The Lord is the king of martyrs: come, let us adore him.
Year: C(II). Psalm week: 2. Liturgical Colour: Red.
St Swithin Wells (c.1536-1591)
Swithin Wells was born at Brambridge, Hampshire, around 1536, and was christened with the name of the local saint and bishop Swithin. He was for many years a schoolmaster at Monkton Farleigh in Wiltshire. During this period, he attended Church of England services, but in 1583 was reconciled to the Catholic Church. In 1585 he went to London, where he took a house in Gray’s Inn Lane.
In 1591, Edmund Gennings was saying Mass at Wells’s house, when the priest-hunter Richard Topcliffe burst in with his officers. The congregation, not wishing the Mass to be interrupted, held the door and beat back the officers until the Mass was finished, after which they all surrendered quietly. Wells was not present at the time, but his wife was, and was arrested along with Gennings, another priest, Polydore Plasden, and three laymen, John Mason, Sidney Hodgson, and Brian Lacey. On his return Wells was immediately arrested and imprisoned. At his trial, he said that he had not been present at the Mass, but wished he had been.
He was sentenced to be hanged, and was executed outside his own house on 10 December 1591, just after Edmund Gennings. On the scaffold, he said to Topcliffe, “I pray God make you a Paul of a Saul, of a bloody persecutor one of the Catholic Church’s children.” His wife, Alice, was reprieved, and died in prison some 10 years later.
St Swithin Wells was canonised by Paul VI on 25 October 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.
In other years: Our Lady of Loreto
Since the Middle Ages veneration for the Holy House of Loreto has been the origin of that particular shrine which still today is visited by many faithful pilgrims in order to nourish their faith in the Word of God made flesh for us.
In the Holy House, before the image of the Mother of the Redeemer and of the Church, Saints and Blesseds have responded to their vocation, the sick have invoked consolation in suffering, the people of God have begun to praise and plead with Mary using the Litany of Loreto, which is known throughout the world. In a particular way all those who travel via aircraft have found in her their heavenly patron.
In light of this, Pope Francis has decreed, by his own authority, that the optional memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Loreto should be inscribed in the Roman Calendar on 10 December, the day on which the feast falls in Loreto, and celebrated every year. This celebration will help all people, especially families, youth and religious to imitate the virtues of that perfect disciple of the Gospel, the Virgin Mother, who, in conceiving the Head of the Church also accepted us as her own.
Other saints: St Melchiades (d. 314)
Born in Africa, Melchiades was pope in Rome when the Church obtained its freedom after centuries of persecution. He took advantage of the new favourable situation to organise the Church on solid foundations. He ordered the construction of many churches and was the first pope to occupy the cathedral of St John Lateran. He was pope for only 3 years.
Other saints: St John Roberts (1575 - 1610)
He was born in north Wales and studied law. He travelled on the Continent in 1598 and was converted to Catholicism. He entered the English College at Valladolid to study for the priesthood; he then became a Benedictine monk. He was ordained in 1602 and set out on a mission to England. He was arrested and banished, returned to England, arrested and banished again, arrested, imprisoned, and banished yet again. By now it was July 1606. He spent fourteen months at Douai in northern France, where he founded the English Benedictine community of St Gregory, which, having been exiled from France at the time of the French Revolution, is now at Downside Abbey, near Bath. He returned to England and was arrested in October 1607, escaped, went on the run for a year, was arrested again and imprisoned: the intercession of the French Ambassador saved him from execution, and he was banished. He returned to England within a year, and was arrested on 2 December 1610 while celebrating Mass and taken to prison still wearing his vestments. He was tried on 5 December and convicted of being a priest, and hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 10 December.
Other saints: St John Roberts OSB (1575-1610)
John Roberts was born in 1575, the son of John and Anna Roberts from North Wales. He matriculated at St John’s College, Oxford, in 1595-6, but left after two years without taking a degree (possibly because he was unable to take the Oath of Supremacy) and was very briefly a law student at one of the Inns of Court. In 1598 he travelled on the continent and, through the influence of a Catholic fellow-countryman, was received into the Catholic Church at Notre Dame in Paris. He then entered the English College at Valladolid, Spain where he was admitted in 1598. The following year he joined the Abbey of St Benedict in Valladolid. After ordination in 1602 he set out for England. Although observed by a Government spy, Roberts and his companions succeeded in entering the country in April, 1603; but, his arrival being known, he was soon arrested and banished. He almost immediately returned to England where he worked for a time among the plague-stricken people in London, where he became known as “the parish priest of London”. In 1604, while embarking for Spain with four postulants, he was again arrested, but not being recognized as a priest was soon released and banished, but returned again at once. He was immediately rearrested and though acquitted of any crime was imprisoned in the Gatehouse at Westminster for seven months before again being exiled. Back at Douai he founded a house for the English Benedictine monks; this was the beginning of the monastery of St Gregory at Douai which today exists as Downside Abbey. In October, 1607, he returned to England, was once more arrested and placed in the Gatehouse, from which he contrived to escape after some months. He now lived for about a year in London before being taken and this time was committed to Newgate; he would have been executed but for the intercession of the French ambassador, whose petition reduced the sentence to banishment. However he returned to England within a year, and was captured on 2 December, 1610. On 5 December he was tried and found guilty under the Act forbidding priests to minister in England, and on 10 December was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn.
Other saints: St Edmund Gennings (1567-1591)
Edmund Gennings (or Jennings), born in 1567, came from Lichfield, Staffordshire. He was a thoughtful, serious boy naturally inclined to matters of faith. At around sixteen years of age he converted to Catholicism. He went immediately to the English College at Reims where he was ordained a priest in 1590. He soon returned to England under the assumed name of Ironmonger. His missionary career was brief. He and Polydore Plasden were seized by Richard Topcliffe and his officers whilst celebrating Mass in the house of Swithin Wells at Gray’s Inn in London on 7 November 1591 and was hanged, drawn and quartered outside the same house on 10 December. His execution was particularly bloody, as his final speech angered Topcliffe, who ordered the rope to be cut down when he was barely stunned from the hanging. It is reported that he uttered the words, Sancte Gregori ora pro me while he was being disembowelled. His martyrdom was the occasion of the conversion of his younger brother John, who had disowned him but who later became a Franciscan, and wrote his biography, published in 1614 at Saint-Omer.
Other saints: St Eustace White (1559-1591)
10 Dec (where celebrated)
Eustace White was born in Louth, Lincolnshire in 1559, he was a convert to Catholicism who travelled to Europe to study for the priesthood. He was ordained, probably at the Venerable English College, Rome in 1588, and returned to England for his ministry later that year – the year of the Spanish Armada. He thus began his ministry just as anti-Catholic feeling was reaching fever pitch. A friendly conversation with a fellow traveller led to his arrest in Dorset three years later. Eustace put up a very articulate defence in the West Country but was given no chance to defend himself when he was taken to London to face trial. He was severely tortured. He is recorded as having described his torture in the following way: “The morrow after Simon and Jude’s day I was hanged at the wall from the ground, my manacles fast locked into a staple as high as I could reach upon a stool: the stool taken away where I hanged from a little after 8 o’clock in the morning till after 4 in the afternoon, without any ease or comfort at all”. After several days of such treatment he was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 10 December 1591.
Other saints: St Polydore Plasden (1563-1591)
10 Dec (where celebrated)
Polydore Plasden, aka Oliver Palmer, was born in London in 1563. He was the son of a London horner. He was educated at Reims and at Rome, where he was ordained priest on 7 December, 1586. He remained at Rome for more than a year, and then was at Reims for some months in 1588, before being sent on the mission to England. He was captured on 8 November 1591, in London, at Swithin Wells’s house in Gray’s Inn Fields, where Edmund Gennings was celebrating Mass. At his execution he acknowledged Elizabeth as his lawful queen, whom he would defend to the best of his power against all her enemies, and he prayed for her and the whole realm, but said that he would rather forfeit a thousand lives than deny or fight against his religion. By the orders of Sir Walter Raleigh, he was allowed to hang till he was dead, and the final part of the sentence was carried out upon his already dead body.
Other saints: The Blessed Martyrs of East Anglia
Those listed as the Martyrs of East Anglia are:
Blessed Brian Lacey: a layman, cousin and companion of Montford Scott; he was betrayed by his brother Richard, of Brockdish, Norfolk, and after arrest and imprisonment, condemned to death for aiding and abetting priests. He was executed in 1591.
Blessed John Robinson: a Yorkshireman who, having become a widower, went to Reims to study for the priesthood, and was ordained there in 1585. He was executed at Ipswich in 1588.
Blessed Thomas Tunstall: a Cumbrian by birth, he was educated in Douai, ordained there in 1609, sent on the English Mission, and imprisoned almost at once. During his time in prison he became a Benedictine. He was hanged at Norwich in 1616.
Blessed Montford Scott was bom in Norfolk, studied for the priesthood in Douai and ministered throughout eastern England from Yorkshire to Kent. In 1584 he was captured at York, where he remained a prisoner for seven years. He was released upon payment but re-arrested shortly afterwards, and executed in Fleet Street in 1591.
Blessed Thomas Hunt also known as Thomas Benstead, he was born in Norfolk and studied for the priesthood in Valladolid and Seville, where he was ordained in 1599. Upon his return to England he was arrested almost immediately in Lincoln, where he was executed in 1600
Blessed Henry Heath: born in Peterborough, he became librarian of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He studied for the priesthood in France and entered the Franciscans. Shortly after returning to England, disguised as a sailor, he was arrested and sentenced to death. He was executed at Tyburn in 1643.
About the author of the Second Reading in today's Office of Readings:
Second Reading: St Irenaeus (130 - 202)
Irenaeus was born in Smyrna, in Asia Minor (now Izmir in Turkey) and emigrated to Lyons, in France, where he eventually became the bishop. It is not known for certain whether he was martyred or died a natural death.
Whenever we take up a Bible we touch Irenaeus’s work, for he played a decisive role in fixing the canon of the New Testament. It is easy for people nowadays to think of Scripture – and the New Testament in particular – as the basis of the Church, but harder to remember that it was the Church itself that had to agree, early on, about what was scriptural and what was not. Before Irenaeus, there was vague general agreement on what scripture was, but a system based on this kind of common consent was too weak. As dissensions and heresies arose, reference to scripture was the obvious way of trying to settle what the truth really was, but in the absence of an agreed canon of scripture it was all too easy to attack one’s opponent’s arguments by saying that his texts were corrupt or unscriptural; and easy, too, to do a little fine-tuning of texts on one’s own behalf. Irenaeus not only established a canon which is almost identical to our present one, but also gave reasoned arguments for each inclusion and exclusion.
Irenaeus also wrote a major work, Against the Heresies, which in the course of denying what the Christian faith is not, effectively asserts what it is. The majority of this work was lost for many centuries and only rediscovered in a monastery on Mount Athos in 1842. Many passages from it are used in the Office of Readings.
Liturgical colour: red
Red is the colour of fire and of blood. Liturgically, it is used to celebrate the fire of the Holy Spirit (for instance, at Pentecost) and the blood of the martyrs.
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||Jeremiah 29:11,13 ©|
I know the plans I have in mind for you – it is the Lord who speaks – plans for peace, not disaster, reserving a future full of hope for you. When you seek me you shall find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
|Noon reading (Sext)||Jeremiah 30:18 ©|
The Lord says this: Now I will restore the tents of Jacob, and take pity on his dwellings.
|Afternoon reading (None)||Baruch 3:5-6 ©|
Do not call to mind the misdeeds of our ancestors, but remember instead your power and your name, for you are indeed the Lord our God.