Monday, 6 February 2012

A martyr in the family

Over the Christmas period I was chatting with my mother about the Catholic-reformation martyr Blessed William Freeman, who we think is one of our family forebears.

William Freeman was born in the Yorkshire village of Menthorpe in 1558. Menthorpe lies on the west bank in the River Derwent, a few miles east of Selby and south of the village of Aughton (home of the Aske family); today it consists of only a couple of farm houses. The photo below is looking west towards Menthorpe from the eat bank of the Derwent. Our family knowledge which has been handed down tells us that the Freemans (my maternal father's line) came from East Yorkshire.

William Freeman was born to recusant parents though himself conforming to the State religion at some stage in his early life. He graduated from Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1581. He re-embraced the Faith in 1586 when he witnessed the martyrdom of Fr Edward Stransham at Tyburn in London. He left England to study for the priesthood in Rheims and returned to England as a priest in 1589, ministering for six years in Warwickshire. In January 1995 he was arrested at Stratford-on-Avon, and since his priesthood could not be proved by the authorities he endeavoured to secure his freedom and the possibility of continuing to minister as a priest. However, he was denounced by a fellow prisoner and sentenced to death. During his trail he spoke with immense freedom and courage about the Faith and about the Priesthood. Both at his trail and at the scaffold he was full of joy and spoke of his loyalty to Queen Elizabeth; he was hung, drawn and quartered at Gallows Hill (photo below), outside Warwick, on 13th August 1595.

I'm sure that there must be a lot of Catholics who have a martyr in their history, and other branches of the Freeman line who can also claim this saint as one of their ancestors. We should be very proud of such forebears and remember the quality of their faith in Christ. In a certain sense they are for us today a measure against which to set our own goals and those of our families in the contemporary context.

May all the martyrs of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland be a great light for us today.

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