John Mulholland (Letters 7th Nov) regrets the lack of a memorial to both Catholic and Protestant ‘martyrs’ in our cathedrals. Having lived with such a monument in Oxford’s University Church for some years now, I cannot agree.
As well as obvious candidates like Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley and a number of canonised Catholics, this large and expensive memorial lists Catholics who took up arms in the local version of the Prayer Book Rebellion in 1549, who were executed by Cranmer’s regime, Archbishop Laud, executed by Protestant zealots, and Stephen College, a co-conspirator with Titus Oates, executed by the spiritual heirs of Laud.
I think College’s name alone renders this memorial deeply embarrassing, not to say insulting, but the alternating rounds of persecution it recalls raises deeper questions. Do we really want to say that the persecutors of the Prayer Book rebels, or of later Protestant non-conformists, or of High Churchmen, were sanctified simply by the fact that the wind changed direction and the law caught up with them?
It is surely a good principle that people should not be commemorated together who would not wish to be. Putting Thomas Cranmer alongside Edmund Campion may make us feel virtuous, but it is an historical falsehood. As Mgr Ronald Knox pointed out, ‘Each of them died in the belief that he was bearing witness to the truth; and if you accept both testimonies indiscriminately, then you are making nonsense of them both.’