Sunday, August 28, 2011

St. Edmund Arrowsmith

Last year, The Catholic Herald featured St. Edmund Arrowsmith, a Lancashire priest executed on August 28, 1628 after being denounced and betrayed by a man named Holden whose marital irregularities Father Arrowsmith had commented on. According to the article, St. Edmund "was one of the 15 Catholics martyred in Lancashire between 1584 and 1646, although there were several other Lancastrians who died for the old faith outside the county." More details:

Edmund – he was actually christened Bryan – Arrowsmith was born at Haydock, near Warrington, into the very heart of recusancy.

His mother belonged to the fervently Catholic Gerard family; his father Robert, a farmer, and his eldest brother Peter had served in Sir William Stanley’s regiment which fought for Spain in the Low Countries. Peter, in fact, died of his wounds in Brussels.

Bryan Arrowsmith also had an uncle called Edmund who helped train English priests in France. When Bryan went to Douai in 1605 he adopted his uncle’s christian name. Despite periods of ill-health Arrowsmith was ordained in 1612, after which he undertook a fearless and forthright ministry in Lancashire, denouncing heretics with unguarded zeal.

Arrested in 1622, he was released because James I eschewed persecution when trying to arrange a Spanish marriage for his son Prince Charles.

A devotee of St Ignatius’s spiritual exercises, Arrowsmith was enrolled in 1623 as a Jesuit novice in London, probably in the French embassy at Blackfriars. It is not clear, though, whether he spent much time there.

Certainly in 1628 he was acting with his accustomed rigour in Lancashire. A man called Holden, whom he had reprobated for some matrimonial irregularity, denounced him to the authorities.

Indicted at Lancaster Assizes as a seminary priest and Jesuit, Arrowsmith was hanged, drawn and quartered in that town on August 28 1628. The authorities set his head upon a pinnacle of Lancaster Castle, and distributed his quarters elsewhere upon the building. His severed hand is preserved in St Oswald’s Church, Ashton-in-Makerfield, near Wigan.

Throughout the Elizabethan era Catholics in Lanchasire were able to practice their Faith with some security--the Earls of Derby protected them. The Justices of the Peace in that area were Church Papists and had many recusants in their families. Church Papists wanted to remain true to the Catholic Church but would attend Church of England services to maintain their offices. It was not uncommon for the husband to practice this outward conformity while paying his wife's fines. You can see the difficulty with this practice, of course--when would your outward conformity become an inward habit and disposition?

We might see a contrast between between the Church Papist's behavior and Father Arrowsmith's--the Catholic Herald article refers to the martyr's zeal. Because he remained true to his vocation, which included pointing out and correcting sinful behavior, he was betrayed. He demonstrated integrity. Catholic priests in England in that era might have to hide, wear disguises and travel incognito, but they also had to be true to the whole of their vocation, to preach the Gospel in season and out of season.

St. Edmund Arrowsmith, pray for us!

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