Friday, May 11, 2012

May 11, 1537: Hanging in Chains

Two of the Carthusians of the Charterhouse of London began their agonizing and slow death by being hung in chains from the York city battlements: Blessed John Rochester and Blessed James Walworth. They were beatified by Pope Leo XIII on the 20th of December in 1886 or 1888 (I've found two sources with two dates!).

After the first three Carthusian priors were executed on May 4, 1535, the next three leaders in line, Humphrey Middlemore, William Exmew and Sebastian Newdigate, were executed on June 19 that same year and these two monks were taken from London to the Charterhouse of St. Michael in Hull.

In the wake of the Pilgrimage of Grace, Rochester and Walworth were tried in York by Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk and found guilty of treason.

The Catholic Encyclopedia offers this detail about Blessed John Rochester:

Priest and martyr, born probably at Terling, Essex, England, about 1498; died at York, 11 May, 1537. He was the third son of John Rochester, of Terling, and Grisold, daughter of Walter Writtle, of Bobbingworth. He joined the Carthusians, was a choir monk of the Charterhouse in London, and strenuously opposed the new doctrine of the royal supremacy. He was arrested and sent a prisoner to the Carthusian convent at Hull. From there he was removed to York, where he was hung in chains. With him there suffered one James Walworth (?Wannert; Walwerke), Carthusian priest and martyr, concerning whom little or nothing is known. He may have been the "Jacobus Walwerke" who signed the Oath of Succession of 1534. John Rochester was beatified in 1888 by Leo XIII.


When Rowan Williams, who is resigning at the end of this year as Archbishop of Canterbury, remembered the Carthusian martyrs at the Charterhouse in London in 2010, he quoted H.F.M. Prescott's The Man on a Donkey and her description of Robert Aske's sufferings while hanging in chains, dying slowly by hunger, thirst, and exposure:

And towards the end of that extraordinary novel, we watch and listen to Robert Aske, the leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace, in his last anguished moments, hanging in chains from the Keep of the Castle in York: "God did not now nor would in any furthest future prevail. Once he had come and died. If he came again, again he would die, and again and so forever, by his own will, rendered powerless against the free and evil wills of men. Then Aske met the full assault of darkness without reprieve of hoped for light, for God ultimately vanquished was no God at all. But yet, though God was not God, as the head of the dung worm turns, so his spirit turned blindly, gropingly, hopelessly loyal, towards that good, that holy, that merciful - which though not God, though vanquished - was still the last dear love of a vanquished and tortured man." . . . Robert Aske hangs in chains still, but (as Hilda Prescott's novel portrays it) a discovery has been made as he falls from level to level of despair and desire 'For now, yet with no greater fissure between then and now, and as a man's eyes are aware where no star was of the first star of night, now he was aware of One, vanquished God, Saviour who could as little save others as himself. But now, beside him and beyond, was nothing - and he was silence and light.'

Blessed martyrs of the Carthusians, pray for us!

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