The archbishop of Westminster and Bishop of London joined together this week to launch a society promoting a greater understanding of British Christian martyrs, including St Thomas More.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols joined the Rt Rev Richard Chartres and General Lord Dannatt on Tuesday for the launch of the 1535 Society at the Tower of
London. The 1535 Society aims to promote an understanding of the role within British history of More and the other Christian martyrs who lost their lives for their faith.
Its members will also together contribute to the restoration of the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London, where More’s headless body now lies, and its Crypt of St Thomas More. The bishop and the archbishop, together with the Chaplain of the Chapel Royal HM Tower of London, the Rev Canon Roger Hall, said prayers both written by and for St Thomas More as part of proceedings.
The Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula is the parish church to the Tower of London and is a chapel royal, directly under the jurisdiction of the Queen. It is the final resting place of three queens of England as well as St Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher.
The society is named in honour of St Thomas More, who was Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII and was imprisoned in the Tower of London between 1534 and 1535. He was held in the Bell Tower, where some of today’s proceedings were conducted, and his opposition to the Reformation led to his execution on Tower Hill on
More’s body was buried in the chapel and his head was put on a pike, after which it was supposed to be thrown in the river before one of his daughters, Margaret, paid a bride to get it back. It is now buried in the family tomb in Canterbury. He was canonised in 1935, along with St John Fisher, and the Church of England has since recognised him as a saint and hero of the Christian Church.
In 2012, The Constable of the Tower of London, General the Lord Dannatt, launched an appeal to restore the chapel and to secure the future of the Choral Foundation. Contributors to The 1535 Society will help the appeal reach its £1.5m target and will, in particular, enable the restoration of the Crypt of St Thomas More.
General the Lord Dannatt said, “The chapel is a vital focal point for the Tower community and St Thomas More is a key figure in the Tower’s history. I am enormously grateful to the Archbishop of Westminster and the Bishop of London in joining together, today, in honouring a saint of both main Christian traditions and other Christian martyrs, and in helping us give the Chapel and the Crypt the care that they deserve.”
The Archbishop of Westminster and The Bishop of London released a joint statement saying, “We must never forget our past if we want to walk wisely into the future. That is why it is so important that we preserve this shrine to remind us of the dangers of religious intolerance and to recall men and women of faith to the primacy of love for God which leads to love of neighbour”.
At the event on Tuesday the Archbishop of Westminster gave a reading for the feast of Ss John Fisher and Thomas More: “O God, who in martyrdom, have brought true faith to its highest expression, graciously grant that, strengthened through the intercession of St Thomas More, we may confirm by witness of our life that faith we profess with our lips, and our unity be ever deepened. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, for ever and ever. Amen”
This report first appeared in the print edition of The Catholic Herald, dated 25/10/13