Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Franciscan Martyrs of the Recusant and Popish Plot Eras

Often when we consider the priest-martyrs of the English Reformation era, we think of the Jesuits: Saints Edmund Campion, Robert Southwell, Henry Walpole, etc. But the Franciscans, who had been the major mendicant order in England before Henry VIII's break from Rome, also had a group of martyrs. This site provides detail about the two martyrs canonized by Pope Paul VI:

Saint John (Godfrey) Jones 1530? - 1598: John Jones was born to a Catholic family in Clymag Faur in the county of Canaervon in Wales around the year 1530. In his youth Queen Mary Tudor accomplished the restoration of the Catholic Church after the brief reign of Edward VI had taken the Church of England into the Calvinist fold. Mary's accession had allowed the English friars who had fled into exile to Flanders and Scotland to return and in April 1555 the friary at Greenwich, in which Mary and Elizabeth had been baptised, was reopened. John joined the friary and took the name Godfrey Maurice, becoming known for his piety. At Mary's untimely death in 1558, however, her half-sister Elizabeth assumed the throne and it was not long before Catholics were once more persecuted in England. John Jones, although still a novice was forced to flee to France. The English Observant Franciscans fled to a friary in Pontoise where John was professed and trained. He was probably ordained a priest at Rheims, where there was another friary of the exiled English Province.

Towards 1590 John was sent to the friary of Ara Coeli in Rome, the General headquarters of the Order. From there he wished to return to England to take part in the mission to care for faithful Catholics, who risked their livelihoods and often their lives to sustain their missionary priests. The priests themselves were subject to the dreadful death of hanging, drawing and quartering as traitors for the simple fact of exercising their priesthood. John begged an audience with the Pope and Clement VIII embraced him, gave him a solemn blessing and told him: “Go, because I believe you to be a true son of Saint Francis. Pray to God for me and for his holy Church."

In England John Jones exercised an heroic hidden ministry, animating the Catholic faith among recusants and prudently seeking to reconcile those who had submitted to Elizabeth's Church of England. The existence of a missionary priest in England was one of frequent moves, constant vigilance and continued flight from Elizabeth's vigilant secret services, supervised by William Cecil and Francis Walsingham.

Despite his care, John Jones was caught in late 1595 or early 1596 by Richard Topcliffe, who nurtured a cruel hatred for the Catholic faith and was sanctioned by the Queen to maintain a private torture chamber in his house for the Catholic priests he apprehended. John Jones was accused of being a spy and sent to the notorious Clink prison, from which we derive the expression “being in clink”. There he languished for nigh on two years awaiting trial. In prison Jones continued his ministry and converted many, including Saint John Rigby, who was himself martyred two years after John Jones (on 21st June 1600). On 3rd July 1598 John Jones was finally brought to trial for having exercised his ministry as a Catholic priest in England. He was sentenced to hanging, drawing and quartering at Saint Thomas Watering, but was meanwhile imprisoned at Marshalsea prison. The Jesuit Henry Garnet recounts in a letter that on 12th July 1598 John was tied to a trellis and dragged to the place of his torment. He was held there for an hour before execution during which time Topcliffe harangued the crowd with his supposed crimes. Garnet recounts that the crowd was touched more by John's prayers than by the calumnies of his torturer and executioner. His remains were hung up on the road between Newington and Lambeth.

With John Wall and 38 other English martyrs, John Jones was beatified by Pius XI on 15th December 1929 and canonised by Paul VI on 25th October 1970.

Saint John (Joachim) Wall (1620 – 1679): John Wall was born in 1620, probably at Chingle Hall, near Preston in Lancashire. As a young man he entered the English College in Douai where he was taught by the famous Dr. Kellison. In 1641 he transferred to the English College in Rome, where he was ordained a priest in 1645. After a brief spell as a missionary in England he returned to Douai and asked to enter the Franciscan College of St. Bonaventure which John Gennings had erected there in his restoration of the Franciscan Province of England. In January 1651 he was accepted into the Order and took the name Joachim of St. Anne. Five friars from that friary had already been martyred.

John Joachim, although only 6 months professed was appointed Guardian of the college and later Master of Novices. In 1656 he assumed the false name Francis Webb and re-entered England as a missionary in Worcestershire. He remained there for 22 years ministering to the Catholics of the area. In 1678 he went to London to meet the Jesuit Claude de la Colombière, and the two spoke together of their desire for martyrdom. The context of this meeting was the renewed persecution that was unleashed in the wake of the murderous lies of Titus Oates and his invented Catholic plot against King Charles II.

Returning from this encounter, John was staying with a friend in Rushock Court. There he was mistaken for one of the so-called plotters, Francis Johnson, and arrested. When he refused to swear to the religious supremacy of the King, he was imprisoned for five months of dreadful suffering. At the end of this time, on 25th April 1679, he was condemned to death for high treason, since he was a priest who had been ordained abroad and returned to exercise his ministry in contravention to the Elizabethan anti-Catholic laws. He argued in vain that Charles II's amnesty of 1660 should have covered him, as indeed it should. Instead he was sent to London to be interrogated by Oates, Bedloe, Dugdale and Pranse. He was found innocent of the accusation of complicity in the “Papist Plot” but because of his priestly ordination and ministry, his death sentence was nevertheless confirmed and he was sent back to Worcester, where he was hanged on 22nd August 1679.

His fellow friar William Leveson, whose own brother Francis Leveson would himself be martyred at the age of 34 in 1680, looked after John Wall in his last days in prison. He recounted the condemnation and death of the martyr in a letter. John Wall's body was buried in the cemetery of the church of St. Oswald in Worcester, and his head returned to Douai, where it was venerated as a holy relic.

Along with John Jones and 38 other English martyrs John Wall was beatified by Pius XI on 15th December 1929 and canonised by Paul VI on 25th October 1970.

Note that St. John Wall had been able to work for 22 years in England before the Popish Plot's anti-Catholic hysteria. Worcestershire authorities had not been diligent about finding the Franciscan, or the Providence of God and his Guardian Angel had been protecting him--or a little of both. See the next post for details on the beati honored on this day.

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