Sunday, July 26, 2015

YET Another Martyrdom in July: Blessed George Swallowell, Layman

Today's final late July martyr is connected to St. John Boste from just a couple of days ago: Blessed George Swallowell was executed on July 26, 1594 in Darlington. He was a layman and former Anglican minister and was condemned to death for the crime of becoming a Catholic, which was not just a felony punishable by hanging, but an act of treason--according to Parlimentary statute--punishable by drawing, hanging, and quartering.

This story provides some excellent background to the situation of Catholics in Durham, especially after the Northern Rebellion, when many showed themselves most ready and willing to return to the Catholic faith. About today's martyr, the author, Chris Lloyd notes:

George Swalwell - his name is often spelled Swallowell - was born in Darlington in 1564. He became a clerk at Trimdon in 1575 and, after he was ordained in 1577, became a curate there. A few years later he moved on to work and teach in the parish of Houghton-le-Spring.

In 1590, his work caused him to visit a Catholic languishing in Durham Jail because of his faith. They fell into argument during which George saw the light and converted to Catholicism. Rather than keep it hidden, he rushed to the pulpit in Houghton and announced that he had hitherto been in error, that there was "no true mission" in Protestantism and so he quit the church on the spot. He was arrested and thrown in Durham Jail.

He came to trial a year later and was reprieved. However, the authorities decided to have another go at him in 1594. They had lost the only witness, known as Willie, who had heard George's pulpit pronouncement, but a fellow called Finch testified that he had once heard Willie tell the story, and this was enough. On Tuesday, July 23, George was sentenced to death for treason. He stood in the dock with two other accused Catholics, Father John Ingram, of Warwickshire, and Father John Boste, of Penrith. Poor Mr Boste had already done time in the Tower of London, where he had been stretched on the rack at least four times "in a manner that rendered him a permanent cripple".

When the death sentence was announced, George immediately reconverted to Protestantism and promised to do whatever the judge said if he could keep his life. But Mr Boste fixed him with a steely stare and asked: "George Swalwell, what hast thou done?" George immediately converted back once more to Catholicism, and the judge ordered that he be hanged, drawn and quartered at Darlington.

On July 24, Mr Boste was executed at Durham; on July 25, Mr Ingram was executed at Gateshead; on July 26, it was George Swalwell's turn.

Here are some details of Blessed George Swallowell or Swalwell's execution, from the same article:

"Upon the day designed for execution, he was brought two miles off the place on foot, and then was put into a cart, where he lay on his back with his hands and eyes up to heaven, and so he was drawn to the gallows," records Bishop Richard Challoner in his 1741 book, Memoirs of the Missionary Priests.

The gallows had been erected on Bakehouse Hill, between the Market Square and Tubwell Row. "To terrify him the more, they led him by two great fires, the one made for burning his bowels, the other for boiling his quarters," says Challoner.

Four priests accompanied him on the walk across the Market Square to the gallows, beseeching him to reconvert yet again to the Protestant faith. He would not listen, and they became so fed up with him that they beat him with a rod to make him climb the ladder to his death more quickly.

The rope was put around his neck and "Mr Swalwell desired if there were any Catholics there they would say three paters, three aves and the creed for him, and so making the sign of the cross, he was turned off the ladder". He was cut down before he lost consciousness "and the hangman, who was but a boy, drew him along by the rope yet alive, and there dismembered and bowelled him, and cast his bowels into the fire". "Then the hangman cut off his head and held it up saying: 'Behold the head of a traitor!' His quarters, after they were boiled in the cauldron, were buried in the baker's dunghill."

Although Elizabeth I had not wanted to make windows into men's souls, an Act of Parliament that made conversion, re-version, or influencing another to join the Catholic Church a treasonous crime was going beyond requiring or controlling the outward conformity of attending Church of England services.

Pater Noster; Ave Maria; Credo: Blessed George Swallowell, pray for us!

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