Today we keep the feast of a martyred Bishop and a martyred Statement, St John Fisher and St Thomas More.
Both refused to sign the oath declaring that King Henry VIII was supreme head of the church in England. It was on this day in 1535 that John Fisher, bishop of Rochester was woken by the prison officer at 5am and told that he would be executed at 10am. He promptly asked that he be allowed to sleep a few more hours.
Just before he was beheaded he said: “Christian people, I come hither to die for the faith of Christ’s Catholic Church. And I thank God hitherto, my stomach hath me well, so that I have not feared death”. In his biography Cardinal Vincent Nichols says, “The remarkable peace of mind displayed by John Fisher sprang from the knowledge that throughout his life he had worked to the best of his ability, faithful to his deepest convictions and at no point could he hold against himself any serious charge of negligence or dishonesty.”
St Thomas More showed the same calmness at the time of his death. In the last letter he wrote to his daughter Margeret Roper “Farewell, my dear child and pray for me, and I shall for you and all your friends that we may merrily meet in heaven.” As he mounted the old and tottering scaffold he needed help. He said to the Lieutenant of the Tower, “I pray you, Master Lieutenant, see me safe up, and for my coming down, let me shift for myself.” He was beheaded on the 6th July 1535. His head recovered by his daughter lies in the vault in St Dunstan’s Church here in Canterbury.