the revolution, the attacks on the Mass and the Church and return to the Mass for which these martyrs gave their lives.

    All the martyrs of England and Wales, intercede for us today!

  9. I wish everyone at CT a very happy and holy Feast of the martyrs of England & Wales, especially those who live in England and Wales.

  10. I wish everyone a happy and holy Feast of the martyrs of England and Wales.

    On the morning of her execution, Saint Margaret Clitherow sent her stockings and shoes to her daughter. Her daughter understood the hidden message and left England going to Europe, most likely France and entered a convent. It seems also that her sons became priests.

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04059b.htm

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