When I moved to Pocklington about 4 years ago, I discovered the Pilgrimage of Grace heritage walk which goes from the town to Warter Priory. Robert Aske, the leader, was from the village of Aughton not far away. He was a good man whose trust in King Henry’s word ultimately led to the Pilgrimage’s failure and his execution at York.
I also soon became aware of what are known as the Howdenshire Martyrs and, for the first time, two things started to dawn on me; how much the ordinary English people loved their Catholic Faith and the huge scale of suffering they endured from the Dissolution of the Monasteries onwards.
The problem when looking at lists of those martyred for their faith is the difficulty of grasping the enormous scale. I decided to try to plot these names on a map, to see how far and wide they ranged. It quickly became clear it truly was nationwide, with particular ‘epicentres’ such as Lancashire, Yorkshire, Glastonbury, Oxford and London. I was trying to see them as real people, not just lists. This was greatly helped by using the internet to find out more about each. It is quite remarkable, really, how much we can still discover about so many of them, although a huge number more will never be identified.
I traced a map of England and Wales, with the traditional county boundaries, using a program called Serif. It allows you to expand then contract the scale and I was thus able to pretty accurately pinpoint where people were born, once the more obscure locations were found on Google maps. I made two maps; one as an A1 poster, the other with a separate hyperlink to the most informative website for each martyr – not always an easy choice in itself. By putting the link twice, where possible, it gives the opportunity to click on it either in the county by county list or directly from the map. By far the most difficult problem happened whenever I discovered a new martyr and had to re-number both the lists and map numbers for every the succeeding one. A minor nuisance happened every so often when I inadvertently clicked on a border or coastline, dragging the map out of shape and temporarily shifting a county’s martyrs out to sea.
I made sure to date each draft (over-confident names like Best Version of Final Draft don’t work) and then published a pdf poster version and a pdf online version with hyperlinks so that those interested can follow up on whichever martyrs they choose.
It was a humbling and moving exercise and, throughout, I felt sustained by a beatific host of my fellow countrywomen and countrymen. A nation sanctified through suffering.
Click here to see the martyrs’ map online