The English Martyrs
Today the Church in England rejoices in the memory of those who shed their blood for the Faith of the Apostles during the Protestant Reformation: the Martyrs of England. They are depicted above in the West Window from the church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs in Cambridge.
It was on this day in 1535 that three Carthusian monks (below right) were martyred at Tyburn; they were the first of many martyrs. A fuller list may be found here or click the link above to visit the excellent and informative site of the Tyburn Convent for more. Of this great company of witnesses, 42 have been canonised and a further 242 rank among the beati. However, the complete number of those who died on the scaffold, perished in prison, or suffered harsh persecution for their Catholic and Apostolic Faith, for the Holy Mass and for their fidelity to the Bishop of Rome, in the course of a century and a half cannot now be reckoned. They came from every walk of life; there are among them bishops, priests, religious and laity, rich and poor, married and single, women and men.
The havoc wrought at the Protestant Reformation by Henry VIII and his successors and his advisors destroyed Catholic England the "island of saints", as we knew it.
In this month of Mary, we may recall Our Lady's Shrine at Walsingham, once one of the great centres of medieval Christian pilgrimage. The children of England, Mary's Dowry, all flocked to that holy place, making it a focus of the religious and devotional life of England. Unsurprisingly it was viciously destroyed in the 16th century along with its Augustinian Priory and only in 1897 did Catholics return to the Shrine and celebrate the Holy Mass in its charming Slipper Chapel. In 1934 Walsingham was declared the National Shrine of Our Lady.
The Lament of Walsingham, an anonymous 16th-century ballad, below in modern English, fittingly makes commemoration of Our Lady and her Shrine and poignantly and bitterly expresses the woe and suffering of the English Catholics who endured the 'Reformation'. In reading this poem, we remember the English Martyrs who are witnesses to that tragic age and who, by their brave example and service to Truth, are the crown and glory of their fellow English Catholics.
They remain as beacons of faith, hope and love for the Church in England today and we ask the English Martyrs to intercede for this land, that by their merits and example, England may once more be Mary's Dowry and an Island of Saints.
"In the wrecks of Walsingham
Whom should I choose
But the Queen of Walsingham
To be guide to my muse?
Then thou Prince of Walsingham
Grant me to frame
Bitter plaints to review thy wronge
Bitter woe for thy name.
Bitter was it oh to see
The seely sheepe
Murdered by the ravening wolves
While the shepherds did sleep.
Bitter was it oh to view
The sacred vine
While the gardeners plied all close
Rooted up by the swine.
Bitter, bitter oh to behold
The grass to grow
Where the walls of Walsingham
So stately did show.
Such were the works of Walsingham
While she did stand
Such are the wrecks as now do show
Of that so holy land.
Level level with the ground
The towers do lie
Which with their golden, glittering tops
Pierced once to the sky.
Where were gates no gates are now,
The ways unknown,
Where the press of peers did pass
While her fame far was blown.
Owls do screech where the sweetest hymns
Lately were sung,
Toads and serpents hold their dens
Where the palmers did throng.
Weep, weep O Walsingham,
Whose days are nights,
Blessings turned to blasphemies,
Holy deeds to disputes.
Sin is where our Lady sat,
Heaven turned is to hell,
Satan sits where our Lord did sway,
Walsingham, oh farewell!"