Update: The Oxford Pilgrimage will take place on Saturday 25th October.
Solemn High Mass, 11am Blackfriars
2pm Procession and unveiling of the plaque, led by Bishop Kenney.
3.30pm Benediction, Blackfriars
On 5th July 1589 four men, two priests and two laymen, died for the Catholic faith in what is now a quiet and unremarked Oxford street. It is always important to honour God in his martyrs, but it seems especially so in a city which has so much Catholic history, little, if any of it, marked in its public monuments.
Permission has been granted by the owner of 100 Holywell Street (Merton College) and Oxford City Council for a plaque of this design (see picture). This almost exactly the site of the Town Gallows in the 16th Century, where the martyrs were executed.
The martyrs of 1589 were beatified on 22nd November 1987. Bl George Nichols and Bl. Richard Yaxley were both secular priests, who had been trained at Rheims. Nichols had studied at Brasenose College, Oxford, and became famous as the priest who was smuggled in to Oxford Castle to reconcile a highwayman to the Church on the eve of the latter’s execution. Bl. Thomas Belson was a layman, a member of a Catholic land-owning family based in the county (at Ixhill, over the county border in Buckinghamshire); Bl Humphrey Prichard was a Welshman, an employee of the Catherine Wheel Inn, which was situated on the corner of Broad Street and Magdalen Street (where part of Balliol College now stands) opposite the church of St Mary Magdalene.
They were captured in in that inn, which appears to have been an established safe house for Catholic priests, in a raid on the 18th May 1589. Prichard was the man who reluctantly opened the door. All of them were taken to London for questioning; the priests were tortured. They were brought back to Oxford for trial, at which they were condemned to death under the law of the time, either for returning to England after receiving ordination overseas, or for assisting priests. They were executed on 5th July 1589. Only Prichard, the last to be hanged, was allowed to speak, and in a brief dialogue with a Protestant minister he declared ‘I believe all that the Holy Roman Church believes, and what I cannot explain by mouth, I am ready and prepared to explain and testify to you at the cost of my blood.’
THE LATIN MASS SOCIETY OXFORD PILGRIMAGE & PROCESSION
In 2005 the first Oxford Pilgrimage took place. Under the auspices of the Latin Mass Society, a Traditional missa cantata in St Aloysius was followed by a procession and Benediction. The procession followed the route taken by the martyrs from the Bocardo prison, next to St Michael’s church in Cornmarket, to the place of execution, which was marked by a large mock-up gallows. In 2006 the pilgrimage focused on Bl. George Napier, Oxford’s other Catholic martyr, who died in 1610, and in 2007 it was the turn of the four martyrs of 1589 once more. By this time the Mass had become a Solemn High Mass, with Fr Dominic Jacob of the Oratory as the celebrant; the procession was led by his fellow Oratorian Fr Anton Webb. Sixty people joined the procession.
These processions are important in the context of the plaque as they emphasise the significance of the actual site of martyrdom. The sites of martyrdoms have been the object of pilgrimage since the times of the early Christian martyrs, since offering prayers at the site of a martyrdom is a particularly fitting way to honour God in His martyrs. The plaque is a permanent, albeit relatively discreet, way of honouring the martyrs, just as the processions are an occasional, very visible way of doing so. Each also serves as a public witness to the martyrs and the Faith for which they gave their lives.
The plaque will cost £2,626, including VAT: this includes the materials, letter cutting, and fixing it to the wall. To make tax-deductible donations possible, the plaque appeal is being organised through St Catherine’s Trust, Registered Charity number 1110417
Cheques should be payable to St Catherine’s Trust (Plaque Appeal)
John Tennant, Secretary,
St Catherine’s Trust,
58 Thornton Road,
London SW12 0LF
or you can make a donation online here. Please specify what the donation is for.