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Under the patronage of St. Tammany
Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Last evening, I celebrated one of the most moving liturgies of my priesthood, as the clergy and choristers of Westminster Cathedral celebrated Vespers at the London Charterhouse - the first public Catholic ceremony to be held there since the Reformation.
Following Vespers, we processed to the Garden of the Charterhouse, to the site of the monastic Church. There, before the plaque commemorating the martyrs, stands a model of the Tyburn scaffold. As the name of each martyr was read aloud, a member of the current Charterhouse came forward and placed a rose in the model.
As we concluded, the bells from the nearby Church of St Bartholomew the Great started ringing. They are the oldest peal in the country, having been installed in 1510 - therefore, they would have been familiar to the Carthusian martyrs.
Surprise is the first emotion that strikes the fortunate visitor to the Charterhouse, on the edge of the City of London, for here, wedged between the traffic fumes of Clerkenwell Road and the bloody pavements of Smithfield meat market, stands a cluster of quadrangles like those of a medieval Oxford college, with hall and chapel, tranquil behind its walls and trees.
The ancient buildings are lovely, but there is an air of sadness about the place. The original monastery, dedicated to the "Salutation" (that is to say, the Annunciation of the Incarnation by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary), was built in the 14th century as a monastery for the ascetic Carthusians.
At the Charterhouse, the quadrangle today called Wash-house Court was built of medieval stonework and completed with a range of brick. The diapering of the brickwork picks out the initials JH, those of John Houghton, the prior from 1531 to 1535. In the latter year, he refused to swear an oath recognising Henry VIII as supreme head of the church, and he was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on May 4.
One of his arms was nailed to the door of the Charterhouse, but this did not dissuade 15 of his brother Carthusians from holding out. Five died on the scaffold and the other 10 were starved to death in Newgate prison.
The fiercest anti-Catholics of 1960 look like models of moderation beside the Anglicans of 16th and 17th century England.
Jesuit Edmund Campion was "cruelly distent" on the rack, and his fingernails were pulled out before he was executed. For permitting Mass to be said in her private chapel. Catholic Convert Margaret Clitherow was pressed to death and, according to a witness, "was in dying one-quarter of an hour. A sharp stone as much as a man's fist was put under her back; upon her was laid the quantity of seven or eight hundredweight at the least, which breaking her ribs caused them to burst through her skin.'' Altogether, from 1585 to 1680, about 360 British Roman Catholics were tortured and killed.
As early as 1594, Jesuit Father John Gerard was carefully compiling a list of the outstanding English martyrs of the church with the idea that some or all of them might eventually be made saints. The wheels ground slowly, but British Catholics continued to work and hope for their martyrs. Last month the Sacred Congregation of Rites announced that it would consider waiving the rule that each candidate for sainthood must perform two miracles, and would admit 40 of the martyrs "as a group," provided that the group as a whole could produce two miracles.
Says Jesuit Father Philip Caraman. a vice-postulator of the martyrs' cause: "I have no doubt at all that the miracles will be worked. These martyrs were English and Welsh, after all, and it's a safe presumption that in heaven they have the interests of their fellow countrymen at heart." In an office in London's Farm Street, headquarters of the canonization cause, a brand-new folder labeled MIRACLES was placed hopefully in a metal filing cabinet.
Some of the best known among the 40 martyrs: EDMUND CAMPION, a debonair Jesuit scholar who was described by William Cecil as "one of the diamonds of England," and was patronized by high nobility, even for a time by Queen Elizabeth. Campion's treatise Decem Rationes (Ten Reasons), in which he challenged Protestants to religious debate, led to his death by hanging. In 1886, Campion was made a beatus, a preliminary step to canonization that all 40 have attained.
ROBERT SOUTHWELL, another Jesuit, whose poems were admired by Ben Jonson, executed after prolonged torture. PHILIP HOWARD, Earl of Arundel and forefather of the present Duke of Norfolk, who was caught trying to escape to France. He died after ten years of privation in the Tower of London, accused of praying for the success of the Spanish Armada.
PHILIP EVANS, called the jolliest of Welsh martyrs, who was playing court tennis when told that he had to die for being a priest ordained abroad. First, the story goes, he finished the game. MARGARET CLITHEROW, comely wife of a Yorkshire butcher, who was pressed to death with a sharp stone under her back for the crime of harboring priests.
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Much of Robert Southwell's poetry, none of which was published in his lifetime, was written in prison.
Ben Jonson said he would have been content to destroy his own verses if he could have composed the following:
As I in hoary winter's night stood shivering in the snow, Surprised I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow ; And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near, A pretty babe all burning bright did in the air appear ; Who, scorchëd with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed. Alas, quoth he, but newly born in fiery heats I fry, Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I ! My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns, Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns ; The fuel justice layeth on, and mercy blows the coals, The metal in this furnace wrought are men's defilëd souls, For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good, So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood. With this he vanished out of sight and swiftly shrunk away, And straight I callëd unto mind that it was Christmas day. #