Monday, 17 November 2014

A curious Norwich story.

Earlier in the year I came across an old journal which had a reprint of a story which had originally been printed in 1736. The story was written by a Frederick Higbane who, in 1736, had visited Norwich from London, and had encountered a 'ghost' of the priest martyr Thomas Tunstall. Thomas Tunstall was martyred at Norwich, just outside the Magdalene Gate, in 1616 and was beatified by Puis XI in 1929.
Frederick Higbane's story is indeed curious. He was staying at an Inn (which he doesn't name) on Maudlin (Magdalene) Street, Norwich, and was struck by a portarit of a man which was hanging in his room. He didn't know who this man was. The following day, in the evening, he was near one of the old gates which lead through to the Cathedral domaign and noticed a shadowy figure who seemed to be beckoning to him. He drew near and, to his shock, saw that this figure was a man who had a terrbly bloated face, a rope around his neck and a knife sticking in his chest. The figure spoke no words and, as Mr Higbane withdrew, the figure vanished. 
When he returned to his room at the Inn he immediately recognised the image that was hanging on the wall as the man that he had just encountered. He enquired in the inn if there was a Catholic priest in Norwich. He was directed to a priest who told him about the martyr, Fr THomas Tunstall, and where the martyr had been executed. Now, Stonyhurst College in Lancashire holds an old painting of Fr Thomas Tunstall which, unlike most paintings of the English martyrs that show them robed, presents this priest in just his shirt - as he would have been at the execution.
I don't know if this painting is the same one which was hanging in 1736 in a guest room in an inn on Maudlin Street, but, as far as I know, there are no other images of this martyr. Stonyhurst acquired this image in 1828 and, I acknowledge, with grateful thanks, the photograph of the painting which I include in this post.
The image is small; approximately 5 inches by 4 inches and is enclosed by a wooden frame. The abundant black hair and the mustache, together with the shirt, indicate a contemporary, if not eye-witness of the Martyr, at the moment of his execution.
The appearance of a ghost of the martyr in 1736 is curious since Fr Tunstall is amongst the Blessed. Perhaps Frederick Higbane's story has more to do with his own state of soul. 
But let us also remember that "the saintliness of his demeanor on the scaffold produced a profound impression on the people." (Catholic Encyclopedia) Blessed Thomas Tunstall was living for Christ and gave his life as a witness to the saving Mystery of Jesus Christ. His self-offering stands forever before the Throne of grace - something that can be relied upon because it has opened up the Mercy of God; yes, to the people of Norwich, and to all of us.

1 comment:

Lucy said...

Really interesting to read this. I live in Norwich and am Catholic and I've always taught my children about our local martyrs but it's a very hidden history, isn't it?