Today we celebrate the feast of the English Martyrs, those who died for their faith between 1535 and 1680. Over this time several hundred men and women from all walks of life and social backgrounds gave their lives for the Catholic faith in England and Wales.
In Canterbury we remember four men, Blessed Christopher Buxton, Blessed Robert Wilcox, Blessed Robert Widmerpool and Blessed Edward Campion who were sent down from the Marshalsea Prison in London for trial in Canterbury and executed at Oaten Hill. It was decided that the executions of Catholics should take place in significant local centres around London so that the example made by them would be felt as widely as possible. Their execution took place on 1st October 1588. The other martyr associated with Canterbury is John Stone, an Augustinian Friar. He was hung drawn and quartered in December 1539, and was one of the forty Marty’s made saints by Paul VI 1970.
We are also aware that there were Protestant martyrs as well. There is a monument erected off Windcheap in 1899 remembering “the forty one Kentish men who were burn at the stake on this spot in the reign of Queen Mary.
For us today it is hard to comprehend the violence and death that was meted out to men and women who would not go against their conscience. We give thanks for their witness remembering the words of Pope Paul VI “They will assist in advancing an ecumenism worthy of the name. There will be a true safeguard to those real values in which genuine peace and prosperity of human society are rooted.”
The Collect of today’s Mass reads, “Almighty God, who in our country raised up martyrs from every walk of life to vindicate the authority of your Church in teaching and worship, grant through their intercession, we pray, that all our people may be gathered once again to celebrate the same sacraments under the one Shepherd, Jesus Christ your Son.