Moving reflection at pilgrimage to Reformation Martyr

Newly-ordained Father Peter McLaren gave a most moving homily at the grave of Saint John Kemble at Welsh Newton on 22 August, the anniversary of the Saint’s martyrdom in 1679.

Fr McLaren said: The 80-year-old priest lived much of his time in peace and became a wonderful witness to God, to Christ, on how me should love.”

Fr McLaren spent the last year at Allen Hall before his ordination at St David’s Metropolitan Cathedral in July. He referred to the tradition in the seminary to pray to the 158 Douai Martyrs, priests who had studied at the English College there before facing great danger keeping the Catholic faith alive in what is now the UK.

“These young men, like St John Kemble, had great futures ahead of them but were willing to face martyrdom. They are my heroes,” Fr McLaren told the 100 or so people gathered at Welsh Newton to honour Saint John Kemble..

John Kemble (1599-1679) was a much- loved Catholic priest, martyred during the madness of the “Popish Plot of Titus Oates who lied in his claim that there was, in 1678, a Catholic plot to murder King Charles II.

A dreadful journey

The Catholic faith was practised underground in many places after the Reformation but in Monmouthshire Fr Kemble served more than 50 years as an itinerant priest before being arrested in 1678, having refused to flee and abandon his flock. He said:

“According to the course of nature I have but a few years to live. It will be an advantage to suffer for my religion and therefore I will not abscond.”

In January 1679 he was arrested and at the Hereford Spring Assizes was sentenced ti be hung, drawn and quartered under an Elizabethan statute which laid down that a Catholic priest, ordained overseas, was by definition guilty of treason.

Fr Kemble was strapped backwords on a horse, despite age and infirmity, and taken to London to be interrogated in connection with the alleged “Popish Plot.” Nothing was proved against him and he was forced to walk the 135 miles to Hereford gaol.

On the evening of 22nd August, 1679, we was taken to the gallows, but not before finishing his prayers, smoking a lst pipe and drinking a cup of sack (sherry) to steel himself for the ordeal.

Died for his Faith

On the gallows he addressed the crowd and said: “I die only for professing the Old Roman Catholic Religion which was the religion that first made this kingdom Christian.”

His hanging was botched and he took half an hour to die but so great was the popular sympathy he was spared the butchery of drawing and quartering.

He was buried in the Welsh Newton churchyard and his grave became a place of annual pilgrimage.

On 25th October 1970 John Kemble was among the 40 martyrs of England and Wales canonised by Pope Paul VI.

[content_timeline id=”2″]