The English Martyrs, our fellow countrymen and women, received the spiritual hurt that took place in England under successive Tudor regimes, in their deaths. The principal movement that underlay the upheavals, controversies and changes of that era, was the desire to eradicate the Catholic Church and Faith from the country. It was a State imposed movement, one which was not chosen by the people. All the martyrs then, stood for freedom of conscience at a time when consciences were being trammelled and overridden; it was an irrational movement. Putting religious and theological controversy aside, the attempt to eradicate and expunge Catholicism, became a political and social movement, initiated and propelled by the small ruling clique, and whatever else was going to take its place, Catholic Faith and practice had to go.
The English Martyrs then, are not first and foremost the partisans of a particular religious group. This is especially true of the Catholic Martyrs, but it is true also of the Protestant martyrs, in that they had only two options: be coerced into recanting or suffer death. All the martyrs then, witnessed to the dignity of conscience, and the need that the country had, to recover from the blind process of belligerent politicisation which took place then and which the country bears still.
The selfless deaths were signs of the Lord’s love for England. These martyrdoms were like sacraments of Christ’s love for a country in rebellion against Him.
So when we read in Simon Schama’s book A complete history of Britain (2003) that “Catholic England ended up down a priest hole”, we find an echo of what has been actively proposed for England by its ruling clique for hundreds of years, and which is believed by many. However, the consequence of this project was not the eradication of the Catholic Church, but the State domination of consciences, the living echo of which persists to this day.
The Catholic martyrs awoke the consciences of many, and priest holes are signs of just how alive the consciences of many were in that era. The martyrs still have the power to awaken consciences today – which is why we need them and why we need to honour them today.
But no, Catholic England did not end up down a priest hole; it was the conscience of the English which ended up in a cul-de-sac, and England still needs a lot of help, including that of her Martyrs, in order to come to terms with Christ and His Church, and with the foundation of truth upon which all our lives are built. The martyrs insisted that this truth could still find a home in England, and this is England’s journey still. This is a point which needs to be developed in far more ways than in a blog post.
The above photo shows the hide-under-the floor next to the fireplace in the Drawing Room at Harvington Hall.