On 25 October 1970 I was privileged to be in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome for the celebration of the Canonization of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales by Pope Paul VI. It was an awe-inspiring occasion, not least to see and hear that great church filled with English speaking people from all over the world. The liturgy was solemn and splendid. In something that was unique all those years ago, the music was not sung by the Papal Choir of the Sistine chapel but by the choir of our own Westminster Cathedral. Little did I know that thirty years later I would be responsible for them during my time as Administrator of Westminster Cathedral! The cover of the souvenir booklet marking that historic occasion is reproduced on this page. All the bishops of England and Wales were present, led by Cardinal John Carmel Heenan. Greeting them at the beginning of his homily, Pope Paul said: “We greet our brother bishops of England and Wales and of all the other countries who have come here for this great ceremony. We extend our greetings also to the priests, religious, students and faithful. We are filled with joy and happiness to have them near us today. Thanks to them, we are celebratingChrist’s glory made manifest in the holy Martyrs of England and Wales”.
All through my student days, and still today, I had a great devotion to St. Edmund Campion and St. Margaret Clitherow. Having the privilege of the shrine to St. John Southworth at Westminster Cathedral added another devotion. Campion, a Jesuit priest, was the outstanding scholar of his age and a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. He sealed his fate by the publication of “Campion’s Brag”. In an open letter to the Government he wrote:
“The expense is reckoned; The enterprise is begun. It is of God. It cannot be withstood. So the Faith was planted, so it must be restored”.
Margaret Clitherow, a Yorkshire wife and mother, was sentenced to death by being crushed with stones for the crime of sheltering Catholic priests. She wrote:
“If God’s priests dare venture themselves into my house, I will never refuse them”.
Her house still stands in a street called ‘The Shambles’ in York. It is now a chapel and is a great place of pilgrimage.
John Southworth came from Lancashire, but for many years he ministered as a priest in plague ridden London. He was arrested on three occasions and imprisoned for many years. Finally, he was executed at Tyburn in London the age of 62 in the year 1654. Before being hanged he said to the onlookers:
“This is the third time I have been apprehended and now being to die, I would gladly witness and profess openly my faith for which I suffer”.
Then, looking up at the gallows he said:
“This gallows I look on as His cross which I gladly take to follow my dear Saviour”.