There is not a festival of the Church that is not a veneration of the Cross, through which all feasts come — Fr George W. Rutler
St Edward the Confessor (1003 – 1066) became King of England in 1042. He was regarded as a saint during his lifetime, renowned for his generosity to the Church and to the poor and for his readiness to listen to his subjects’ grievances. He died on 5 January 1066, the last of the old Anglo-Saxon line, and his death precipitated the dynastic quarrels that led to the conquest of England by William of Normandy later the same year. On 13 October 1163 his relics were translated to a new shrine in Westminster Abbey.
St Wilfrid (634 – 709). was born in Northumbria in 634. As a boy he was educated in the monastery of Lindisfarne. Later he travelled to Rome in the company of Benet Biscop, spending a considerable time at Lyons on the way. This wider, continental experience had a profound effect upon the young man and, on his return, he showed himself to have become a keen supporter of the traditions of the Roman Church as against the prevailing ‘Celtic’ customs introduced by the Irish missionaries from Iona under St Aidan. Shortly afterwards he was appointed Abbot of Ripon, and sometime later he was ordained priest.
After the death of Aidan, the differing customs of the Romans and the Celts became the cause of bitter dispute. In 664 a Synod was held in Whitby, in the famous monastery of St Hilda, to settle the question and Wilfrid took a leading part in the debate, successfully arguing for the abolition of the Celtic traditions and the imposition of the church discipline of Rome.
Within twelve months he had been appointed Bishop of Lindisfarne. He chose to be consecrated in Paris, and was absent in France for so long that St Chad, one of Aidan’s pupils, was consecrated bishop in his place. Wilfrid had to appeal to St Theodore of Canterbury, his metropolitan, before he was able to take possession of his diocese. He established himself at York, but encountered much hostility being opposed at various times not only by some of the secular rulers of his day but even by men of great sanctity like St John of Beverley. A particular dispute arose in 678 when Theodore made an attempt to divide the large, unwieldy diocese of Lindisfarne/York into two parts. Wilfrid objected to the division and made an appeal to Rome against his archbishop. Not only was he successful, but in doing so he became the first Englishman to take a law suit to the Roman courts.
In spite of this, his return to Northumberland was much less successful. For a while he was imprisoned by the King of Northumbria and eventually escaped to Sussex. It is a tribute to his courage and dedication that he was able to use this time well, carrying on an energetic mission to the South Saxons and also for a brief period among the people of Friesland, so beginning the great English mission to the Germanic people that was to be continued by his pupil, St Willibrord.
Wilfrid returned to Northumbria in 686, but was not allowed to remain long in the area. Once again he appealed in person to Rome. But in the end he accepted a compromise solution under which he became Bishop of Hexham while retaining his monastery at Ripon. There he introduced many additional Roman customs and reorganised the monastery under the rule of St Benedict. He died in 709.
St Paulinus (-644) was a monk from Rome sent to England by St Gregory the Great in 601. We have an idea of his appearance. St Bede describes him as ‘tall, with a slight stoop, black hair, a thin face, a slender aquiline nose, at once venerable and awe-inspiring in appearance’. Though he worked for nearly twenty-five years in Kent, almost nothing is known about this period of his life save that he was greatly respected. In 625 he played a large part in the conversion of Northumberland which by then had become the most powerful of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, stretching from the Humber to the Firth of Forth, and from the North Sea to the Pennines. He accompanied Ethelburga (sister of the King of Kent) when she went north to marry the pagan King Edwin of Northumbria. On Easter Sunday 627 Edwin was baptised along with ‘all the nobility and a large number of humbler folk’ in a wooden chapel in York.
From this time onwards, Paulinus was able to make a series of missionary journeys over the whole region, converting and baptising huge numbers of people. He ministered as far south as Lincoln, where he built a stone church. The success of his ministry was given recognition when he was appointed Archbishop of York by Pope Honorius I in 632.
Almost at the same time, his work was cut short by the death of King Edwin while fighting the pagan leader, Cadwallon. Paulinus was persuaded to take the widowed Queen Ethelburga and her children, by sea, to safety in her native Kent. He himself spent the remaining twelve years of his life as Bishop of Rochester. He died there in 644.
Saint John Henry Newman (1801 – 1890) was born on 21 February 1801 in London, England. As an Anglican cler- gyman for over twenty years he won renown as a preacher and theologian. A Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, he became one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement and a prominent figure in the Church of England. On 9 October 1845 he was received into full communion with the Catholic Church by Blessed Dominic Barberi of the Passionist Congregation. After a period of study in Rome he was ordained priest on 30 May 1847. Returning to England he established the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri in Birmingham. He was an influential writer on many subjects, most notably the development of Christian doctrine, the true understanding of conscience, faith and reason, the role of the laity, and university education. In 1879 he was created Cardinal by Pope Leo XIII and given the title of San Giorgio in Velabro. He died in the Birmingham Oratory on 11 August 1890. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on 19 September 2010 and canonised by Pope Francis on 13 October 2019.
Saint Thomas Cantilupe (1218-1282) belonged to a rich and powerful Anglo-Norman family. He was born c.1218 and brought up partly at Worcester where his uncle was bishop. In 1237 he began his studies at the university at Oxford, which was then in its formative period. He was ordained priest in 1245 while taking part in the First Council of Lyons. After studies abroad, at Paris and Orleans, he came back to Oxford as lecturer in 1255. He taught both theology and Canon Law, and served two terms as Chancellor of the University. As such he was noted for his generosity to poor students; he was also a disciplinarian attempting to ban the weapons which students used readily in riots and demonstrations. Because of his involvement in politics at the time of the War of the Barons against King Henry III, he had to leave England and taught theology at Paris from 1266 to 1272 before returning to Oxford a second time. In 1275 he became Bishop of Hereford, where his austerity and his zeal as a reforming bishop became well known. He died at Montefiascone while on a journey to the papal court, and was canonised in 1320.
The Blessed Martyrs of Sussex. On this day we honour ten martyrs, whose sufferings span the whole period during which men and women were put to death in England for their loyalty to the Catholic faith: a period of over a hundred and forty years, during the reigns of five monarchs. Among them are four laymen, two of noble birth, and six priests, including a Benedictine monk, a Franciscan friar, and three “seminary priests”.
The first was a priest of 63 years of age, John Rugge, who had spent most of his priestly life at Chichester, first as Principal of the College of Vicars Choral, and then as Prebendary of the Cathedral. In 1536 he retired to live at the Benedictine Abbey at Reading; it is not clear whether he actually became a professed monk. This was the year when Henry VIII first moved to take over the monasteries – the lesser ones at this time. But three years later Thomas Cromwell descended on the larger and richer abbeys, among which was Reading. Abbot Hugh Faringdon was one of the few abbots to refuse to sign away his abbey, and when he was brought to trial John Rugge and John Eynon were found guilty with him of treason, for denying that the King was Supreme Head of the Church in England. All three were hanged, drawn and quartered at Reading on 15th November 1539.
Thirty years later, Elizabeth I was on the throne, and the Protestant Reformation was being enforced with increasing severity. The year 1569 saw the Rising in the North, which sought to restore the Catholic faith, and to secure the succession to the throne of Mary Queen of Scots. The leaders of the uprising were the Earl of Westmorland and the Earl of Northumberland, Thomas Percy. Throughout his life Percy was a supporter of the Catholic cause, arguing for it in the House of Lords. But ten years earlier he had been forced to resign his post as Warden of the Marches, and to live more quietly at his Petworth estate. The rising of 1569 was a failure, in spite of considerable support in the north of England, and the Earl was forced to flee to Scotland. There he was betrayed and kept imprisoned in Lochleven Castle for two and a half years, while his captor bargained with the Queen for his surrender to her jurisdiction. He was brought eventually to York, where he was beheaded for treason on 22 August 1572. His last words to the crowd made the reason for his execution very clear: “From my earliest years I have kept the faith of that Church which, throughout the whole Christian world, is knit and bound together; and in the same faith I am to end this unhappy life.”
Five more of our Sussex martyrs suffered during the reign of Elizabeth I. Thomas Pylcher is a distinguished son of the Sussex town of Battle. A Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, he was “grievously suspect of religion”. In 1581, aged 24, he left Oxford to study for the priesthood at the English College at Rheims, where two years later he was ordained priest. Returning to the “English Mission”, he worked for two years in Hampshire and the West Country, but in 1585 he was arrested and banished from the realm, with many others. This banishment was no act of leniency, for that same year the infamous Act of 27 Elizabeth C.2 was passed, which made it high treason for a priest to be ordained abroad to enter the country to minister here. Any one of those banished who returned would come under this Act. Like so many others, Thomas Pylcher did so return, and for over a year worked secretly among the Catholics in Dorset and in London. It was in London that he was recognised (he had a cast in one eye). He was taken to Dorchester, tried for treason under the Act, and executed on 21 March 1587. He had been a great reconciler, bringing many back to the faith, including a carpenter named William Pike, who died a martyr in 1591, other prisoners in Dorchester gaol, and a notorious young robber, who died on the scaffold with him. A priest friend wrote of him: “There was not a priest in the whole West of England who was his equal in virtue”.
An honoured place among our martyrs is held by two laymen, Henry Webley and Edward Shelley. Not much is known of Webley’s early life, but Shelley came from a staunch Sussex Catholic family. His father had estates at Warminghurst, and his grandfather was Sir John Shelley of Michelgrove near Arundel. Both men were among that band of laypeople – many unknown to us – who gave help and shelter to the priests who came from abroad to minister to them. One of these priests was Blessed William Dean, and indeed Shelley had been in prison with him. Dean (and perhaps Shelley) had been banished with many others in 1585, but returned that same year. Henry Webley probably joined them in London. But in 1586 Webley was arrested on board a ship in Chichester harbour, as he was about to sail for France, and committed to Marshalsea prison in London, where he remained for two years.
1588 was a fateful year for English Catholics. In July the invasion of the Spanish Armada was narrowly averted, and there was an immediate reaction against Catholics. The government was not slow to take advantage of this, and many Catholics then in prison were brought to trial, among them Webley and Shelley. Both were tried under the Act of 1585, by which it was a felony to receive or aid priests entering the country, and in both cases the priest in question was William Dean. It was made abundantly clear that if they acknowledged the Queen as head of the Church they would be reprieved. Henry Webley and Dean were found guilty at Newgate Sessions and executed together at Mile End Green on 28 August 1588. Two days later Edward Shelley was hanged at Tyburn.
Barely a month later it was the turn of two seminary priests, Ralph Crockett and Edward James. Ralph Crockett, a native of Cheshire, was a Cambridge man and a schoolmaster. At the age of 32 he offered himself for the English Mission, studying at the English college at Rheims, where he was ordained in 1585. Edward James, of Derbyshire and Oxford, was a younger man who had been ordained in 1583 after studying at the English College in Rome. The two met at Dieppe in February 1586 and arranged with a Newhaven shipowner to take them across the Channel. They arrived off Littlehampton, but were advised that it was unsafe to land, as close watch was being kept at the port for such as themselves. After two days the ship was boarded and the two priests were arrested. They were taken to London and interrogated. The fact that they had been arrested when on board ship meant that they had not entered the country of their own free will, and that therefore they had not broken any law – especially the new law making it treason for priests to enter the country to minister here. But Crockett stated that he had intended to exercise his priesthood in England, and James said that he had come to fulfil his oath to the service of the English Mission, which was evidence enough. They were kept in prison for the next two and a half years, until in the aftermath of the Armada in 1588 the Government sought to make examples of Catholics, particularly in disaffected places. Chichester was considered one of these, so the two priests were put on trial there. The prosecutor made an attempt to show that they were traitors not only under the new Act, but also under an Act of Edward III, which of course had no reference at all to priesthood as a cause of treason. Crockett, who was the spokesman, said that it was a cruel law to make their religion and tie taking of priesthood to be treason, and that time had been that priesthood had been reverenced in England.
On 1st October 1588 Crockett, James and another, Francis Edwardes, were taken to Broyle Heath outside Chichester. Crocket and James absolved each other. Crockett died first; the mild prayerful James remained staunch to the end, but the third, Edwardes, gave way at the last moment, took the oath and was reprieved. Blessed Ralph Crockett and Blessed Edward James had never offered a mass or heard a confession in England. They accomplished their ministry in their death. George Gervase was born and baptised into the Established Church at Bosham in 1569. His mother was a member of the Shelley family. At the age of twelve George was orphaned. At twenty-six he was pressed into service on Sir Francis Drake’s last voyage to the Indies. On his return he went to Flanders and enlisted as a soldier in the army of the Archduke of Austria. But he also made contact with his elder brother, who was a Catholic, and was reconciled to the Church. He was accepted as a student at the English College at Douai and ordained priest in 1603. The following year he returned to England, ministered for a time in the south, then went to the north, where he was apprehended. After a period in gaol, he was banished from the realm with many other priests, including St Thomas Garnet. Back on the Continent, George made a pilgrimage to Rome, where he asked to be received as a monk at the new St Gregory’s Priory at Douai. He was clothed as a novice, and returned immediately to England. He was at liberty for just two months, and then was arrested and brought to trial at the Old Bailey. He was asked if he would take the Oath of Allegiance (this was a new oath which had been imposed after the Gunpowder Plot). He refused, and was condemned to a traitor’s death. The sentence was carried out on 11 April 1608. George Gervase can be said to have made his profession as a Benedictine monk on the scaffold.
For our next Sussex martyr we move on a generation, to the reign of Charles I. This reign had begun with a considerable respite for Catholics, largely because of Charles’s Catholic queen, Henrietta Maria. Thomas Bullaker was born in 1603. His father was a doctor in Chichester, and a well-known recusant. Thomas himself was born at Midhurst, and early experienced the pressures involved in living a Catholic life at that time. In 1621 he went to study at Valladolid, and there was admitted into the Franciscan Order. He was professed as Brother John Baptist in 1623, and about four years later was ordained priest. His first desire was to go on the West Indies mission, but his Provincial judged him better suited to go to England. At first things went badly for him. He was arrested as soon as he landed at Plymouth, was tried at Exeter but remanded for insufficient evidence. Friends secured his release by means of a forged letter purporting to come from the Privy Council. The next twelve years he spent in uninterrupted work for the Catholics in England; he was Secretary to the Franciscan Provincial, and Guardian of various districts. But it was not to last. Puritan opposition to the King was increasing, and under the Long Parliament which began to sit in 1640 persecution of Catholics was renewed. Thomas Bullaker ardently desired the palm of martyrdom. So he went to work in London, the most dangerous place, was arrested and again released, went to the country for a time, returned to London and was finally apprehended there while saying Mass. On trial at Newgate, he made an able defence, admitting that he was a priest, but denying treason. The Jury wavered, but the Judge pronounced sentence without waiting for their verdict. Thomas was taken to Tyburn, where he spoke to the people about priesthood and the Real Presence, until ordered to stop; he received absolution from a member of his order in the crowd (perhaps Arthur Bell), and went to his martyr’s death, aged about 38. Relics of him are preserved at St Richard’s Church at Chichester and at the Convent of the Poor Clares at Arundel.
The last of the Sussex Martyrs is a distinguished layman, William Howard, Viscount Stafford, the grandson of St Philip Howard. The fifth son of Thomas, 14th Earl of Arundel, he was born at Arundel House in the Strand, and was brought up a Catholic. A brilliant boy, he graduated from Cambridge at the age of twelve. At Charles I’s coronation, aged 13, he was made a Knight of the Bath. As Viscount Stafford his career was chiefly noteworthy for long and acrimonious litigation with other members of his family in defence of his mother’s inheritance. At all events, throughout his middle years he showed little sign of the heroic destiny that awaited him. He was already an elderly man when, in 1678, the infamous Titus Oates singled him out as one of the alleged participants in his invented “Popish Plot” to assassinate Charles II and put his brother James on the throne. In September of that year he was arrested and committed to the Tower. After fourteen months he was brought to trial and sentenced to death by beheading. He received the news with joy, quoting Psalm 117: “This is the day which the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it”. And he declared, in his speech from the scaffold, on 29th December 1680: “I have considered often what could be the original cause of my being thus accused, since I knew myself not culpable, so much as in a thought, and I cannot believe it to be on any other account than my being of the Church of Rome. I have no reason to be ashamed of my religion.” That can stand as the epitaph of all the Martyrs of Sussex and indeed of all who gave their lives for the faith in our land.