Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Blessed John Fingley

On August 8, 1586, Blessed John Fingley or Finglow, one of the 85 Martyrs of England and Wales was executed. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, he was:

An English martyr; b. at Barnby, near Howden, Yorkshire; executed at York, 8 August, 1586. He was ordained priest at the English College, Reims, 25 March, 1581, whence the following month he was sent on the English mission. After labouring for some time in the north of England, he was seized and confined in Ousebridge Kidcote, York, where for a time he endured serious discomforts, alleviated slightly by a fellow-prisoner. He was finally tried for being a Catholic priest and reconciling English subjects to the ancient Faith, and condemned to be hanged, drawn, and quartered.

He attended Gonville and Caius College at the University of Cambridge. As an article from the alumni magazine of Caius College in 2007 notes:

Many of our students of the 1580s became Jesuits and Seminary priests, at a time when either to be or to harbour a priest was high treason, for which the penalty was hanging, drawing and quartering. A Caian became head of the Jesuits in England, and another the Rector of the College at Valladolid. Five were certainly executed. One was John Ballard, convicted for his leading role in the Babington plot to assassinate Elizabeth. (It was the discovery of this plot that led directly to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots.) One priest was pardoned on the scaffold (probably for recanting in the face of the horrors of hanging, drawing and quartering.) Another escaped from prison to the English College in Rome. There can be no doubt that the Bull of Pius V excommunicating Elizabeth and absolving her subjects of allegiance to her was fatal to them. Virtually all condemned priests were asked on the scaffold whether they were loyal to the Queen. All insisted that they were. Asked to reconcile that proclaimed loyalty with the Pope’s decree, it was impossible that any could find a convincing answer. 

There were four others whose only crime was saying mass and administering the sacraments to their English flock: William Deane, John Hewitt, John Fingley (appointed butler by Dr Legge), and Francis Montfort. Of William Deane, Bishop Challoner writes that he was a man of ‘exceptional gravity and learning’ and that when he came to the place of execution, he began to speak of the causefor which he and his companions were condemned: but his guards stopped his mouth “in such a violent manner, that they were like to have prevented the hangman of his wages.” Deane and Hewitt were beatified in 1929, and Fingley in 1987. 

It was indeed a tragic period. It is difficult – perhaps impossible – for us to recapture an atmosphere in which such secrecy, suspicion, dissembling – and heroism, were part of college life. In these ecumenical times it is perhaps still harder to understand why so many Caians went abroad, returned, were banished and returned again to risk a hideous death simply in order to say the mass (sic).

Obviously, they could have just said Mass on the Continent! They did not "risk a hideous death simply in order to say the mass (sic)"! They returned to celebrate the Mass and the other Sacraments for the Catholic people. Dr. Casey could also have said that it's hard to imagine a government declaring that saying or attending a religious service was an illegal act! 

The Caian who became the head of the Jesuits in England was Richard Holtby (1606-1640). I presume Dr. Casey is referring to Father Francis Edwardes who recanted on the scaffold at Chichester in 1588? Christopher Walpole, SJ, St. Henry Walpole's brother, was the rector at the college in Valladolid. The Dr. Legge he references, who appointed Blessed John Fingley as butler, was Thomas Legge (pictured above). This blog post describes what a college butler does.

Blessed John Fingley, pray for us!

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