The One Hundred and Five Martyrs of Tyburn – 1 December 1581

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Blessed Edmund Campion, priest, S.J.
Blessed Ralph Sherwin, secular priest
Blessed Alexander Briant, priest, S.J.

A play on the name of the first of these Martyrs described exactly what he was the Pope’s C(h)ampion. Nothing could daunt his valour, neither promises of worldly gain, the basest calumny, public ridicule, the exquisite torture of the rack, none of these things, which were in turn applied to break his spirit, succeeded. It is true he had consented to be made a deacon after the new manner when he was at Oxford, but his repentance for this momentary weakness was so strong that it won for him his vocation to the Priesthood in the Society of Jesus, and was a powerful incentive to be true to the Faith ever after. It was in accordance with Dr. Allan’s advice that he embraced the perilous mission of re-evangelising his own country, and it was by a series of hairbreadth escapes that he carried forward an apostolate of marvellous fruitfulness. His natural gifts stood him in good stead; he had the wit and eloquence that had led to his fall in the days when he cared for a Queen’s praise; now he devoted all his talents to the Heavenly Master, hoping for no sweeter reward than that which was granted to him at the age of forty-two. After suffering such cruel torments in prison that it was feared the rack-men had gone too far and the gallows would be deprived of a prey, he was nevertheless found in a state of calm cheerfulness on the day of execution.

When his turn came, Blessed Ralph Sherwin kissed with great devotion the blood of Edmund Campion dripping from the hands of the executioners. Like Campion, it was asked of him very expressly whom he meant when he prayed for and forgave the Queen. He replied: “Yea, for Elizabeth Queen, I now at this instant pray my Lord God….” He died with the cry on his lips: “Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, be to me a Jesus.”

Blessed Alexander Briant. The third of these Priests, who the night before had heard one another’s confessions in prison, immediately followed the other two on the fatal cart. His martyrdom was even more cruel owing to the negligence of the hangman, and also to the inhuman efforts of those who, when he was in his last extremity, endeavoured to make him recant. Again the question was put: “What of the sovereignty of the Queen?” He declared that being a true Catholic he fully accepted the Bull of Pius V, by which the Queen was formally excommunicated. He then began the “Miserere” and yielded up his soul to God after long torments.

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