Friday, April 25, 2008

Joanna Bogle on "The Island of Saints"

Joanna Bogle writes at InsideCatholic:
... But for Catholics, this hall means much more. Here, our heroic martyrs spoke in defense of our Faith and heard the sentence announced of their deaths by the most hideous form of torture -- to be hanged, drawn, and quartered after being dragged through the streets of London. Here, the great drama of English religious history was played out, word by word.

A plaque on the floor marks where Sir Thomas More, chancellor of England, stood at his trial in 1535. Anyone who has seen the film A Man for All Seasons will know the scene. All that has substantially changed since More's trial is the great stained glass window at the rear. Erected after 1918, it carries the coats of arms of sons of members of the House of Lords who fell in the First World War. On a bright day, light filtering through the glowing colors throws bright gleams.

As chancellor, More was given the privilege of an execution on Tower Hill -- the swiftness of a headsman's axe rather than the horror of the butcher's knife and the cauldron at Tyburn gallows. Not so St. Edmund Campion, whose name no plaque commemorates. He was a Jesuit, deemed a traitor because he had gone abroad to train as a priest, and returned to reconcile Christians in England with the universal Catholic Church under the successor of St. Peter. He was tried here, with fellow Jesuits St. Alexander Briant and St. Ralph Sherwin. When sentence was pronounced, Campion, who had been very severely tortured, could not raise his hand, as the law demanded, to acknowledge it. Ralph Sherwin took his mutilated hand, kissed it, and held it aloft for him.

All three of these heroic priests suffered at Tyburn. They leave their legacy behind. It was while working at Westminster that I first read Evelyn Waugh's biography of Campion -- and found it so gripping that I could not stop reading it, holding it on my lap beneath the desk. Later, I memorized the words of his glorious declaration at his trial: "In condemning us, you condemn all your own ancestors . . . all that was once the glory of England -- the island of saints and the brightest jewel in the crown of St. Peter." He spoke of the Catholic Faith that Englishmen had held and cherished for centuries, the Faith centered on a Church founded and established by Christ and not by any worldly king, the Faith that rested on Peter and his successors.

[Read the whole thing]

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