Yesterday, 3rd January, we celebrated the feast of the beatified martyrs of the Southwark Diocese. These died between 1535 and 1650. Four of those beatified where executed here at Canterbury right near an old inn in Oaten Hill on October 1st 1588. The Inn was rebuilt in the 19th century and is now known as the Old City Bar. The gallows on which they were hung was erected in 1576 and the last person to be hung there was in 1783.
Three of these four Oaten Hill martyrs were priests. Robert Wilcox was born in Chester, England in 1558 and entered the seminary at Rheims when he was twenty-five years old and was ordained on 20 April 1585. He arrived arrived in England on 7 June 1586 but was arrested almost immediately at Lydd in Kent, near to where he entered the country. He was sent for trial with the other three to Canterbury. Wilcox was the first of the four to be executed. It is recorded that he told his companions to be of good heart. He was going to heaven There before them, where he would carry the tidings of their coming after him. Wilcox was thirty years of age.
Gerard Edwards, a Catholic priest, was born at Ludlow, Shropshire, and studied at Jesus College, Oxford. He changed his name to “Edward Campion” in honour of St Edmund Campion. He was captured in Sittingbourne, Kent, just a few weeks after arriving back in England. He was thirty-six years of age at the time of his execution.
Christopher Buxton was born in Derbyshire in 1562. In 1584 he was sent to the English College in Rome where he was ordained on 26 October 1586. Buxton crossed to Kent in early September 1587. He was arrested in Kent about two months later, and taken to the Marshalsea prison. On 15 August 1588, he was examined at which time he admitted he was a priest. As he was so young, it was thought that his constancy might be shaken by the sight of the deaths of his companions, and his life was offered him if he would conform to the new religion; but he answered that he would not purchase a corruptible life at such a price, and that if he had a hundred lives he would willingly surrender them all in defence of his faith. Buxton died at the age of twenty-six.
Robert Widmerpool, a layman, was born in Nottinghamshire. He attended Gloucester Hall, Oxford, but did not graduate. He obtained a post as tutor at the home of the Countess of Northumberland, and was arrested there for giving aid to a Catholic priest. He was imprisoned with the others at the Marshalsea. When he had the rope round his neck, he thanked God for the glory of dying in Canterbury for the cause for which St. Thomas died. He was twenty-eight years old.
O God, in whom there is no change or shadow of alteration, you gave courage to the Holy Martyrs. Grant unto us, we beseech you, through their intercession, the grace to always value the Holy Mass. May we be strengthened to serve you in imitation of the courage of these Holy Martyrs. We ask this through Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, forever. Amen.