Thursday, January 21, 2016

One of the Forty Martyrs: St. Alban Roe, OSB and Companion

Also on January 21, but in 1642, one of the canonized Forty Martyrs of England and Wales suffered execution after many years of service in England. As the parish church named for him in Wildwood, Missouri, USA tells his story:

Bartholomew Roe was born at Suffolk, England in 1583 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. He was reared in a good Anglican home and later attended Cambridge University. It was while he was attending this university, during a summer break, that he visited the Abbey of St. Alban just north of London. At that time, the Abbey was a prison for Catholics. It was named after the first English martyr, Alban, who died around the end of the third century, our secondary patron Saint.

It was at this Abbey that Bartholomew met a prisoner, whose name is unknown to this day, who inspired him to take a good hard look at the faith of his forefathers. Returning to Cambridge, this inspiration grew into the decision to join the Catholic Church. Not content with this, he decided to become a priest in Post Reformation England and he left for France to study for the priesthood.

He was accepted by the Benedictine Community in France, the same community that had fled Westminster during the reign of Henry VIII. He began to care for Catholic prisoners. He was soon imprisoned but continued to minister with his cheerful disposition.

The Abbey of St. Albans referred to above, had of course been suppressed in the Dissolution; the Gatehouse was used as a prison while the people of the town had bought the abbey church from Henry VIII. According to BHO (British History Online):

After the Suppression, the monastic buildings, excepting the Lady chapel and the Great Court, were granted, in 1550, to Sir Richard Lee. The abbey church was retained by the Crown till 1553, when it was sold to the mayor and burgesses of St. Albans, to be their parish church instead of St. Andrews, which was then pulled down; and the Lady chapel was at the same date cut off to be used as a grammar school.

The maintenance of the great church must at all times have been a heavy charge on the parish funds, and it is not to be wondered at that when, in the last century, repairs were undertaken on a large scale, it was found that the building was in a very unsafe state. It has emerged from the ordeal with the loss of many of its ancient features, but is at least structurally sound. As it stands to-day [1908], its great length, and the warm tone of its ancient brickwork, suffice to make it a striking and picturesque building; but not even time can ever make the new fronts of the transepts tolerable. The central tower, with parts of the north transept and the eastern bays of the nave, are the only parts of the building which preserve an ancient exterior, and have undoubtedly gained by the loss of their original coating of plaster and whitewash. The west wall of the north transept is the most characteristic piece of early masonry, with courses of Roman brick alternating, though irregularly, with lines of large undressed flints, while the more careful work of the central tower is entirely faced with brickwork, the only other material employed being the Barnack stone of the shafts and capitals. The walling of the clearstory of the presbytery retains its thirteenth-century surface of reused Roman brick, with a band of later and more deeply-coloured brickwork above it, but hardly any other part of the exterior has any claim to antiquity. Roofs, gables, buttresses, pinnacles, windows, all are alike new, and it will be long before the cathedral church regains that look of reverend antiquity which was one of the chief charms of the abbey church a generation ago.

In 2015, the Anglican bishop of London, Richard Chartres, dedicated a new series of statues for the rood screen, including St. Alban Roe, according to this story. (Also note that every Friday in the Anglican Cathedral, a Catholic Mass is celebrated.) St. Alban Roe, OSB is depicted with playing cards in his hands. He played cards in the alehouses near the Fleet prison during his 17 year stay there--with prayers as wagers.

His companion, Blessed Thomas Green or Reynolds (Green was the surname he was born with), was 80 years old when he suffered being hung, drawn, and quartered. He had been a priest for about 50 years and had been exiled once from England, in 1606, after the Gunpowder Plot. Obviously, Fatehr Green returned to England to continue his service. He had been sentenced to death 14 years before his execution and been held in similar circumstances at St. Alban Roe. They were able to pray together and absolve each other before suffering.

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