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Jesus, Christ the King of the Universe, and Two English Martyrs

Jesus, Christ the King of the Universe, and Two English Martyrs

(photo: Register Files)


Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat!

On Sunday, Nov. 22, 1987—the Solemnity of Jesus Christ King of the Universe—Pope John Paul II beatified 85 Martyrs of England and Wales in Rome. During his homily for the Rite of Beatification, the Pope made the connections between the Solemnity and the martyrs clear:

This feast of Christ the King proclaims that all earthly power is ultimately from God, that his Kingdom is our first and lasting concern and that obedience to his laws is more important than any other obligation or loyalty.
Thomas More, that most English of saints, declared on the scaffold: “I die the King’s good servant but God’s servant first.” In this way, he witnessed to the primacy of the Kingdom. 
Today we have declared Blessed another eighty-five martyrs: from England, Scotland and Wales, and one from Ireland. Each of them chose to be “God’s servant First.” They consciously and willingly embraced death for love of Christ and the Church. They too chose the Kingdom above all else. If the price had to be death they would pay it with courage and joy. 

Pope John Paul II also commented on the breakdown of priestly and lay martyrs among the 85 beatified that day:

Among these eighty-five martyrs we find priests and laymen, scholars and craftsmen. The oldest was in his eighties, and the youngest no more than twenty-four. There were among them a printer, a bartender, a stable-hand, a tailor. What unites them all is the sacrifice of their lives in the service of Christ their Lord.

The priests among them wished only to feed their people with the Bread of Life and with the Word of the Gospel. To do so meant risking their lives. But for them this price was small compared to the riches they could bring to their people in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The twenty-two laymen in this group of martyrs shared to the full the same love of the Eucharist. They, too, repeatedly risked their lives, working together with their priests, assisting, protecting and sheltering them. Laymen and priests worked together; together they stood on the scaffold and together welcomed death.


A Layman and a Priest: Standing on the Scaffold in York

As an example of the Pope’s last statement, on Nov. 26, 1585, a priest and a layman stood on the scaffold in York, England, awaiting their executions: Father Hugh Taylor and Mister Marmaduke Bowes.

According to Bishop Richard Challoner’s Memoirs of Missionary Priests, Father Hugh Taylor “was born in Durham, performed his studies in the English college then residing at Reims, where he was made priest in 1584, and sent upon the English mission. He was apprehended sometime in the following year, tried and condemned at York for being a priest, and for having received faculties from the See of Rome, to absolve and reconcile the subjects of England, and denying the queen’s supremacy.”

At some point in his journeys around York, Father Taylor had knocked on the door of Mister Marmaduke Bowe’s house and had received a cup of beer while standing at the door. Mr. Bowes was living a double life: he attended Church of England services to avoid paying the fines or attracting any attention, but he also helped Catholic priests and had employed (secretly) a Catholic tutor to educate his children.

Unfortunately, the tutor had gotten into trouble—he was supposed to have taken the Oath of Supremacy acknowledging Elizabeth I’s authority over the Church of England—and had not only apostatized, but had turned Marmaduke and his wife in to the authorities to save himself. Marmaduke and his wife had been imprisoned but were released until the next time the courts met (the Assizes) on Nov. 23, 1585.

So when Marmaduke heard of the arrest of Father Taylor, he went to York both to try to help the priest and to comply with the court’s orders. He was arrested and brought to trial not just for the old charges of hiring a Catholic tutor but of aiding a Catholic priest.

Father Taylor and Marmaduke were the first priest and layman to suffer execution under a new Elizabethan Statute (27 Eliz. c. 2): “An act against Jesuits, seminary priests, and such other like disobedient persons.” This act made it an act of high treason against the Crown for an Englishman to travel to the Continent, study for the priesthood, and return to England to serve Catholics. It also declared that any aid to these priests by a layman or laywoman was a felony. Although priests of the Jesuit order were the particular target of the Act, all Catholic priests could suffer its consequences.

Those consequences included death by hanging, drawing, and quartering for the crime of high treason. The lay offender was merely hanged to death under this statute. Marmaduke Bowes repented of his outward conformity before he was hanged and professed himself a Catholic to the witnesses of his execution.

We don’t know what happened to his wife and children. In the case of St. Swithun Wells, another layman who had harbored priests, his wife Alice died in prison years after his execution, so Mrs. Bowes may have suffered what Bishop Challoner called “a longer and more lingering martyrdom in prison.” On Nov. 22, 1987, Pope John Paul II mentioned that “Many women, too, not included today in this group of martyrs, suffered for their faith and died in prison. They have earned our undying admiration and remembrance.”

Of Father Taylor, about whom we know so little—how he came to study for the priesthood and risk his life to say the Mass in England and serve Catholics secretly—there is a report that he was able to say Mass and read the Office on the day he was executed. Since it was a Friday, he rejoiced that he was going to suffer on the day that his Savior died for him.

Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat! (Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands). Blesseds Hugh Taylor and Marmaduke Bowes, pray for us!

This was originally posted Nov. 26, 2017.



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