Thomas Atkinson, of Yorkshire, England, studied for the priesthood in Reims, France, where he was subsequently ordained in 1588 around the age of forty-two. Returning to England, he traveled about on foot to minister to his fellow Catholics, becoming a special friend of the poor among them. It was only after breaking a leg that the indefatigable priest resorted to traveling by horse instead. His labors in the service of persecuted Catholics became so well known that, to escape arrest by the Protestant authorities, he could only journey safely by night. In the end, he was betrayed by an informer and captured while staying at the home of a Catholic family. Then about seventy, Father Atkinson was led to prison together with the couple that had hosted him, and their children. The “incriminating evidence” found by the government officials in the priest’s possession consisted of Rosary beads and the text of an indulgence. Condemned to death by drawing and quartering, Father Atkinson is said to have faced death “with wonderful patience, courage, and constancy, and signs of great comfort.”
He was beatified by Blessed John Paul II in 1987 as one of the Eight-five Martyrs of England and Wales. Obviously, as he had served his Catholic flock for decades, quietly and unnoticed, he was no danger to the state. But he was captured during a period of James I's reign when fear of Catholicism was heightened and the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Abbott, was much in favor of persecuting Catholics.