Monday, 27 October 2008

Oxford Martyrs.

On Saturday I tootled over the hills, through misty autumn sunshine to the city of dreaming spires to honour the memories of four Catholic men who died for their faith in 1589. Fr. George Nichols, Fr. Richard Yaxley, Thomas Belson and Humphrey Pritchard were arrested in the inn known as the Catherine Wheel and eventually sentenced to death. They were hanged, drawn and quartered on what is now the busy junction of Holywell street and Longwall Street.

They were very gruesomely put to death, first Fr. Nichols and then Fr. Yaxley, who embraced his brother priest's body before being put to death himself. They were verbally abused and taunted by the crowd and even after dismemberment had their disembodied heads, which were impaled on the nearby castle wall, disfigured by zealots. The last to be executed was Prichard who was a simple serving man. As he mounted the scaffold he called out, "I call you all to witness, in the presence of God and his holy angels, that I am a Catholic and that I am condemned to die for the confession of the Catholic faith; I die willingly."

The Mass was exceedingly beautiful and was probably the first Solemn High Mass to be offered in Blackfriars since the liturgical changes. It was also exceptionally well attended. I arrived at 10.20am for an 11.00 start. The church was already half full. By 10.45 am they were putting out the plastic chairs and even then at least 30 had to stand. It was very notable that there were many young people and a wide spread of social and ethnic backgrounds. The Mass setting was Victoria's Missa trahe me post te and we had Tallis' Salvador Mundi, sacerdotes Domini by Palestrina and a polyphonic Salve Regina also by Victoria. This and the proper was sung by a choir called Cantores Missae, which was apparently drawn from several professional choirs. In terms of the rubrics not everything was perfect. That pesky gospel procession went wrong, ( as it did at the Cardinal's Mass at Westminster), on a number of occasions both deacon and subdeacon did things at the wrong time, and the servers left the sanctuary during the singing of the Salve. I'm not sure anyone really minded; it was such a special and moving occasion. We all knew why we were there.

The Mass was followed by a procession to the site of the martyrdom where a plaque was blessed by Bishop Kenney, who had earlier given a quite hard hitting homily at Mass which it would be unfair of my to try and paraphrase. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament was given back at Blackfriars.

I did not stay for the procession or benediction. Parking in Oxford is HORRIBLE! Having got a parking ticket for being three, (3!), minutes late on a recent occasion, I wanted to take no chances. On arrival in Oxford I went to the underground car park beneath the bus station, five minutes walk from Blackfriars. It charged more than £3 an hour, the machines accepted only coins and you could not pay with a card. Back to St. Giles' where it is 2Hrs no return, I thought I remembered it was three. The streets of Oxford are patrolled by literally swarms of traffic demons issuing tickets at the slightest opportunity. After Mass having tried to move the car, not finding a space, and ending up a a maze of one way streets I gave up and went home.

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