Sunday, May 22, 2016

Blessed John Forest, Observant Friar and Martyr

Blessed John Forest was executed by being burned to death, suspended over the flames from a gibbet in chains on May 22, 1538 because he opposed Henry VIII's marriage to Anne Boleyn, the annulment of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and Henry's claim to supremacy and religious and ecclesiastical matters in England, which was heresy to Henry VIII. He was one of the Observant Franciscans. According to the Franciscans in the Province of Great Britain website: 

John was born into the noble Forest family, probably in Oxford, in 1471. At seventeen years of age he joined the Observant Friars Minor in Greenwich. He completed his studies at Oxford at the age of 26 and was ordained priest in Greenwich. Cardinal Wolsey gave him the task of preaching in St. Paul's Cross Church and Queen Catherine of Aragon chose him as her chaplain and then confessor. (The Greenwich friary was attached to the Royal Palace of Greenwich). In this role he opposed the divorce that King Henry VIII wanted to obtain from the Queen. In 1532, Guardian of the Greenwich friary, he spoke to the friars of the plans the King had to suppress the Order in England and denounced from the pulpit at St. Paul's Cross Henry's plans for a divorce. In 1533 he was imprisoned in Newgate prison and condemned to death. In 1534 Henry did indeed suppress the Observant friars and ordered them dispersed to other friaries. John was released from prison and by 1538 was in confinement in a Conventual Franciscan friary, his death sentence having been neither commuted nor carried out. From this confinement he could correspond with the Queen and he also wrote a tract against Henry entitled: De auctoritate Ecclesiae et Pontificis maximi (On the Authority of the Church and the Supreme Pontiff), defending the papal primacy in the Church. He was denounced to the King for this tract and also for refusing to swear the oath of loyalty demanded by Cromwell. When he refused to admit that his resistance to the King was an error John was burned over a slow fire on 22nd May 1538 in Smithfield Market. He died praying for his enemies.

Dom Bede Camm wrote an extended narrative of Blessed John Forest's stand against Henry VIII, his correspondence with Queen Katherine of Aragon, Latimer's long sermon before Forest was burned alive, and the martyr's last words: "Domine, miserere mei".

The Catholic Encyclopedia has this further detail about his execution and information about his beatification:

The statue of "Darvell Gatheren" which had been brought from the church of Llanderfel in Wales, was thrown on the pile of firewood; and thus, according to popular belief, was fulfilled an old prophecy, that this holy image would set a forest on fire. The holy man's martyrdom lasted two hours, at the end of which the executioners threw him, together with the gibbet on which he hung, into the fire. Father Forest, together with fifty-three other English martyrs, was declared Blessed by Pope Leo XIII, on 9 December, 1886, and his feast is kept by the Friars Minor on 22 May.

Image credit: Wikipedia commons, under license. It depicts his statue in St. Etheldreda's, Ely Place in London.

Blessed John Forest, pray for us.

1 comment:

  1. I just read in the Book "Hugh Latimer" By R.M. Carlyle and A.J. Carlyle 1899 page 71,Forest of Greenwich was executed because he "advised his penitents to stick to the old fashion of belief, and argued that he himself owed a double obedience , first to the king by way of law of God , second to the pope by his rule and profession." He put God's word above the pope and was burned to death for saying this out loud and would not renounce it to the end of his life. This is contrary to the reason stated above in this article. However, I do not dispute he probably was not liked by the King because of he did not approve of the kings annulment to his wife. That was probably the underlying reason but the official reason was under charges of Heresy.