On July 9, 1572, nineteen priests and religious were put to death by hanging at Briel, the Netherlands. They had been captured in Gorkum on June 26 by a band of Calvinist pirates called the Watergeuzen (sea-beggars) who were opposed to the Catholicism of the Spanish princes of the country.
During their imprisonment, the priests were tortured, subjected to countless indignities, and offered their freedom if they would deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the primacy of the pope. Despite a letter from Prince William of Orange ordering their release and protests from the magistrates of Gorkum, the men were thrown half-naked into the hold of a ship on July 6, and taken to Briel to be killed in the presence of a Protestant nobleman, Admiral Lumey, who was noted for his hatred of Catholicism. Their bodies, mutilated both before and after death, were callously thrown into a ditch.
The scene of the martyrdom soon became a place of pilgrimage. Accounts of several miracles, performed through the martyrs’ intercession and relics, were used for their beatification. Most of their relics are kept in the Franciscan church at Brussels to which they were secretly conveyed from Briel in 1616.
The 19 martyrs, canonized by Pope Pius IX on June 29, 1865, are:
1. Leonard van Veghel (born 1527), spokesman, secular priest, and since 1566 pastor of Gorkum
2. Peter of Assche (born 1530), Franciscan lay brother
3. Andrew Wouters (born 1542), secular priest, pastor of Heinenoord in the Hoeksche Waard
4. Nicasius of Heeze (born 1522), Franciscan friar, theologian and priest
5. Jerome of Weert (born 1522), Franciscan friar, priest, pastor in Gorcum
6. Anthony of Hoornaar, Franciscan friar and priest
7. Godfried van Duynen (born 1502), secular priest, former pastor in northern France
8. Willehad of Denemarken (born 1482), Franciscan friar and priest
9. James Lacobs (born 1541), Norbertine canon
10. Francis of Roye (born 1549), Franciscan friar and priest
11. John of Cologne, Dominican friar, pastor in Hoornaar near Gorkum
12. Anthony of Weert (born 1523), Franciscan friar and priest
13. Theodore of der Eem (born c. 1499–1502), Franciscan friar and priest, chaplain to a community of Franciscan Tertiary Sisters in Gorkum
14. Cornelius of Wijk bij Duurstede (born 1548), Franciscan lay brother
15. Adrian van Hilvarenbeek (born 1528), Norbertine canon and pastor in Monster, South Holland
16. Godfried of Mervel, Vicar of Melveren, Sint-Truiden (born 1512), Franciscan priest, vicar of the friary in Gorkum
17. Jan of Oisterwijk (born 1504), canon regular, a chaplain for the Beguinage in Gorkum
18. Nicholas Poppel (born 1532), secular priest, chaplain in Gorkum
19. Nicholas Pieck (born 1534), Franciscan friar, priest and theologian, Guardian of the friary in Gorkum, his native city
The church alluded to in the Catholic Exchange article is St. Nicholas Church in Brussels, not too far from the Grand Place. The martyrs' reliquary is a large rectangular case decorated with their images on the sides, and events of their arrest and martyrdom on the lid. The relics had been transferred originally to a nearby Franciscan friary which was suppressed during the French Revolution (1796), and then moved to St. Nicholas; the gilded bronze reliquary was created in 1870 for the relics.
Prince William the Silent might have ordered the Calvinist pirates to release the Catholic priests, demonstrating mercy, he was not accorded the same justice as King Philip II of Spain declared him an outlaw and promised a reward for his assassination. Balthasar Gerard wanted the reward and shot the Prince of Orange to death on July 10, 1584, 12 years and one day after the Gorkum martyrs were hung. Gerard was captured, tortured, and brutally executed--obviously not receiving the reward he sought.