Monday, June 24, 2013

Dusty feet...

...and some tiredness, but it was all well worth it...the 2013 Martyrs' Walk went well. I wrote a piece for my EWTN beforehand, which sets the scene: you can read it here...

As always, we met near the Old Bailey - site of Newgate prison, where many Catholic martyrs were held in the days when the Catholic faith was banned in Britain - and started with prayers and a short introductory talk as we gathered in the churchyard of St Sepulchre's.

The saga of our English Martyrs begins, of course, with Henry VII, who wanted to ensure that his Tudor dynasty flourished. Emphasising his family's right to the throne, and stressing their Welsh origins, he named his first-born son Arthur, after Britain's famed "once-and-future-king" (Knights of the Round Table, Camelot etc). And in what seemed a very wise move, he also arranged for young Arthur to marry a Spanish Princess, Catherine of Aragon, and the wedding was duly celebrated in London. But as both Catherine and Arthur were very young, they were not yet ready to live together as man and wife, so she remained in London, and he went back to Wales...where, sadly, he became ill just a few weeks later, and died.  It must have been a frightening and lonely time for the teenage Catherine, effectively alone in a foreign city. There were various plans for her to be married to other European princes...but  eventually her fate was to be that she married Henry VII's next son, who came to the throne of England as Henry VIII.

Well, the rest is rather well known...Henry VIII, the fine-looking, well-educated young man, a sportsman, a linguist, a man who loved music and was good company, gave way over the years to the figure that has become fixed in history: the bloated, arrogant cruel ruler  whose chief fame down the centuries has been the fact that he had six wives.

"Divorced, beheaded, died/ Divorced, beheaded survived" is how schoolchildren are taught to remember the wives today. And Henry,  an ardent supporter of the Latin Mass to the end of his days, and passionately and angrily supportive of all traditional Catholic doctrines, wanted to enjoy all these on his own terms. He took full advantage of the Medieval Church/State entanglement to announce himself as "Head of the Church of England", breaking with the successor of St Peter in Rome. Many could not see that this really mattered - monarchs and Popes had been at loggerheads before - and/or did not really want to see. Thomas More, the Chancellor of England, and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester  not only saw the importance of the issues involved, but went to their deaths because they would not follow the king. Unity with Peter's successor, and full commitment to the unchangeable teaching of the Church on marriage - one man, one woman, for life - were the issues at stake.  More and Fisher gave their lives in defence of these.

And so to the Martyrs' walk.  We thought of Fisher and More, and of the Catholic Martyrs that followed them in the reign of Elizabeth I, and in our prayers we recalled all who died in the turbulent years of the Reformation in our country, including those burned at the stake in Mary's reign. We prayed for religious freedom in our country, and for courage to be given to all Christians in the years ahead.

The Martyrs' Walk follows the tradition established by the Guild of Our Lady of Ransom, with the Tyburn Walk that began in the first years of the 20th century. It is not now possible to walk down Oxford Street - vast crowds jamming the pavements, heavy traffic, roadworks - so after our final stop for prayer at St Patrick's, Soho, we split into smaller groups to make our way to Tyburn. Here, we gathered at the site of the old gallows to pray, and then went to the Convent for Benediction, and for some refreshments provided by the good sisters.

Many thanks to Father Robert Nicoletti, MJ, our chaplain for the day, and to Bryan and Jayne Lock who take responsibility for much of the admin.

NEXT CATHOLIC HISTORY WALK: Tuesday July 2nd, meet at 3pm on the steps of Westminster Cathedral for a tour of the Cathedral, inside and out. No need to book - just turn up!

And, for serious walkers - join us for the John Paul II Walk for the New Evangelisation. details here


Simon said...

I just wanted to say a big thank you for being our guide on the Martyrs Walk on Sunday. It was my first time and it really was a fascinating day. I have only recently joined the Roman Catholic Church from the CofE so it was an eye opening experience for me.

It is interesting to see how certain parts of British history are swept under the carpet for most people. I grew up in a village near Doncaster but only now am I discovering the history of the Lincolnshire Uprising and the Pilgrimage of Grace. These things which were never taught at my school. My village is located near Axholme Priory where Augustine Webster was Prior, so the walk had special meaning for me. Thank you again for your passion and commitment.

Malcolm said...

I chose Thomas More for my patron saint at confirmation.

Whilst Henry gets a bad press, his case was that the marriage to Arthur invalidated his marriage to Catherine, and that God was punishing him for this by destroying his children. He seems to have been sincere. He also offered huge political support to the Papacy, and saw the Pope's refusal to play ball as a betrayal.

But More was proved right. Henry introduced a deep fissure into Christendom, which whilst not fatal, has badly damaged the ability of the Church to preach the gospel, right down to the present day.

Anonymous said...

Malcolm. If by the "a deep fissure into Christendom" you mean the Reformation, then it must be pointed out that Henry VIII did not start the Reformation - in fact he was vehemently opposed to its theological premises. It did not truly arrive in England until the reign of Edward VI.

The Reformation came to wide areas of Northern Europe and progressed quite independently of any goings on in England. It was a movement of ideas and not one of purely anglo-centric political expediency.

It is a moot and interesting point to consider whether England would eventually have experienced a Reformation even if the break with Rome had never occurred during Henry's reign.

Malcolm said...

Henry was even given the title Fides Defensor by the Pope for his writings against the reformers. British monarchs still use it.
Obviously it's impossible to say what would have happened had such a major and influential event been different. My theory is that Spain also had what was effectively a Reformation, which was seizure of ecclesiastical authority by the Prince, but it occurred by the monarch being more Catholic than the Pope.

James Claus said...

Welcome to the Catholic Church, Simon, and thank you for joining in the Martyr's walk... I would so love to be there someday for the Walk. How sad that the C of E and British society as a whole have pretty much succeeded in whitewashing the atrocities of that time. Thank you Joanna for your thoughtful blog.

Anonymous said...

The full spectrum of religious walking and pilgrimages on offer this year includes one with a weblog almost as marvellous as Mrs Bogle's:

www.justpeacepilgrimage,com is currently en route from Iona to the Houses of Parliament in London, raising awareness of peace, and government plans to waste £100 bn renewing nuclear submarines (cross reference CCC teaching on this).