Brother reading from the lives of the English martyrs.
One of the pieces which I was very struck by was the account of the sufferings of St. Margaret Clitherow who was crushed to death by the Protestants. It is a little long, but really well worth the read if only for the great courage that this story inspires in one, to stand up for the True Faith of Jesus Christ even amidst the most trying persecutions:
Mr. Hallam, in his History of the English Constitution', had remarked, as an extenuating circumstance of [Queen] Elizabeth's persecution [of the Catholics], that no woman, so far as he remembered, was put to death. That his memory was in this instance at fault has been already pointed out by Dr. Lingard (vol. vi. p. 344, note). Three women were, in fact, executed, and others sentenced to death, and reprieved only to linger or die in prison. Margaret Ward was condemned to die for assisting a priest to escape from Bridewell. She was offered her liberty if she would go to the Protestant church, and on refusing these terms, was hanged at Tyburn. Mrs. Line was tried for her life before Chief-Justice Popham for entertaining a priest in her house, and was flogged and then hanged. Mrs. Wells, for the same cause, received sentence of death, but died in prison. Anne Tesse and Bridget Maskew were condemned to be burnt alive, but after lingering for several years in gaol, were set at liberty by James I. More famous, however, than any of these is the name of Margaret Margaret Clitherow, of whose charity, good works, and heroic death we fortunately possess a full contemporary account, drawn up by her director, the Rev. John Mush. Her history is but briefly told in the Memoirs of Bishop Challoner, who simply says she refused to plead, and was ‘pressed’ to death according to law. As, however, this barbarous mode of execution is now little understood or forgotten, the story shall be here given in the words of Mr. Mush, to whom Dr. Challoner himself refers us.
“About eight of the clock the Sheriffs came to her, and she being ready expecting them, having trimmed up her head with new inkle, and carrying on her arm the new habit of linen with inkle strings, which she had prepared to bind her hands, went cheerfully to her marriage, as she called it, dealing her alms in the street, which was so full of people that she could scarce pass by them. She went barefoot and barelegged, her gown loose about her. Fawcet, the Sheriff, made haste and said, ‘Come away, Mrs. Clitheroe.’ The martyr answered merrily, ‘Good Master Sheriff, let me deal my poor alms before I now go, for my time is but short.’ They marvelled all to see her joyful countenance. The place of execution was the Tolbooth, six or seven yards distance from the prison. There were present at her martyrdom the two Sheriffs of York, Fawcet and Gibson, Frost, a minister, Fox, Mr. Cheeke's kinsman, with another of his men, the four sergeants which had hired certain beggars to do the murther, three or four men, and four women.
The martyr coming to the place, kneeled her down, and prayed to herself. The tormentors bade her pray with them, and they would pray with her. The martyr denied, and said, ‘I will not pray with you, and you shall not pray with me; neither will I say Amen to your prayers, nor shall you to mine.’ Then they all willed her to pray for the Queen's Majesty. The martyr began in this order : First, in the hearing of them all, she prayed for the Catholic Church, then for the Pope's Holiness, Cardinals, and other Fathers which have charge of souls, and then for all Christian princes. At which words the tormentors interrupted her, and willed her not to put her Majesty among that company; yet the martyr proceeded in this order: ‘And especially for Elizabeth, Queen of England, that God move her to the Catholic Faith, and that after this mortal life she may receive the blessed joys of heaven; for I wish as much good,’ quoth she, ‘to her Majesty's soul as to mine own.’ Sheriff Gibson, abhorring the cruel fact, stood weeping at the door. Then said Fawcet, ‘Mrs. Clitheroe, you must remember and confess that you die for treason.’ The martyr answered, ‘No, no, Mr. Sheriff; I die for the love of my Lord Jesu;’ which last words she spake with a loud voice. Then Fawcet commanded her to put off her apparel, ‘For you must die,’ said he, ‘naked, as judgment was given and pronounced against you.’. . .
The women took off her clothes and put upon her the long habit of linen. Then very quietly she laid her down upon the ground, her face covered with a handkerchief, the linen habit being placed over her as far as it could reach, all the rest of her body being naked. The door was laid upon her, her hands she joined towards her face. Then the Sheriff said, ‘Nay, you must have your hands bound.’ The martyr put forth her hands over the door still joined. Then two sergeants parted them, and with the inkle strings which she had prepared for that purpose bound them to two posts, so that her body and her arms made a perfect cross. They willed her again to ask the Queen's Majesty's forgiveness and to pray for her. The martyr said she had prayed for her. They also willed her to ask her husband's forgiveness. The martyr said, ‘ If ever I have offended him, but for my conscience, I ask him forgiveness.’
After this they laid weight upon her, which, when she first felt, she said, ‘Jesu! Jesu! Jesu! have mercy upon me!’ which were the last words which she was heard to speak. She was in dying one quarter of an hour. A sharp stone, as much as a man's fist, was put under her back ; upon her was laid a quantity of seven or eight hundredweight at the least [406 Kgs/896 lbs], which breaking her ribs, caused them to burst forth of the skin.
St. Margaret Clitherow is "pressed" to death.
Thus most gloriously this gracious martyr overcame all her enemies, passing [from] this mortal life with marvelous triumph into the peaceable city of God, there to receive a worthy crown of endless immortality and joy.' *
*'Troubles of our Catholic Forefathers,' 3d series, p. 43o.