Sunday, October 25, 2009

Treasures from our tradition

By Rev. James Field

Today is the feast of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, the first representative body of many Catholics who died for their faith between 1535 and 1679 to be beatified or canonized. Almost all of them died at Tyburn, a place of public execution near today’s Marble Arch in Hyde Park, London. The first to suffer were Carthusian monks who refused to swear an oath supporting Henry VIII as supreme head of the Church in England, and the last was Saint Oliver Plunkett, the Primate Archbishop of Ireland. The method of execution was particularly vile, since the condemned were hanged and their living bodies quartered to be displayed around London as a horrific warning.

Today, the tree-like gallows provides the design of a religious symbol, the canopy over the altar of the martyrs in Tyburn Convent. There, at the heart of the bustling city, a monastic community of women practices contemplative prayer
and “spiritual hospitality” in the Benedictine tradition. Oddly, the community is French in origin; it was expelled from France a century ago when France outlawed contemplative monastic life.
England, where the laws against Catholicism had been lifted, invited the community in. In gratitude to their new homeland, and in honor of those who gave their lives for the Catholic faith,
the nuns came to Tyburn. In the public crypt, coats of arms stand for each of the 350 martyrs. A Web site visit is possible at

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