Friday, December 8, 2023

Preview: Saint Eustace White Meets Richard Topcliffe

The martyrs of England and Wales suffered throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons, so we'll continue our series of discussions of Father Henry Sebastian Bowden's Mementoes of the English Martyrs and Confessors For Every Day in the Year, with his memories of Saint Eustace White, martyr.

I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show Monday, December 11 at my usual time at about 6:50 a.m. Central/7:50 a.m. Eastern, the last segment in the second national hour on EWTN Radio. Please listen live here and/or catch the podcast later here.

Saint Eustace White, one of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales, was hanged, drawn, and quartered on December 10, 1591. In his entry for the then Venerable Eustace White (declared so in 1886), Father Henry Sebastian Bowden described the priest's conversion, vocation, imprisonment, and torture:

He was born at Louth, Lincolnshire, and his conversion so much offended his father, an earnest Protestant, that he laid his curse upon him ; but God turned the curse to a blessing, and Eustace White became a priest and entered on the English Mission, October 1588. He was apprehended at Blandford, and having confessed himself a priest, a certain minister, one Dr. Houel, a tall man, reputed of great learning, was sent for to dispute with him, but was ignominiously vanquished, as he failed to disprove a certain text which White affirmed to be in the Bible. At the Bridewell, London, he was once hung by Topcliffe in iron manacles for eight hours together; but though the torment caused the sweat from his body to wet the ground beneath, nothing could be extracted from him of the least prejudice to Catholics. Under the extremity of his passion he cried out, “Lord, more pain if Thou pleasest, and more patience.” To his torturer he said, “I am not angry at you for all this, but shall pray to God for your welfare and salvation.” Topcliffe replied in a passion that he wanted not the prayers of heretics, and would have him hung at the next session. Then said the martyr, “I will pray for you at the gallows, for you have great need of prayers.”

Because of the reference to how much Father White sweated as he hung by his wrists, Father Bowden chose the title "The Sweat of the Passion" and the verse from the Gospel of St. Luke 22:44, "And His sweat became as drops of blood running down to the ground." (p. 390 in the Sophia Institute Press edition)

The torture technique of being "hung by iron manacles" was described by Father John Gerard, SJ in his Autobiography of a Hunted Priest:

My arms were then lifted up and an iron bar was passed through the rings of one gauntlet, then through the staple and rings to the second gauntlet. This done, they fastened the bar with a pin to prevent it from slipping, and then, removing the wicker steps one by one from under my feet, they left me hanging by my hands and arms fastened above my head. The tips of my toes, however, still touched the ground, and they had to dig the earth away from under them. They had hung me up from the highest staple in the pillar and could not raise me any higher, without driving in another staple. Hanging like this I began to pray. The gentlemen standing around me asked me whether I was willing to confess now. 'I cannot and I will not,' I answered. But I could hardly utter the words, such a gripping pain came over me. It was worst in my chest and belly, my hands and arms. All the blood in my body seemed to rush up into my arms and hands and I thought that blood was oozing from the ends of my fingers and the pores of my skin. But it was only a sensation caused by my flesh swelling above the irons holding them. The pain was so intense that I thought I could not possibly endure it, and added to it, I had an interior temptation. Yet I did not feel any inclination or wish to give them the information they wanted.   

Saint Eustace White was hanged, drawn, and quartered on December 10, 1591 at Tyburn Tree, the same day that Saints Edmund Gennings, Polydore Plasden (priests), and Swithun Wells (layman), and Blesseds John Mason and Sidney Hodgson (also laymen who had assisted Catholic missionary priests) suffered near Saint Swithun Wells' home on Grays Inn Road. 

Richard Topcliffe, Elizabeth I's chief pursuivant of Catholic priests, and an expert torturer, was present at that site. He didn't show up at Tyburn--was it maybe because he did not want to hear Father White's prayers for him? He did hear Saint Swithun Wells pray that like Saul, Topcliffe would hear the voice of Jesus on his own road to Damascus, stop persecuting Catholics, and become like Saint Paul!

A layman suffered at Tyburn with Father White:

Brian Lacey was a Yorkshire country gentleman. Cousin, companion, and assistant to Blessed Father Montford Scott. Arrested in 1586 for helping and hiding priests. Arrested again in 1591 when his own brother Richard betrayed him, Brian was tortured at Bridewell prison to learn the names of more people who had helped priests. Finally arraigned at the Old Bailey, he was condemned to death for his faith, for aiding priests and encouraging Catholicism. Pope Pius XI beatified him in 1929. Blessed Brian Lacey was also related to Blessed William Lacey, a 1582 martyr in York.

Saint Eustace White, pray for us!
Blessed Brian Lacey, pray for us!

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