Monday, July 27, 2015

Another Late July Martyr: Blessed Robert Sutton (and His Brother)

There are two Blessed Robert Suttons among the martyrs of England and Wales. One was a priest and the other was a layman. Today's martyr is the priest, who was executed on July 27, 1587. Father Robert Sutton had studied at Oxford and had been attracted by Protestant doctrines but responded to the call of some friends to leave Oxford and study for the priesthood at Douai, along with his brother Abraham. They were both ordained there and then returned to England as missionary priests.

According to Bishop Challoner, Father Robert Sutton served in his native county, Staffordshire, and both he and Abraham were captured and exiled in 1585. They both returned to England and Robert was captured again, found guilty under the Elizabethan statute against Catholic priest, and then hung, drawn, and quartered in Stafford.

The parish of Our Lady of Our Lady of Victories and St. Alphonsus in Lutterworth has more detail:

Our Robert Sutton, (not to be confused with another martyr of the same name who came from the Kegworth area) was born in Burton on Trent. He was baptised in St Modwen's Parish Church on 11th September, 1545. The son of a carpenter, he was one of four sons who were all brought up as Protestants. Later, three of them became Catholic priests.

In 1561 Robert Sutton became an undergraduate at Christchurch College, Oxford, where he gained his BA in 1564. He was ordained an Anglican Minister in 1566 and gained his MA in 1567. Under Elizabeth 1st he was appointed to theliving of Lutterworth and was inducted on 17th June, 1571. So Robert was only 32 when he made his historic announcement and set in train the events which he no doubt knew all along were likely to end with painful martyrdom.

Robert was arrested again and was tried for treason on the basis of his being a Catholic Seminary Priest at Stafford Assizes in June 1588.

He was martyred at Gallows Flat, Stafford on July 27th 1588. As was the practice he was hanged, cut down while still alive, disembowelled and dismembered. As commanded his body was left on public display for 12 months. During that time his bones were picked clean by the birds except for the flesh around one forefinger and thumb which did not corrupt. Why that part of him should remain is open to conjecture, but he would certainly have used is forefinger and thumb to hold the sacred host.

The relic was passed on to his brother Abraham who, in spite of a second arrest, was still working in Lancashire as late as 1610. He passed the relic on to Father John Gerrard (sic) who composed a note of authentication in Latin. This note, written within 40 years of Robert Sutton's martyrdom, has accompanied the relic from that time and is still in existence.

"The thumb of Mr Robert Sutton priest, who, when in prison in Stafford, the night before his passion was seen to pray surrounded by a great light. After the parts of his body being exposed to the birds of the air for a year, they were carried away by Catholics. The thumb and forefinger were untouched though the rest was consumed to the bones."

Father Gerrard (sic) gave the relic and the note to the Jesuit order. From around 1830 the relic was venerated at Stoneyhurst College where it remained until 1987. In that year thanks to the co-operation and generosity of the Jesuits, it was permanently translated back to Lutterworth and is reserved in a niche within the altar.

The statue pictured above is in the Church of Our Lady of Victories and St. Alphonsus; the picture is from Wikipedia commons and used by permission of the photographer. Father Abraham Sutton remained in England through the latter part of Elizabeth I's reign and into the reign of James I. Then he was exiled from England again in 1605 and did not return. What a remarkable mission for two brothers have shared!

Blessed Robert Sutton, pray for us!

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