Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Blessed Christopher Wharton, 1600 in York

Blessed Christopher Wharton is one of the 85 Martyrs of England and Wales beatified by Blessed Pope John Paul II in 1987:

Born at Middleton [or Myddelton], Yorkshire, before 1546; martyred at York, 28 March, 1600. He was the second son of Henry Wharton of Wharton and Agnes Warcop, and younger brother of Thomas, first Lord Wharton. He was educated at Trinity College, Oxford, where he graduated M.A., 3 February, 1564, and afterwards became a fellow. In 1583 he entered the English College at Reims to study for the priesthood (28 July). He was ordained priest in the following year 31 March, but continued his studies after ordination till 1586, when on 21 May he left Reims in company with Ven. Edward Burden [now Blessed Edward Burden]. No details of his missionary labours have been preserved; but at his trial Baron Savile, the judge, incidentally remarked that he had known him at Oxford some years after 1596. He was finally arrested in 1599 at the house of Eleanor Hunt, a widow, who was arrested with him and confined in York castle. There, with other Catholic prisoners, he was forcibly taken to hear Protestant sermons. He was brought to trial together with Mrs. Hunt at the Lent Assizes 1600, and both were condemned, the former for high treason, the latter for felony. Both refused life and liberty at the price of conformity, and the martyr suffered with great constancy, while Eleanor Hunt was allowed to linger in prison till she died. Dr. Worthington, writing of Ven. [Blessed] Christopher Wharton, specially commends his "humility, fervent charity, and other great virtues".

Note the gap between 1564 and 1583 while the future martyr was serving as fellow at Trinity College: what might have been happening in his studies and his life that moved him to leave Oxford and travel to Reims? Did he, like St. Edmund Campion before him and Blessed John Henry Newman after him, study the Fathers of the Church? This site notes that he was "influenced by others" and thus became a Catholic. Both he and those "others" were already taking incredible chances, as it was an act of treason against Queen Elizabeth I, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, to proselytize or convert. Then he left home and began the life of the hunted, persecuted Catholic missionary priest.

The Myddlelton Grange Retreat House linked above has a relic of the martyr: his skull. Its progress to the Retreat House is described thus:

His severed head was put on one of the gates of York, but was rescued by Catholics, who kept it safe in Knaresborough. Later, this area was served by Benedictine priests who eventually took the skull into safe keeping at Downside Abbey near Bath. 402 years after his death, Blessed Christopher’s skull was returned to this place by the Abbot of Downside, at the dedication of the chapel of St. Mary & St. Margaret Clitheroe.

Prayer to Blessed Christopher Wharton

Loving and Merciful God,
you raise up men and women in every age
to give witness to your love.
Through the intercession of Blessed Christopher Wharton,
priest and martyr,
may I learn more each day of your great love for me,
and in so doing,
may I never be afraid to offer the same witness of love
to my sisters and brothers.
By the prayers of this holy martyr,
grant my heartfelt prayer…
(here add your personal petition or prayer…),
and open my heart that I may recognise my sanctity as your child.
Through Christ our Lord.

Jesus, Prince of Martyrs, have mercy on us.
Mary, Queen of Martyrs, pray for us.
Holy Martyrs of Yorkshire, pray for us.
Blessed Christopher Wharton, pray for us.
All holy men and women, pray for us.

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