Life & Soul

Saints of the week: The 40 Martyrs of England and Wales

The 40 martyrs' feast day is May 4

Today Christian martyrdom is as widespread as it was in the first century, but thankfully it is unknown in the West. This was not the case four centuries ago, when Christians murdered Christians.

On May 4 each year the 40 martyrs are remembered. Among them are St Richard Reynolds, one of four people hanged on May 4 1535 by Henry VIII’s regime, along with three saints – Augustine Webster, and Carthusian priors John Houghton and Robert Lawrence – and Blessed John Haile.

Richard Reynolds, a Brigittine monk of Syon Abbey, founded by Henry V, was born in Devon and, according to Cardinal Reginald Pole, was the only English monk who was conversant in Greek, Latin and Hebrew.

He had fallen under official suspicion due to his links to both Thomas More and Elizabeth Barton, “the Holy Maid of Kent” who had been executed for publically speaking out against the king’s marriage to Anne Boleyn.

When arrested, St Richard and his four fellow prisoners all denied the royal supremacy and were put to death at Tyburn.

Richard is patron of St Richard Reynolds Catholic College in Twickenham. He was beatified in 1886 and then canonised by Paul VI on October 25 1970, as one of the 40 martyrs.

Among the others were: St Margaret Clitherow, crushed to death in York in 1586; Edmund Campion, hanged in 1581 during the peak of Elizabethan anti-papal paranoia; Cuthbert Mayne; Edmund Arrowsmith; and Nicholas Owen, a Jesuit who designed priest holes.

This article first appeared in the latest edition of the Catholic Herald magazine (1/5/15).

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