Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Blessed George Gervase, Benedictine Recusant Martyr

Blessed George Gervase was one of the nine Benedictine monks beatified as martyrs by Pope Pius XI in 1929. The others: Blessed Mark Barkworth, Blessed William Scott, Blessed John Roberts, Blessed Ambrose Barlow, Blessed Alban Roe, Blessed Philip Powell, Blessed Thomas Tunstall, and Blessed Thomas Pickering. Three of these nine were later canonized (Roberts, Roe, and Barlow) by Pope Paul VI in 1970. There was some controversy about whether Blessed George Gervase was a Benedictine martyr or a secular priest martyr, as discussed on the Durham University website.

George Gervase was born in Bosham on the coast of Chichester in Suffolk in 1571. Orphaned as boy, he was captured by pirates and carried far from home. In despair, he lost all faith in God as he was held in captivity for twelve years.

At last he escaped and went home to England. Then he found out that his brother Henry had left England for Flanders to practice the Catholic faith freely. Reunited with his brother on the Continent, George returned to the Church. Then he discerned a vocation to the priesthood and studied at Douai from 1595 until he was ordained in 1603. He returned to England as a missionary priest and was arrested in June 1606 and was exiled during one of James I's more diplomatically lenient periods.

Father George went to Rome on pilgrimage and sought to become a Jesuit; being turned down, he went back to Douai and became a Benedictine. His brother Henry had found him a position in Lille, France, hoping to keep him safe from the persecutions in England.

But George returned to serve the hidden Catholics there and was arrested again soon thereafter. Presented with James I's newfangled Oath of Allegiance, George Gervase, OSB refused to take the Oath and was convicted of being a Catholic priest in England under the Elizabethan statute. The same website linked above emphasizes Gervase's rejection of the Oath of Allegiance:

All the reports of Gervase’s trial show that he strongly rejected the Oath of Allegiance - an Oath, brought in by King James I following the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, which rejected papal temporal power and could also be interpreted as undermining the Pope’s spiritual authority.

The Oath made martyrdom a point of contention between the English Catholic community, as different sections rushed to claim martyrs who rejected the Oath, such as Gervase, as their own to win support from the Pope and others across Europe.

In the case of Gervase, the Benedictines stressed his unfailing support for the Pope’s authority, to give their English venture international prestige and justify their mission. Meanwhile Worthington sought to claim Gervase as a martyr against the Oath to secure support for his college and win the favour of European Catholics.

The stand that the Benedictines took against the Oath came to characterise their movement as one which supported the papalist vision of English Catholicism.

He was hanged, drawn, and quartered on April 11, 1608 at Tyburn. John Hungerford Pollen includes the detail that Blessed George Gervase grasped the knife of the executioner before the disemboweling began; he was completely conscious as the torture commenced, having been hanged only briefly.

He was only 37 years old when he died, but what a life of adventure, loss and gain, suffering and consolation, exile and homecoming, and achievement he had lived! And then to end it with brave and holy martyrdom! 

In addition to the nine Benedictine martyrs beatified in 1929, there are several other martyrs from that order beginning with Henry VIII's reign with the Dissolution of the Monasteries and ending in Charles II's during the Popish Plot. According to my categorization of the different causes of martyrdom during and after the Long English Reformation, Benedictines suffered as Supremacy Martyrs during the reign of Henry VIII, as Recusant Martyrs during the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I, and one as a Popish Plot martyr during the reign of Charles II.

The Benedictine Supremacy martyrs are:
Blessed John Beche, Abbot of Colchester, 1 December 1539
Blessed Hugh Faringdon, Abbot of Reading, 15 November 1539 
Blessed Richard Whiting, Abbot of Glastonbury, 15 November 1539
Blessed John Rugg, 15 November 1539
Blessed John Thorne, 15 November 1539 
(All beatified on 13 May 1895 by Pope Leo XIII)

The Benedictine Recusant martyrs are:
St. Ambrose Barlow, 10 September 1641
St. John Roberts, 10 December 1610
St. Alban Bartholomew Roe, 21 January 1642
Blessed Mark Barkworth, 27 February 1601
Blessed George Gervase, 11 April 1608
Blessed Maurus Scott, 30 May 1612

Blessed Thomas Tunstall, 13 July 1616
Blessed Philip Powell (sometimes spelled Philip Powel), 30 June 1646

The Benedictine Popish Plot martyr is:
Blessed Thomas Pickering, 9 May 1679 (Benedictine lay brother) 

Blessed George Gervase, pray for us!
St. Benedict, pray for us!
Blessed and Holy Benedictine Martyrs of England, pray for us!

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