Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Three Lancashire Martyrs under the Commonwealth

Blessed John (Martin) Woodcock (1603 – 1646):  John Woodcock was born to a “Church Papist” Anglican Father in 1603 at Woodcock Hall in Lancashire. He was sent to Saint Omer to study with the Jesuits there and after finishing his humanities studies he was sent to Rome to complete his theological formation. There he no doubt met the Irish Franciscans who took over at the College of St. Isidore in the same year. He asked to enter the Capuchins but was dismissed from their novitiate after a few months, perhaps because of precarious health. He wandered around Europe aimlessly for three years until he arrived in Douai. There his desire to be a Franciscan was realised when he entered the novitiate of the Friars Minor in 1631. He was given the name Martin of St. Felix and made great progress both in his studies and in sanctity. He was ordained a priest just four years later in 1635. he went to England on the mission but, after a few years, was forced to return on account of his ill health.
His medics sent him to the baths at Spa to recuperate and he there met the Observant General Commissary. He begged permission to return to England where his co-religionists were suffering renewed persecution in the Puritan-led Commonwealth. The Commissary gave him permission and John set out, landing in Newcastle in 1644. He went to his paternal home, but his father, scared for the safety of his son since many would have known that he had spent years abroad and studied for the priesthood, sent him away. The soldiers of the local garrison had, however, already been informed of his arrival and he was arrested immediately and imprisoned in Lancaster Castle, where he lived for two years. He was martyred on 7th August 1646, hanged at Bomber-Bridge while he exhorted the crowd to understand why he had been condemned. John Woodcock was beatified along with 129 other martyrs of England and Wales on 22nd November 1987 by Pope John Paul II.

The other two who suffered on August 7 were alumni of the College and Seminary at Valladolid, Spain: BLESSED Thomas WHITAKER (alias STARKIE) was born , the son of a schoolmaster in Burnley, Lancashire. He studied for the priesthood as St. Omer and VALLADOLID, where he was ordained priest in 1638.

For 5 years he worked on the Mission in Lancashire. He was finaly arrested and jailed for 2 years during the Civil War. He was condemned to death for being a priest.

BLESSED Edward BAMBER (alias HELMES, REDING) was born in Carleton, near Blackpool in the County of Lancashire. He was a seminarian in St. Omer, and at the English College of St. Gregory in SEVILLE, where he was ordained a priest the year 1626. Upon returning to England, he disembarking in the port of Plymouth, he was stopped and incarcerated, but immediately released. For sixteen years he served the Catholic Mission, mainly in Lancashire. Imprisoned again between 1643 and1646, he was condemned for being priest. He and Father Whitaker were included with Father Woodcock among the 85 Martyrs of England and Wales beatified by Blessed John Paul II.

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