Memoirs of Missionary Priests – James Bell

statue of Blessed James Bell, date and artist unknown; Saint Werburgh's Church, Birkenhead, England; photographed on 12 October 2015 by Kitgehrke; swiped from Wikipedia CommonsArticle

James Bell, born at Warrington, in Lancashire, brought up in Oxford, and made priest in Queen Mary’s days, who, when the religion of the nation was changed upon Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the crown, suffered himself to be carried away with the stream against his conscience, and for many years officiated as a minister in divers parts of the kingdom. He was at length reclaimed, in 1581, by the remonstrances of a Catholic matron, joined to a severe fit of sickness with which God was pleased to visit him, in which he was reconciled to God and His Church. He had no sooner recovered the health of his soul by confession, but he recovered also the health of his body; and after having applied himself for some months to penitential exercises, and brought forth fruits worthy of penance, he resumed his priestly functions, labouring with all diligence for the souls of his neighbours, for the space of about two years. In January 1583-1584 he was apprehended by a pursuivant, and carried before a justice of peace, to whom he acknowledged himself to be a priest, and confessed that he had been reconciled to the Catholic Church, after having a long time gone astray; and therefore was by him committed to Manchester gaol. From hence he was sent to Lancaster to be tried at the Lent Assizes; in which journey his arms were tied behind him and his legs under the horse’s belly. He was arraigned, together with Mr. Thomas Williamson and Mr. Richard Hutton, priests, and Mr. John Finch, layman, all for the supremacy. Mr. Bell, in his trial, showed a great deal of courage and resolution, boldly professing that he had been reconciled to the Church, and, had faculties to absolve penitent sinners, and that he did not acknowledge the Queen’s ecclesiastical supremacy, but that of the Pope. In consequence of which supposed treasons, he had sentence to die as in cases of high treason. The other two priests were also found guilty by the jury, but as the judge had instructions to put to death no more than two, they were not sentenced to die, but only condemned to a perpetual imprisonment and loss of all their goods, as in cases of premunire. Mr. Bell showed great content upon this occasion, and looking at the judge said, I beg your Lordship would add to the sentence that my lips and the tops of my fingers may be cut off, for having sworn and subscribed to the articles of heretics, contrary both to my conscience and to God’s truth. He spent the following night, which was his last, in prayer and meditation, and suffered on the ensuing day, which was the 20th of April 1584, not only with great constancy, but with great joy, being then sixty years of age.


  • Bishop Richard Challoner. “James Bell”. Memoirs of Missionary Priests, 1924. CatholicSaints.Info. 31 December 2019. Web. 16 May 2021. <>