How the English martyrs inspired me to make the most difficult film of my life

A painting of the 40 martyrs of England and Wales by Daphne Pollen

Producing documentaries about the Catholic faith over the past few years has been a great privilege. I love doing it and consider myself very fortunate to have the opportunity to work full-time in sharing the truths of the Catholic faith. 

Each project poses its trials and difficulties. It can be difficult enough producing a good film with a quality soundtrack. But the real test is ensuring that we get the content right: clear, orthodox catechesis. We don’t just want people to have enjoyed watching a “nice” film; we desire that people benefit intellectually and spiritually. 

Our most recent project, Faith of Our Fathers: In Search of the English Martyrs, was without doubt the most difficult and challenging project to date. Having only a short space of time to shoot the film, we had to cover a lot of ground very quickly – sometimes only having about one hour at sites, leaving very little room for errors or second takes. We visited some fantastic locations including Stonor Park and Wardley Hall, Tyburn and Rievaulx Abbey. 

The journey was led by my brother, Fr Marcus Holden, and Fr Nicholas Schofield. Along the way we had the opportunity to interview Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Bishop Terence Brain of Salford, Lord Camoys, Abbot Cuthbert Madden and many others.

Many Catholics today have forgotten the stories of the English martyrs. We know the famous names like Thomas More, John Fisher and Edmund Campion, but how many remember the stories of Francis Bell or Thomas Maxfield? For me, one particular story really stuck in my mind and made a big impression. It was the story of Roger Wrenno from Chorley. He was condemned to be hanged at Lancaster for the crime of harbouring a priest. On the day of execution, as he was hanging, the rope suddenly snapped. After a few minutes he regained his composure and knelt to say his prayers. He was offered a reprieve if only he would take the Oath of Supremacy. He refused. When a new rope was attached to the gallows, Wrenno ran up the ladder! Asked why he was in such a hurry to die, he replied: “If you had seen that which I have just now seen, you would be as much in haste to die as I am now.”

Making the film was a fascinating journey. I discovered where these brave Catholics lived and worked, and visited the places where they laid down their lives for the sake of the faith. Along the way we got a glimpse the human side of each of these heroic figures, their struggles, their faith and their great courage in facing death.
Working on this project has been an inspiration for me and I hope the film will have an impact on those who view it.

Today, when Christianity is facing new challenges and increasing hostility in all corners of the world, the courage of the martyrs and their profound faith will continue to give strength and inspiration to those who strive for truth and holiness.

Christian Holden is managing director of St Anthony Communications

The two DVD set Faith of Our Fathers: In Search of the English Martyrs is available from St Anthony Communications, priced £14.95. Order here or call 0044 (0)1834 812643