The Forty Holy Martyrs of England and Wales
Today in England is the feast of the Forty Holy Martyrs of England and Wales (in Wales this is a memorial), a group of forty men, women, religious, priests, and lay people who were canonized by Pope Paul VI on October 25, 1970. These people were executed for their Faith during a period of anti-Catholicism from 1535 to 1679. The Martyrs who were canonized were among more than two hundred martyrs who had been beatified by various earlier popes.
Some of the common “crimes” of these people were being priests, harboring priests, or refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy. This group of saints includes some well-known saints, such as St. Alban Roe, and St. Edmund Campion. Many of these saints are recognized on the days of their martyrdom, but as a group, they are recognized on the day they were canonized.
These forty were canonized by Pope Paul VI on October 25th, 1970. They are representative of the English and Welsh martyrs of the Reformation who died at various dates between 1535 and 1679. Some 200 of these martyrs had already been declared ‘Blessed’ (i.e. ‘beatified’) by previous Popes.
SS. John Houghton, Robert Lawrence and Augustine Webster, the first martyrs (1535), all priors of different Charterhouses (houses of the Carthusian Order, including the one in London) who, by virtue of the Carthusian vow of silence, refused to speak in their own defense;
St. Cuthbert Mayne, a Devonian, who was the first martyr not to be a member of a religious order. He was ordained priest at the then newly established English College at Douai in Northern France and was put to death at Launceston in 1577;
St. Edmund Campion, the famous Jesuit missionary and theologian who published secretly from Stonor Park, the ancient Catholic country house near Henley-on-Thames, who died in 1581 on the same day as St. Ralph Sherwin, the first martyr to have been trained at the English College in Rome;
St. Richard Gwyn, the first of the Welsh martyrs, a schoolteacher from Llanidloes in Mid-Wales who died at Wrexham in 1584;
St. Margaret Clitherow, the wife of a butcher with a shop in the famous Shambles in York, who allowed her house to be used as a Mass centre, who was sentenced to be crushed to death under a large stone at the Ouse Bridge Tollbooth in the city;
St. Swithun Wells, a teacher from Brambridge in the county of Hampshire who owned a London house at Grays Inn Fields which was also a secret Mass centre (1591);
St. Philip Howard, eldest son of the fourth Duke of Norfolk (himself executed for treason in 1572) who led a dissolute existence and left behind an unhappy wife in Arundel Castle until he was converted by the preaching of St. Edmund Campion, and died in the Tower in 1595;
St. Nicholas Owen, Jesuit lay brother and master carpenter, who constructed many priests’ hiding-holes in houses throughout the country, some of them so cunningly concealed they were not discovered until centuries later (1606).
Under James I and Charles I the purge died down, but did not entirely cease. St. John Southworth, missionary in London, was put to death under Cromwell and is venerated in Westminster Cathedral, and the final martyrs died in the aftermath of the Titus Oates plot in 1679. [SS. John Fisher & Thomas More are not included in this list for they had been canonized in 1935].