Wednesday, May 28, 2008

May 28th: England's Witnesses

Today is the feast of St. Augustine of Canterbury, the Apostle to the English. In 597, Pope St. Gregory the Great sent Augustine, a Benedictine monk, and 40 of his brothers in religion to the British Isles to evangelize the inhabitants. Aethelberht of Kent, the high king, was an Odin worshipper; he insisted on meeting with Augustine and his monks in the open air, under a tree, in order to foil any spells the representatives of Christendom might try to cast. After considering Augustine's mission, and no doubt under the influence of his Christian wife, Aethelberht granted him leave to convert as many of his people as he could. Augustine proceeded to spread the faith far and wide, and within a year, the king himself accepted Baptism, bringing in his own turn ten thousand of his people into the Christian fold. Together with King Aethelberht, who would later be acknowledged a saint in his own right, St. Augustine founded the See of Canterbury. He died on May 26, 605, though his feast is celebrated, at least on some calendars, on May 28th.

terestingly, the feast of the Apostle to the Anglo-Saxons is also the feast of some of his distant spiritual descendants who, nearly a thousand years after his arrival on English shores, would give their lives for the faith he planted there:

Bl. Margaret Plantagenet Pole. A member of Britain's ancient royal family, Margaret had five sons, including the outspoken Reginald Cardinal Pole, Archbishop of Canterbury. When Cardinal Pole publicly denounced Henry VIII's pretensions to headship of the Church in England, the latter had two of her other sons and other members of her family arrested, and nearly all executed. Margaret, old and frail, was herself arrested in November of 1538 on false charges of plotting revolution and subjected to grueling interrogations, during which she is said to have uttered nothing. When a white tunic with the Five Holy Wounds was produced from among her possessions and brought out in Parliament in 1539, an act of attainder decreeing her death was passed. That same year, Margaret was sent to the Tower of London, where she endured harsh captivity until she was beheaded on May 28, 1541, 936 years after the death of the saint who brought to England that faith which it was now declared treasonous to hold. Margaret Plantagenet Pole was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886.

Bl. John Shert, Bl. Thomas Ford, Bl. Robert Johnson. These three men attended seminary at the English College in Douai, France, received Holy Orders, and then returned to England to to minister to Catholics at a time when priesthood was a capital crime. The three were arrested in turn, tortured, and ultimately were hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on March 28, 1582, 61 years to the day after Bl. Margaret Pole's martyrdom. Pope Leo XIII beatified these three priests, along with Bl. Margaret, in 1886.

y St. Augustine of Canterbury, who gave England the faith; St. Aethelberht of Kent, who opened the door to the faith and gave England her first written laws; and Bls. Margaret Pole, John Shert, Thomas Ford, and Robert Johnson, who shed their blood for England's soul, intercede on behalf of their ailing, etiolated, post-Christian nation.


  1. Anita, I never fail to learn something new from your blog. "Etiolated"--a great word! I always just called my seed starts "pale and spindly", but now I've got "etiolated" for that. Thanks!

  2. From "Lives of the English Martyrs,"

    "Comparing these things with what the Turk has done in the East, there is no doubt but that Christians can suffer worse under this Western Turk." (Cardinal Pole to Cardinal Contarini, the 22nd of September, 1539)

  3. I pray every day for the conversion of England. Bl. Margaret is one of my patrons as well as St. Edmund martyr, St. Edward the Confessor and St. Winifred. I struggle to think of King Henry VIII with any sort of charity - we should pray for his soul, he is most likely in great need of it.