A mighty God is the Lord: come, let us adore him.
Year: A(I). Psalm week: 2. Liturgical Colour: Green.
Other saints: The Blessed Martyrs of Sussex
Arundel & Brighton
John Rugge, Thomas Percy, Thomas Pylcher, Henry Webley, Edward Shelley, Ralph Crockett, Edward James, George Gervase, Thomas Bullaker, William Howard.
On this day we honour ten martyrs, whose sufferings span the whole period during which men and women were put to death in England for their loyalty to the Catholic faith: a period of over a hundred and forty years, during the reigns of five monarchs. Among them are four laymen, two of noble birth, and six priests, including a Benedictine monk, a Franciscan friar, and three “seminary priests”.
The first was a priest of 63 years of age, John Rugge, who had spent most of his priestly life at Chichester, first as Principal of the College of Vicars Choral, and then as Prebendary of the Cathedral. In 1536 he retired to live at the Benedictine Abbey at Reading; it is not clear whether he actually became a professed monk. This was the year when Henry VIII first moved to take over the monasteries – the lesser ones at this time. But three years later Thomas Cromwell descended on the larger and richer abbeys, among which was Reading. Abbot Hugh Faringdon was one of the few abbots to refuse to sign away his abbey, and when he was brought to trial John Rugge and John Eynon were found guilty with him of treason, for denying that the King was Supreme Head of the Church in England. All three were hanged, drawn and quartered at Reading on 15th November 1539.
Thirty years later, Elizabeth I was on the throne, and the Protestant Reformation was being enforced with increasing severity. The year 1569 saw the Rising in the North, which sought to restore the Catholic faith, and to secure the succession to the throne of Mary Queen of Scots. The leaders of the uprising were the Earl of Westmorland and the Earl of Northumberland, Thomas Percy. Throughout his life Percy was a supporter of the Catholic cause, arguing for it in the House of Lords. But ten years earlier he had been forced to resign his post as Warden of the Marches, and to live more quietly at his Petworth estate. The rising of 1569 was a failure, in spite of considerable support in the north of England, and the Earl was forced to flee to Scotland. There he was betrayed and kept imprisoned in Lochleven Castle for two and a half years, while his captor bargained with the Queen for his surrender to her jurisdiction. He was brought eventually to York, where he was beheaded for treason on 22 August 1572. His last words to the crowd made the reason for his execution very clear: “From my earliest years I have kept the faith of that Church which, throughout the whole Christian world, is knit and bound together; and in the same faith I am to end this unhappy life.”
Five more of our Sussex martyrs suffered during the reign of Elizabeth I. Thomas Pylcher is a distinguished son of the Sussex town of Battle. A Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, he was “grievously suspect of religion”. In 1581, aged 24, he left Oxford to study for the priesthood at the English College at Rheims, where two years later he was ordained priest. Returning to the “English Mission”, he worked for two years in Hampshire and the West Country, but in 1585 he was arrested and banished from the realm, with many others. This banishment was no act of leniency, for that same year the infamous Act of 27 Elizabeth C.2 was passed, which made it high treason for a priest to be ordained abroad to enter the country to minister here. Any one of those banished who returned would come under this Act. Like so many others, Thomas Pylcher did so return, and for over a year worked secretly among the Catholics in Dorset and in London. It was in London that he was recognised (he had a cast in one eye). He was taken to Dorchester, tried for treason under the Act, and executed on 21 March 1587. He had been a great reconciler, bringing many back to the faith, including a carpenter named William Pike, who died a martyr in 1591, other prisoners in Dorchester gaol, and a notorious young robber, who died on the scaffold with him. A priest friend wrote of him: “There was not a priest in the whole West of England who was his equal in virtue”.
An honoured place among our martyrs is held by two laymen, Henry Webley and Edward Shelley. Not much is known of Webley’s early life, but Shelley came from a staunch Sussex Catholic family. His father had estates at Warminghurst, and his grandfather was Sir John Shelley of Michelgrove near Arundel. Both men were among that band of laypeople – many unknown to us – who gave help and shelter to the priests who came from abroad to minister to them. One of these priests was Blessed William Dean, and indeed Shelley had been in prison with him. Dean (and perhaps Shelley) had been banished with many others in 1585, but returned that same year. Henry Webley probably joined them in London. But in 1586 Webley was arrested on board a ship in Chichester harbour, as he was about to sail for France, and committed to Marshalsea prison in London, where he remained for two years.
1588 was a fateful year for English Catholics. In July the invasion of the Spanish Armada was narrowly averted, and there was an immediate reaction against Catholics. The government was not slow to take advantage of this, and many Catholics then in prison were brought to trial, among them Webley and Shelley. Both were tried under the Act of 1585, by which it was a felony to receive or aid priests entering the country, and in both cases the priest in question was William Dean. It was made abundantly clear that if they acknowledged the Queen as head of the Church they would be reprieved. Henry Webley and Dean were found guilty at Newgate Sessions and executed together at Mile End Green on 28 August 1588. Two days later Edward Shelley was hanged at Tyburn.
Barely a month later it was the turn of two seminary priests, Ralph Crockett and Edward James. Ralph Crockett, a native of Cheshire, was a Cambridge man and a schoolmaster. At the age of 32 he offered himself for the English Mission, studying at the English college at Rheims, where he was ordained in 1585. Edward James, of Derbyshire and Oxford, was a younger man who had been ordained in 1583 after studying at the English College in Rome. The two met at Dieppe in February 1586 and arranged with a Newhaven shipowner to take them across the Channel. They arrived off Littlehampton, but were advised that it was unsafe to land, as close watch was being kept at the port for such as themselves. After two days the ship was boarded and the two priests were arrested. They were taken to London and interrogated. The fact that they had been arrested when on board ship meant that they had not entered the country of their own free will, and that therefore they had not broken any law – especially the new law making it treason for priests to enter the country to minister here. But Crockett stated that he had intended to exercise his priesthood in England, and James said that he had come to fulfil his oath to the service of the English Mission, which was evidence enough. They were kept in prison for the next two and a half years, until in the aftermath of the Armada in 1588 the Government sought to make examples of Catholics, particularly in disaffected places. Chichester was considered one of these, so the two priests were put on trial there. The prosecutor made an attempt to show that they were traitors not only under the new Act, but also under an Act of Edward III, which of course had no reference at all to priesthood as a cause of treason. Crockett, who was the spokesman, said that it was a cruel law to make their religion and tie taking of priesthood to be treason, and that time had been that priesthood had been reverenced in England.
On 1st October 1588 Crockett, James and another, Francis Edwardes, were taken to Broyle Heath outside Chichester. Crocket and James absolved each other. Crockett died first; the mild prayerful James remained staunch to the end, but the third, Edwardes, gave way at the last moment, took the oath and was reprieved. Blessed Ralph Crockett and Blessed Edward James had never offered a mass or heard a confession in England. They accomplished their ministry in their death. George Gervase was born and baptised into the Established Church at Bosham in 1569. His mother was a member of the Shelley family. At the age of twelve George was orphaned. At twenty-six he was pressed into service on Sir Francis Drake’s last voyage to the Indies. On his return he went to Flanders and enlisted as a soldier in the army of the Archduke of Austria. But he also made contact with his elder brother, who was a Catholic, and was reconciled to the Church. He was accepted as a student at the English College at Douai and ordained priest in 1603. The following year he returned to England, ministered for a time in the south, then went to the north, where he was apprehended. After a period in gaol, he was banished from the realm with many other priests, including St Thomas Garnet. Back on the Continent, George made a pilgrimage to Rome, where he asked to be received as a monk at the new St Gregory’s Priory at Douai. He was clothed as a novice, and returned immediately to England. He was at liberty for just two months, and then was arrested and brought to trial at the Old Bailey. He was asked if he would take the Oath of Allegiance (this was a new oath which had been imposed after the Gunpowder Plot). He refused, and was condemned to a traitor’s death. The sentence was carried out on 11 April 1608. George Gervase can be said to have made his profession as a Benedictine monk on the scaffold.
For our next Sussex martyr we move on a generation, to the reign of Charles I. This reign had begun with a considerable respite for Catholics, largely because of Charles’s Catholic queen, Henrietta Maria. Thomas Bullaker was born in 1603. His father was a doctor in Chichester, and a well-known recusant. Thomas himself was born at Midhurst, and early experienced the pressures involved in living a Catholic life at that time. In 1621 he went to study at Valladolid, and there was admitted into the Franciscan Order. He was professed as Brother John Baptist in 1623, and about four years later was ordained priest. His first desire was to go on the West Indies mission, but his Provincial judged him better suited to go to England. At first things went badly for him. He was arrested as soon as he landed at Plymouth, was tried at Exeter but remanded for insufficient evidence. Friends secured his release by means of a forged letter purporting to come from the Privy Council. The next twelve years he spent in uninterrupted work for the Catholics in England; he was Secretary to the Franciscan Provincial, and Guardian of various districts. But it was not to last. Puritan opposition to the King was increasing, and under the Long Parliament which began to sit in 1640 persecution of Catholics was renewed. Thomas Bullaker ardently desired the palm of martyrdom. So he went to work in London, the most dangerous place, was arrested and again released, went to the country for a time, returned to London and was finally apprehended there while saying Mass. On trial at Newgate, he made an able defence, admitting that he was a priest, but denying treason. The Jury wavered, but the Judge pronounced sentence without waiting for their verdict. Thomas was taken to Tyburn, where he spoke to the people about priesthood and the Real Presence, until ordered to stop; he received absolution from a member of his order in the crowd (perhaps Arthur Bell), and went to his martyr’s death, aged about 38. Relics of him are preserved at St Richard’s Church at Chichester and at the Convent of the Poor Clares at Arundel.
The last of the Sussex Martyrs is a distinguished layman, William Howard, Viscount Stafford, the grandson of St Philip Howard. The fifth son of Thomas, 14th Earl of Arundel, he was born at Arundel House in the Strand, and was brought up a Catholic. A brilliant boy, he graduated from Cambridge at the age of twelve. At Charles I’s coronation, aged 13, he was made a Knight of the Bath. As Viscount Stafford his career was chiefly noteworthy for long and acrimonious litigation with other members of his family in defence of his mother’s inheritance. At all events, throughout his middle years he showed little sign of the heroic destiny that awaited him. He was already an elderly man when, in 1678, the infamous Titus Oates singled him out as one of the alleged participants in his invented “Popish Plot” to assassinate Charles II and put his brother James on the throne. In September of that year he was arrested and committed to the Tower. After fourteen months he was brought to trial and sentenced to death by beheading. He received the news with joy, quoting Psalm 117: “This is the day which the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it”. And he declared, in his speech from the scaffold, on 29th December 1680: “I have considered often what could be the original cause of my being thus accused, since I knew myself not culpable, so much as in a thought, and I cannot believe it to be on any other account than my being of the Church of Rome. I have no reason to be ashamed of my religion.” That can stand as the epitaph of all the Martyrs of Sussex and indeed of all who gave their lives for the faith in our land.
Other saints: Saint Thomas Cantilupe (1218-1282)
Thomas Cantilupe belonged to a rich and powerful Anglo-Norman family. He was born c.1218 and brought up partly at Worcester where his uncle was bishop. In 1237 he began his studies at the university at Oxford, which was then in its formative period. He was ordained priest in 1245 while taking part in the First Council of Lyons. After studies abroad, at Paris and Orleans, he came back to Oxford as lecturer in 1255. He taught both theology and Canon Law, and served two terms as Chancellor of the University. As such he was noted for his generosity to poor students; he was also a disciplinarian attempting to ban the weapons which students used readily in riots and demonstrations. Because of his involvement in politics at the time of the War of the Barons against King Henry III, he had to leave England and taught theology at Paris from 1266 to 1272 before returning to Oxford a second time. In 1275 he became Bishop of Hereford, where his austerity and his zeal as a reforming bishop became well known. He died at Montefiascone while on a journey to the papal court, and was canonised in 1320.
Other saints: Blessed André de Soveral and Ambrosio Francisco Ferro (-1645)
He was born in São Vicente, in the state of São Paulo in Brazil, in 1572.
On Sunday 16 June 1645 he was celebrating Mass in Cunhau, a town in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Norte, when a band of Dutch Calvinist troops who had been terrorizing the region under the leadership of Jacob Rabbi (a German Jew) burst into the church immediately after the consecration and massacred the people inside. Up to the last, Soveral exhorted his people to make a good death and recited the last rites as they were all being murdered.
Jacob Rabbi led another massacre three months later, on 3 October 1645, in the village of Uruaçu in the same state. On this occasion the people in the church had their tongues torn out for reciting Catholic prayers, limbs were cut off, children were cut in half. The priest, Father Ambrósio Francisco Ferro, was tortured to death. One man, Mateus Moreira, shouted ‘Praised be the Blessed Sacrament!” even as his heart was being torn out through his ribs.
The two priests and 28 of their known lay companions were beatified by Pope John Paul II on 5 March 2000.
Other saints: Saint Francis Borgia (1510-1572)
3 Oct (where celebrated)
Francis Borgia (1510-1572) was born in Valencia, Spain. Although as a child he wished to become a monk, his family sent him instead to be trained for life at court, where he distinguished himself in the diplomatic service of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and king of Spain, and as viceroy of Catalonia. He married in 1529 and had eight children. A gifted musician and composer, he was considered one of the chief restorers of sacred music (prior to Palestrina). In May 1539, he was missioned to accompany the corpse of the empress Isabella, who had died unexpectedly fifteen days earlier, to her burial place in Granada. He was shocked to see her beautiful face disfigured beyond recognition. This experience proved to be the turning point of his life. After his wife’s death in 1546, he joined the Society of Jesus. In 1565 he was elected the third superior general of the Society of Jesus. He died in Rome in 1572.
About the author of the Second Reading in today's Office of Readings:
Second Reading: St Polycarp (- 155)
Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostles, bishop of Smyrna, and a friend of St Ignatius of Antioch. He went to Rome to confer with Pope Anicetus about the celebration of Easter. He was martyred at Smyrna in about 155 by being burnt to death in the stadium. Polycarp is an important figure in the history of the Church because he is one of the earliest Christians whose writings still survive. He bears witness to the beliefs of the early Christians and the early stages of the development of doctrine.
Liturgical colour: green
The theological virtue of hope is symbolized by the colour green, just as the burning fire of love is symbolized by red. Green is the colour of growing things, and hope, like them, is always new and always fresh. Liturgically, green is the colour of Ordinary Time, the orderly sequence of weeks through the year, a season in which we are being neither single-mindedly penitent (in purple) nor overwhelmingly joyful (in white).
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)
|1 Corinthians 12:4-6 ©
There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them.
|Noon reading (Sext)
|1 Corinthians 12:12-13 ©
Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink.
|Afternoon reading (None)
|1 Corinthians 12:24,25-26 ©
God has arranged the body and that there may not be disagreements inside the body, but that each part may be equally concerned for all the others. If one part is hurt, all parts are hurt with it. If one part is given special honour, all parts enjoy it.