Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Carthusian Martyrs of Newgate Prison

Anna Mitchell and I will talk about the continuing saga of the Carthusian Martyrs of London during the reign of Henry VIII this morning around 7:50 Eastern/6:50 Central on the Son Rise Morning Show, broadcast by Sacred Heart Radio in Cincinnati, Ohio and on-line here.

The last group of Carthusians who had refused to accept Henry VIII's role as Supreme Head and Governor of the Church of England began to die in Newgate Prison on June 6, 1537. They had been imprisoned there, bound and left standing against pillars, without food or water since May 29.

They survived until June 6 because for the few days of their imprisonment--note again that they were left to die without trial or condemnation--Margaret Giggs Clement, one of St. Thomas More's wards and adopted daughter, came into the prison disguised as a milkmaid and brought food and water to the monks and laybrothers. When they hadn't died as quickly as Henry VIII expected, the jailer wouldn't let her in again. She tried to lower food and water to them from the roof, but that just didn't work:

  • Blessed William Greenwood, laybrother of the London Charterhouse, on June 6, 1537
  • Blessed John Davy, deacon, choir monk of the London Charterhouse,  on June 8. 1537
  • Blessed Robert Salt, laybrother of the London Charterhouse, on June 9, 1537
  • Blessed Walter Pierson, laybrother of the London Charterhouse, on June 10, 1537
  • Blessed Thomas Green (perhaps alias Thomas Greenwood), choir monk of the London Charterhouse, on June 10, 1537
  • Blessed Thomas Scryven, laybrother of the London Charterhouse, on June 15, 1537
  • Blessed Thomas Redyng, laybrother of the London Charterhouse, on June 16, 1537

Two of the Carthusians evidently received some food and water or there had been some change of strategy, because they did not die in prison until later that summer:

  • Blessed Richard Bere, choir monk of the London Charterhouse, on August 9, 1537
  • Blessed Thomas Johnson, choir monk of the London Charterhouse, on September 20, 1537

One of this group was evidently removed from the starvation cell and held in confinement for almost three more years before his execution:

  • Blessed William Horne, laybrother of the London Charterhouse, hanged, disembowelled, and quartered at Tyburn, London on August 4, 1540.

In his book Saints and Scholars, David Knowles eulogizes the Newgate prison group:

The third and most numerous band was denied even the dignity of a formal trial and execution. They had asked to live as hidden servants of Christ; they died, silent witnesses to his words, hidden from the eyes of all. Chained without possibility of movement in a foul atmosphere, and systematically starved . . .

Rarely indeed in the annals of the Church have any confessors of the faith endured trials longer, more varied or more bitter then these unknown monks. They had left the world, as they hoped, for good; but the children of the world, to gain their private ends, had violated their solitude to demand of them an approval and a submission which they could not give. They had long made of their austere and exacting Rule a means to the loving and joyful service of God; pain and desolation, therefor, when they came, held no terrors for them. When bishops and theologians paltered or denied they were not ashamed to confess the Son of Man. They died faithful witnesses to the Catholic teaching that Christ had built his Church upon a rock.

The More family, so closely associated with the Carthusians, went into exile. Margaret Giggs Clement died in Mechelen, and her daughter recounted a mystical experience she had on her deathbed:

But the time had now come that God had appointed to reward her for her good works done to the Fathers of the Charterhouse. He visited her with an ague which held her nine or ten days, and having brought her very low and in danger, she received all the sacraments with great devotion, and being desirous to give her blessing to all her children who were all present except her Religious daughters and one more that remained at Bruges with her husband, she caused her to be sent for in all haste. Wednesday being now come, which was the last day before she died, and asking if her daughter were come, and being told no, but that they looked for her every hour, she made answer that she would stay no longer for her, and calling her husband she told him that the time of her departing was now come, and she might stay no longer, for there were standing about her bed the Reverend Fathers, Monks of Charterhouse, whom she had relieved in prison in England and did call upon her to come away with them, and that therefore she could stay no longer, because they did expect her, which seemed strange talk unto him. Doubting that she might speak idly by reason of her sickness, he called unto her ghostly Father, a Reverend Father of the Franciscans living in Mechlin, to examine and talk with her, to whom she constantly made answer that she was in no way beside herself, but declared that she still had the sight of the Charterhouse monks before her, standing about her bedside and inviting her to come away with them, as she had told her husband. At the which they were all astonished. 

BTW: the first group of Carthusian martyrs are three of the protomartyrs of the English Reformation, suffering on May 4, 1535: St. John Houghton, St. Augustine Webster, and St. Robert Lawrence.

The second group suffered on June 19, 1535: Blesseds Humphrey Middlemore, William Exmew and Sebastian Newdigate.

The third set on May 11, 1537: Blessed John Rochester and Blessed James Walworth.

Blessed Carthusian martyrs, pray for us.

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