Sunday, August 9, 2015

August Martyrs: Blessed Richard Bere

Today's August martyr is the Carthusian, Blessed Richard Bere, who also has a connection with Glastonbury Abbey, where Blessed Richard Whiting and companions suffered in 1539. Bere died of dehydration and starvation in Newgate Prison on August 9, 1537. From the Shrine of Our Lady of Glastonbury in Somerset (with their permission) comes this story of one of the last of the Carthusians to die during Henry VIII's reign:

One of the tenants on the Glastonbury estates was a brother of Richard Bere, Abbot of Glastonbury (1494-1525), of the name of Robert. He had a son Richard born about A.D.1508, who was brought up at the Abbey School, and is said to have been a frequent visitor at the Abbey.

From Glastonbury the Abbot sent him to Oxford, and later wanted him to marry Jane Samuel of Mells, an only daughter, of whom the Abbot, on the death of her father, became guardian. But Richard refused, and went to study at the Inns of Court or Chancery in London. He later abandoned his legal studies and became a Carthusian monk in London.

In the Spring of 1535 commissioners were appointed by Thomas Cromwell to visit certain places and people to make them take the Oath of Supremacy, acknowledging King Henry as Head of the Church. Refusal meant death. The Carthusian monastery in London, where Richard Bere lived was one of those places specially ear-marked for a visit.

Aware of the forthcoming ordeal John Houghton, the Prior, with Augustus Webster, Prior of Axholme, and Robert Lawrence, Prior of Beau Vale, was preparing by prayer. After consultation they decided to forestall the commissioners, and asked Cromwell for an exemption from the obligation of the Oath. This was refused, and they were lodged in the Tower. Then they expressed willingness to consent “so far as the law of God might allow”. But when this was roughly brushed aside, they refused absolutely. They were “tried” at Westminster Hall, and an unwilling jury was threatened by Cromwell into pronouncing the verdict of guilty; and they were hanged in their habits on 4th May at Tyburn.

Two years later Cromwell sent Thomas Bedyll to try to persuade the three senior monks, Humphrey Middlemore, William Exmew and Sebastian Newdigate to submit, but as they remained unmoved they were taken to the Marshalsea where for a fortnight they were chained by the neck and legs to posts. As nothing could shake them, they were “tried” and later executed on 19th June 1537. The rest of the community, including Richard Bere, deprived of their leaders, were subjected to every form of persecution. Ten monks, including Richard Bere, would not take the Oath of Henry's supremacy over the Church. They were lodged in a filthy ward of Newgate prison, where they were chained standing with their hands tied behind them to posts, and so left to die of starvation. Seven died. It is probable that Cromwell interfered and ordered those still living to be given food in order that they might be preserved for execution. This would account for the fact that Richard Bere and Thomas Johnson lingered so long, though the cruel privations they had already endured brought on death before they could be carried to Tyburn for execution.

Blessed Richard Bere died on 9th August 1537, Thomas Johnson on 20th September, and William Horne was the only one whom Cromwell saved for the executioner's knife. They died faithful witnesses to the Catholic teaching that the Pope, the Vicar of Christ, is the Head of His Church on earth.

Glastonbury can surely take pride in having reared one of these heroes and martyrs.

The church has a beautiful tapestry featuring the martyrs from the Glastonbury area, including Blessed Richard Whiting and his companions from Glastonbury Abbey.

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