Dictionary of National Biography – Edmund Arrowsmith

Saint Edmund ArrowsmithArticle

(1585-1628), Jesuit, sometimes known as Bradshaw and Rigby, was born in 1585 at Haddock, in the parish of Winwick, near Warrington, Lancashire. His father was Robert Arrowsmith, a yeoman, and his mother Margery was a lady of the ancient family of Gerard. Both his parents were catholics, and great sufferers for their religion, as were also their fathers before them. He was baptised as Brian, but took the christian name of Edmund at confirmation, and used it exclusively afterwards. Crossing the seas in 1605 he was received into the English college at Douay; was ordained priest in 1612; and sent back upon the English mission in 1613. He pursued his missionary labours in his native county of Lancaster with great zeal and success. In 1624 he entered the Society of Jesus. Previously to this he had been apprehended, probably in 1622, and imprisoned at Lancaster, but he was released afterwards upon pardon, with divers others. His second apprehension took place a little before the summer assizes of 1628, at which he was tried before Sir Henry Yelverton, on a charge of having taken the order of priesthood beyond the seas in disobedience to the king’s laws. He was found guilty, and suffered at Lancaster, 28 Aug. 1628. He was drawn to the place of execution on a hurdle, and after having been hanged, his body was cut down, dismembered, embowelled, and quartered. His head was also cut off, and with the quarters boiled in the cauldron; the blood, mixed with sand and earth, was scraped up and cast into the fire. Lastly, his head, as the sentence directed, was set up upon a pole amongst the pinnacles of Lancaster castle, and the quarters were hung on four several quarters of the building. The incidents of the trial and the repulsive particulars of the execution are given in ‘A True and Exact Relation of the Death of Two Catholicks, who suffered for their Religion at the Summer Assizes, held at Lancaster in the year 1628. Republished with some additions, on account of a wonderful Cure wrought by the Intercession of one of them, F. Edmund Arrowsmith, a Priest of the Society of Jesus, in the Person of Thomas Hawarden, son of Caryl Hawarden of Appleton, within Widness in Lancashire. The death of the generous Layman, Richard Herst, was not to be omitted, that the happy Cause, which united them in their Sufferings, may jointly preserve their Memories.’ Lond. 1737. This octavo volume contains two excellent portraits of the martyrs, the second of whom, Richard Herst, a farmer, suffered the day after Father Arrowsmith. Most probably its compiler was Father Cornelius Morphy.

The miraculous cure is alleged to have been wrought by Father Arrowsmith’s intercession, through the application of the famous relic, the martyr’s hand, which is now preserved in the catholic church of St. Oswald at Ashton, Newton-le-Willows. Attestations respecting another miracle said to have been wrought by means of this relic are printed in Foley’s ‘Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus.’ That the relic is still an object of popular veneration is obvious from the following intimation relating to the church at Ashton, given in the ‘Catholic Directory,’ published in 1883, permissu superiorum: ‘Those who wish to visit “the Holy Hand” will have an opportunity of satisfying their devotion on Sunday after the Masses, and after service; on week-days after Mass, and on Friday at 1.30.’

MLA Citation

  • Thompson Cooper. “Edmund Arrowsmith”. Dictionary of National Biography. CatholicSaints.Info. 13 January 2017. Web. 18 November 2018. <>