While we in the USA celebrate our Declaration of Independence, I bring to your notice two sets of Catholic martyrs from the reign of Elizabeth I.
On July 4, 1594, Father John Cornelius, SJ, Mr. John Carey, Mr. Patrick Salmon, and Mr. Thomas Bosgrave were executed in Dorchester, England. Father Cornelius had found a patron in Sir Thomas Arundell of Cornwall when a young man. Arundell arranged for him to attend the University of Oxford, but Cornelius traveled in 1580 to the Continent to study for the priesthood first at Rheims and then at the English College in Rome. Then he returned to England and served as chaplain to Lady Arundell. He was arrested at Chideock Castle by the sheriff of Dorsetshire, as were John Carey and Patrick Salmon, Irish servants of the castle. Thomas Bosgrave was arrested when he offered Father Cornelius a hat on his way to gaol--that constituted aiding and abetting a Catholic priest in Elizabethan England!
Father Cornelius was taken to London, questioned and tortured by authorities to find out who else had helped him and other priests he knew and then returned to Dorchester to stand trial with the three laymen on July 2, 1594. All were found guilty and were brought to the scaffold. Carey, Salmon and Bosgrave were hung as felons before Father Cornelius was hung, drawn and quartered as traitor. More about the Chideock Martyrs here, including the painting above at the Church of Our Lady, Queen of Martyrs, and St. Ignatius. The Church is celebrating Chideock Martyrs Day today with Prayers at the Martyrs Cross, Ruins Field and Mass for the Chideock Martyrs.
On July 4, 1597, one priest and three laymen were executed in York: Father William Andleby, Mr. Thomas Warcop, Edward Fulthrop, and Henry Abbott. Father Andleby was a convert--he had been born in Yorkshire, studied at St. John's College in Cambridge and had traveled to the Spanish Netherlands to fight for the Protestants there against the Catholic King of Spain. He visited William Allen at Douai to debate the exiled founder of the Catholics schools for English exiles. He ended up convinced that Dr. Allen was right, that the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Jesus Christ and studied at Douai to become a priest! After ordination in 1577 he returned to England as a missionary priest--he left as a soldier and came back as a priest! For twenty years he served Catholics in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire until his arrest, trial and execution.
Two of the three laymen received the same sentence of being hung, drawn, and quartered because they were judged guilty of treason: Edward Fulthrop, a Yorkshire gentleman had reconciled to the Catholic Church and Henry Abbot of Holden had persuaded another to join the Catholic Church--although it was an act of entrapment by an Anglican minister. Thomas Warcop was hanged for sheltering Father William Andleby. It's a brave man who becomes a Catholic in England after almost 30 years of recusancy laws that have increased in penalty and enforcement.
All eight were beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1929. Their stories offer us great examples of holiness and fidelity to Jesus Christ and His Church. Thinking of their martyrdoms as we celebrate our Declaration of Independence in 1776 reminds us that the freedom of the exercise of religion documented in the United States Constitution's Bill of Rights thirteen years later was hard won and a long time coming as an idea applied in modern culture. (Another topic for another blog: why don't we celebrate Constitution Day as an important secular holiday?)