Monday, October 1, 2012

Martyrs and Recanters: The Chichester Martyrs

On October 1, 1588, three Catholic priests were on their way to martyrdom in Chichester, drawn on a hurdle to Broyle Heath. The day before, September 30, four Catholic priests had been condemed to death by hanging, drawing, and quartering--but only two of these Catholic priests were martyred on October 1.

So often when we tell the story of the Catholic recusants and the Catholic priests of that recusant era, we emphasize the heroic faithfulness of those who suffered and died.

Today's story reminds us that some who faced the crisis of life and death chose to recant their Catholic faith and avoid martyrdom.

Father Edward James and Father Ralph Crockett had been arrested on April 19, 1586 and held in prison in London for more than two years without trial (from April 27, 1586). After the failure of the Spanish Armada, these imprisoned Catholic priests were prime targets of the English government for vengeance and punishment. Fr. James and Fr. Crockett were tried in Chichester along with Father John Oven and Father Francis Edwardes, found guilty and sentenced to death, but Fr. Oven took the Oath of Supremacy and was reprieved.

Then on October 1st, at Broyle Heath, Fr. Edwardes took the Oath of Supremacy and was reprieved--Fr. James and Fr. Crockett refused to recant and the butchery of their execution was carried out, after they first absolved each other on the scaffold.

Pope Pius XI beatified the two martyred priests in 1929 and today is their feast day.

According to an article in the January 1857 issue of "The Rambler," the journal Blessed John Henry Newman briefly edited two years later, there is little information about what happened to John Oven and Francis Edwardes after October 1, 1588--they may have been kept in prison for a time in case they recanted their recantation or sent into exile. It does not appear that they received any preferment from the Church of England or the state.

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