Friday, August 7, 2015

August Martyrs: Three Lancaster Martyrs in 1646

Today is the feast of the Lancaster Martyrs, honoring the last three who suffered in that diocese in 1646: Blesseds Edward Bamber, John Woodcock OFM, and John Whitaker. The Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Thomas More celebrates with Mass, Solemn Vespers, and a walk to the site of execution at Lancaster Castle. I always like it when I see the local diocese or parish honoring their martyrs. The Cathedral even presented a program on the Catholic Martyrs of England and Wales in 2013, including lectures and showing many of the documentaries from Mary's Dowry, with today's feast as the culmination of the event.

This blog describes the feast and these three martyrs:

On this day in 1646 three priests were executed in Lancaster on account of their religion. After sixty years of executions they were the last to be martyred in this city, and on account of this August 7th is now kept as the feast of the Lancaster Martyrs. Canon Billington records, "The three were drawn together to the place of execution on August 7, 1646, 'the Catholics being much comforted and edified, and the Protestants astonished and confounded to see that cheerfulness and courage with which these servants of God went to meet that barbarous and ignominious death to which they were condemned."

The Lancaster Castle website also acknowledges the Catholic martyrs who suffered there between 1584 and 1646, providing these details about the last three:


Born at Carleton in the parish of Poulton-le-Fylde, Bamber was ordained in Spain in 1626. At his execution he threw a handful of money into the crowd and reconciled a man condemned for the murder of his brother, giving him absolution on the gallows.


Born in Leyland John was brought up a Protestant but later became a Franciscan. He was arrested after saying mass at Bamber Bridge. Eventually brought to court in August 1646, he admitted to being a priest. Nothing further was needed to condemn him and he received the inevitable death sentence. The rope broke at the first attempt, but he was hanged again and then butchered alive.


Fr Whittaker ministered in the area of St Michaels-on-Wyre, Goosnargh and Kirkham. He was arrested once but escaped before his ultimate capture in 1643. Thomas was clearly in mortal terror of what awaited him and, having watched the executions of Bamber and Woodcock, he was offered the chance to save himself by denying his faith. It must have taken enormous courage to say what he did: 'Use your pleasure with me. A reprieve of even a pardon upon your condition I utterly refuse'

He was the last priest to be executed in Lancaster.

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