Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Blesseds Pilchard, Pike, and Flathers at Dorchester and York

Both of these priestly martyrs had been arrested and banished, but returned to England and suffered martyrdom when arrested again, one during the reign of Elizabeth I and the other during the reign of James I.

The Catholic Encyclopedia describes the life and death of Blessed Thomas Pilchard or Pilcher, incuding among the 85 Martyrs of England and Wales beatified by Blessed John Paul II in 1987:

He was born at Battle, Sussex, 1557; died at Dorchester, 21 March 1586-7. He became a Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, in 1576, and took the degree of M.A., in 1579, resigning his fellowship the following year. He arrived at Reims 20 November, 1581, and was ordained priest at Laon, March, 1583, and was sent on the mission. He was arrested soon after, and banished; but returned almost immediately. He was again arrested early in March, 1586-7, and imprisoned in Dorchester Gaol, and in the fortnight between committal to prison and condemnation converted thirty persons. He was so cruelly drawn upon the hurdle that he was fainting when he came to the place of execution. When the rope was cut, being still alive he stood erect under the scaffold. The executioner, a cook, carried out the sentence so clumsily that the victim, turning to the sheriff, exclaimed "Is this then your justice, Mr. Sheriff?" According to another account "the priest raised himself and putting out his hands cast forward his own bowels, crying 'Miserere mei'". Father William Warford, a contemporary of Blessed Thomas Pilchard, says: "There was not a priest in the whole West of England, who, to my knowledge, was his equal in virtue."

He is honored at the Dorset Martyrs Memorial on Gallows Hill, Dorchester, which includes Blessed William Pyke or Pike, a layman reconciled to the Catholic Church by Blessed Thomas Pilchard. Some sources give his date of execution at December 22, 1591 but others say that the date is uncertain and so he is remembered with his confessor. He was also hanged, drawn, and quartered because he had converted to Catholicism, which was an act of treason. He also answered the Bloody Question incorrectly according to authorities, denying Elizabeth I's ecclesiastical authority. He was a joiner, or carpenter, and was resolute.

The Catholic Encyclopedia records another brutal execution on March 21, in 1607, of Blessed Matthew Flathers in York:

An English priest and martyr; b. probably c. 1580 at Weston, Yorkshire, England; d. at York, 21 March, 1607. He was educated at Douai, and ordained at Arras, 25 March, 1606. Three months later he was sent to English mission, but was discovered almost immediately by the emissaries of the Government, who, after the Gunpowder Plot, had redoubled their vigilance in hunting down the priests of the proscribed religion. He was brought to trial, under the statute of 27 Elizabeth, on the charge of receiving orders abroad, and condemned to death. By an act of unusual clemency, this sentence was commuted to banishment for life; but after a brief exile, the undaunted priest returned to England in order to fulfil his mission, and, after ministering for a short time to his oppressed coreligionists in Yorkshire was again apprehended. Brought to trial at York on the charge of being ordained abroad and exercising priestly functions in England, Flathers was offered his life on condition that he take the recently enacted Oath of Allegiance. On his refusal, he was condemned to death and taken to the common place of execution outside Micklegate Bar, York. The usual punishment of hanging, drawing, and quartering seems to have been carried out in a peculiarly brutal manner, and eyewitnesses relate how the tragic spectacle excited the commiseration of the crowds of Protestant spectators.

He was also included among the 85 Martyrs of England and Wales beatified in 1987. Our Lady and All Saints Catholic Church in Otley honors him as a local martyr.

Remember that hanging, drawing and quartering was live vivisection: a fumbling, inept executioner could prolong the suffering. It was a mercy if the hangman allowed the victim to die while hanging, or at least be unconscious.

Image credit: © Copyright Becky Williamson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Martyrs' Memorial, Gallows Hill, Dorchester, taken 2 years ago
This memorial was erected in 1986 to commemorate all Dorset men and women who were martyred for their faith, particularly during the religious troubles of the 16th and 17th centuries. 

The artist who created the sculptures was Elizabeth Frink.

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