Thursday, January 21, 2016

Martyrs and Their Witness

When St. Edmund Campion suffered execution on December 1, 1581, drops of his blood fell on Henry Walpole. Walpole then left England to study for the priesthood and thus returned as a missionary like Campion. Just like Campion--but only more quickly--he was captured, then imprisoned, tortured, and executed. In the same way, on January 21, 1586, Blesseds Edward Stransham and Nicholas Wheeler (or Woodfen) were executed at Tyburn; Blessed William Freeman, who would suffer their fate nine years later, witnessed their hanging, drawing, and quartering and yet was inspired to follow their path to exile, study, ordination, and return as a missionary priest.

~Blessed Edward Stransham, priest and martyr--A native of Oxford, born about 1554, earning his BA from St. John's College in 1575-76. Then he went to Douai in 1577 and Reims in 1578. Because he was ill he returned to England to recuperate; then went back to Reims in 1579; ordained in 1580. In 1581 he returned to England as a missionary priest, but was still suffering from consumption; he left England in 1583, bringing 12 Oxford converts with him to Reims. After a stay in Paris, he returned to England and was arrested while saying Mass in Bishopsgate Street Without, London, 17 July, 1585 and held for trial.
~Blessed Nicholas Wheeler (or Woodfen), priest and martyr--Born at Leominster in 1550, he studied for the priesthood in Reims, after ordination he returned to England with Edward Stransham, and was executed with him at Tyburn in 1586. Dressed like a lawyer, he had lived near the Inns of Court, one of the legal training schools in London, serving covert Catholics studying there.

Blessed William Freeman witnessed the executions of Stransham and Wheeler. He became a Catholic, went to Reims, was ordained and returned to England as a missionary priest. He was hung, drawn, and quartered for that crime on 13 August 1595 in Warwick, after spending some time in Stratford-on-Avon.

Although Blesseds Stransham and Wheeler were martyred first, Blessed William Freeman was beatified before they were, by Pope Pius XI in 1929. Today's martyrs were named Venerable on November 10, 1986 and then beatified November 22, 1987 by Pope Saint John Paul II.

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