...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