Rev. Fr Hugh Green O.F.M.
There are some who believe that the Reformation in England was, by and large, a fairly slow and peaceful affair, with the old Catholic Religion giving place to the new protestant one. Nothing could, in fact, be further from the truth. Catholics were bitterly and brutally persecuted in an attempt to force them into submission. The following relation of the martyrdom of Rev. Fr Hugh Green, O.F.M. was especially moving and I felt it should be published for all to see so that the sufferings that Catholics have had to endure for their Faith may not be forgotten. It is the manuscript account of a pious Catholic woman who was present at his execution and forms part of his life written by Bishop Richard Challoner in his “Memoirs of Missionary Priests and other Catholics” which will soon be able to be found in our library. It is quite long and so part of it has been hidden and can be shown by clicking the “Read more” link.
Upon Wednesday before the sentence of death being given against him by judge Foster, he said, Sit nomen Domini Jesu benedictum in sæcula. "May the name of the Lord Jesus be for ever blessed." He should have died upon Thursday, and to that end the furze was carried to the hill to make the fire, and a great multitude of people were in the streets, and at the gate, and lanes, to see the execution. But our great martyr, did desire to die on Friday, the which was by a friend of his procured of the sheriff, though with very much difficulty, being opposed by Millard, the master keeper. And it was noted, that after his sentence he never went to bed, and eat but very little, scarce enough to sustain nature; yet he was very cheerful and full of courage to the last. Now I beseech our Lord to put his words into my memory, that I may especially relate them, for I have a great scruple to add or take away: and therefore I have had the help of a true servant of God, who was attentive at his death…. Much admired was his devotion: he kneeling on the hurdle made his prayer, and kissed it before he lay down upon it, and continued his prayers until he came to the place of execution. Then he was taken from the hurdle, and stayed on the hill a good stance from the gallows, until three poor women were hanged: two of them had sent him word the night before, that they would die in his faith. O! what comfort was this to God's true servant who did all which was possible to see and to speak with them, but could not. Then they sent again to desire him, that when they had made a confession of their sinful life at the gallows, and should give him a sign, that he then should absolve them. The which with great joy on his part, and much benefit, (I hope,) on theirs, was performed: they two turning their faces towards us, and throwing forth their arms, cried out to him, God be with you, sir; and so died: but the third woman turned from us, towards the press of people, and so she died, her face or speech never tending towards us. Now, I also noted that our martyr's charity in this short time of life was not unrewarded; for God of his mercy was pleased to yield him the like comfort, by a reverend father of the Society of Jesus, who was there on horseback to absolve him, the which with great devotion and reverence, taking off his cap, and lifting up his eyes and hands to heaven, he received from him. I cannot but bless God to see the magnanimity of these two, the holy martyr and that reverend father. The one being at the point of death, with such comfort as his cheerful countenance expressed; and the other not apprehending the great danger he was in to be taken by the rude multitude, of whom he should have found no mercy. Now, is our martyr brought to the foot of the ladder by the sheriff, where falling upon his knees, he remained in devout prayer almost half an hour: then he took his crucifix and Agnus Dei from his neck, and gave them to this devout gentlewoman, my assistant in this relation; and his beads he gave to another; also he gave the master-keeper his handkerchief. And last of all to me most unworthy, he gave his book of litanies, &c., also from the gallows he threw me down his band, spectacles, and priest's girdle. Then turning himself to the people, and blessing himself with the sign of the cross, he began:Read more >>
"There be four principal things, which all men ought to remember; death, judgment, heaven, and hell. Death is a horror to nature; but that which followeth, is much more terrible, viz: judgment, if we die not as we ought; and as we dispose ourselves to good or evil in this life, so shall the measure of our punishment or glory succeed. I am here condemned to die for my religion, and for being a priest: we know there must be priests, for God foretelling of the church by the prophets, saith, Thou art a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech, Ps. cix. And, From the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof, there shall be a clean sacrifice offered in my name, Malach. i. Now four things are to be considered. A God, a sacrifice, a priest, a man. God must be served by sacrifice, this sacrifice must be offered by a priest, and this priest must be a man: such am I, and therefore I must die. Wherefore do we receive holy unction, and are made priests, but to offer sacrifice to God? But I am condemned for being ordained by the see of Rome: St. Paul saith, The Romans have the Catholic Faith, Rom. i. and gives God thanks that their faith and his were one; of which Catholic Faith I am. Against this Roman Faith, all the sectaries cried out; and all heretics that have been since Christ oppugn this Faith, and yet truly out of it none can be saved. There be four things more, one God, one Faith, one Baptism, one Church. That there is one God we all acknowledge, in whom, from whom, and by whom, all things remain and have their being. That there is one Faith appears by Christ's praying that St. Peter's faith, (He said not faiths,) should never fail; and He promised to be with it, to the end of the world. That there is one Baptism; we are all cleansed by the laver of water in the word. That there is one Church, holy and sanctified: doth not St. Paul say, that it is a glorious Church without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing? Now the marks of this Church are sanctity, unity, antiquity, universality; which all of us, in all points of faith believe." Here the ministers interrupted him, and would have disputed with him; but he said, he had been five months in prison, and in all that time, not any one of them came to dispute with him. There he would not have refused any of them; but now, that his time was too short for disputation. So he went on. "But some will say, We are fallen off from this Church of Rome: but in what pope's time, in what prince's reign, or what are the errors, none can discover. No, this Holy Church of Christ did never err. We have often offered public disputation, but it would never be accepted. No, this Church can never be impeached of falsehood in matters of doctrine; though scholars in school points may differ, but never in points of faith. God is the author of all truth, and He hath promised to be with it even to the consummation of the world, St. Matt. xxviii., until we meet all in the unity of Faith, and knowledge of the Son of God; to the end we be not carried away with every blast of doctrine; because many heresies have risen with diversities of doctrine to oppugn the truth of God's Church, as heretofore Arius, Nestorious, Wickliff, and others, so now in these our latter times, Luther, Calvin, Zuinglius, and the rest, whose doctrine at this present hath so inveigled the judgments of this kingdom; for God cannot be divided, nor served in many faiths. And although there have been many heretics, yet this Roman Church resisted, confounded, and condemned all heresies: and Luther himself confesses, that his religion was not begun by God, neither should it be ended by God." Here a minister, (one Banker, some say it was the minister, who formerly had been a weaver, and now is chaplain to Sir Thomas Trencher,) cried out with a loud voice, "He blasphemeth, stop that mouth of the blasphemer, cast him off the ladder": and so much noise was made by the multitude, that the sheriff, to content the people, desired our martyr to leave off that discourse; and silence being made, "I truly pity our poor country," said he, "with all my heart, to see what divisions are in it, and in religion, no unity among you." Then he began to pray heartily for his majesty, and that this kingdom might be settled in peace, the which he said, would never be, until there were unity of religion amongst them. Then he said, "I am brought hither for a priest and a traitor: that I am a priest, I have confessed, and as such, I thought to have left this, my country, in obedience to his majesty's proclamation; I went to receive that benefit for my passage, but was refused, and taken up on pretence of some few days past, beyond the limitation of the aforesaid proclamation, and brought to Dorchester prison, and am now for no other cause, (I thank God,) than for being a priest, to die, and not for any treason to my king or country. For I protest before Almighty God, I never wished hurt to my king or country, in my life; but I prayed for his majesty, and every day in my Memento at the Holy Mass, I offered and recommended him to God. But there were laws made in Queen Elizabeth's days, by which it was made treason to be a priest. By this law, I am condemned for a traitor; but surely the ancient laws of this kingdom would never have done it, as the modern doth. And now, judge you, whether the laws so lately made by men, be sufficient to overthrow the authority of God's Church, and to condemn the professors of it? Nevertheless, I forgive all the world from my heart, and all those who have had a hand in my death; and I beseech you all, if I have offended any of you in any thing, that you will every one forgive me. I have not had a purpose to give offence to any of you, and I pray God, give you all His Grace to seek Him, so as you may be able to attain His Mercy and eternal glory."
Then he called to me, and desired me to commend him heartily to all his fellow-prisoners, and to all his friends. I told him, I would, and that some of them were gone before him, and with joy, expected him. Then, on my knees, I humbly begged his benediction; so did five more of ours, and he cheerfully gave us his blessing, making the sign of the Holy Cross over our heads. Then one Gilbert Loder, an attorney, asked him, if he did not deserve death, and believe his death to be just? To which, he replied, "My death is unjust": so pulling his cap over his face, his hands joined before his breast, in silent prayer, he expected almost half an hour, his happy passage, by the turning of the ladder, for not any one would put a hand to turn it, although the sheriff had spoken to many. I heard one bid him do it himself. At length, he got a country clown, who presently, with the help of the hangman, (who sat astride on the gallows,) turned the ladder, which being done, he was noted by himself and others, to cross himself three times with his right hand, as he hanged; but instantly, the hangman was commanded to cut him down with a knife which the constable held up to him, stuck in a long stick, although I and others, did our uttermost to have hindered him. Now the fall which he had from the gallows, not his hanging, did a little astonish him; for that they had willed the hangman to put the knot of the rope at his poll [back of the head], and not under his ear, as it is usual. The man that was to quarter him, was a timorous unskillful man, by trade, a barber, and his name was Barefoot, whose mother, sisters, and brothers, are devout Catholics; he was so long a dismembering him, that he came to his perfect senses, and sat upright, and took Barefoot by the hand, to show, (as I believe,) that he forgave him; but the people pulled him down by the rope which was about his neck: then did this butcher cut his belly on both sides, and turned the flap upon his breast, which the holy man feeling, put his left hand upon his bowels, and looking on his bloody hand, laid it down by his side; and lifting up his right hand, he crossed himself, saying three times, "Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, mercy", the which, although unworthy, I am a witness of, for my hand was on his forehead; and many protestants heard him, and took great notice of it; for all the Catholics were pressed away by the unruly multitude, except myself, who never left him, until his head was severed from his body. Whilst he was thus calling upon Jesus, the butcher did pull a piece of his liver out, instead of his heart, and tumbling his guts out every way, to see if his heart were not amongst them; then with his knife, he raked in the body of this blessed martyr, who, even then, called on Jesus, and his forehead sweat; then was it cold, and presently, again it burned; his eyes, nose, and month run over with blood and water. His patience was admirable, and when his tongue could no longer pronounce that life-giving name, Jesu, his lips moved, and his inward groans, gave signs of those lamentable torments, which, for more than half an hour, he suffered. Methought my heart was pulled out of my body, to see him in such cruel pains, lifting up his eyes to heaven, and not yet dead; then I could no longer hold, but cried out upon them that did so torment him: upon which, a devout gentlewoman understanding he did yet live, went to Cancola, the Sheriff, who was her uncle's steward, and on her knees, besought him to see justice done, and to put him out of his pain, who at her request, commanded to cut off his head; then with a knife, they did cut his throat, and with a cleaver chopped off his head; and so this thrice most blessed martyr died. Then was his heart found and put upon a spear, and showed to the people, and so thrown into the fire, which was on the side of a hill. They say the heart did roll from the fire, and that a woman did take it up, and carry it away. This I speak not of my knowledge, but what is here reported to be true; and it may be very probable, because the hill is steep and uneven, and the heart not thrown as usually, but from the point of a long spear. Then did this gentlewoman and myself go to the sheriff, and beg his body, the which, he freely gave unto us. Now did the devil roar, and his instruments, the blinded Dorcestrians [people from Dorcester], (whom, with my soul, I deplored,) did fret and chafe; and told the sheriff, that he could not dispose of his quarters to Papists, neither should we have them. And truly, I believe, that if we should have offered to carry them away, they would have thrown the body and us, into the fire, for our number was but small, and they many thousands. Their fury did so rage against us, that we were forced to withdraw ourselves: and had not I procured the master keeper's wife to have gone back with us to the town, they had stoned us, or done us worse harm, as I was told by many credible people: so great is their malice to Catholics. God in His Mercy pardon and convert them. From the town we sent a shroud by a protestant woman, to wrap his happy quarters in; whom, it seems, God did send to us on purpose to do this last office unto his servant, for to us all she was a stranger, and lives twelve miles from the town. And when she heard us mourn that not any of us durst appear, she, with a courage went and saw his quarters put into the shroud, and buried them near to the gallows, although she suffered many affronts from the ungodly multitude; who, from ten o'clock in the morning, till four in the afternoon, stayed on the hill, and sported themselves at football with his head, and put sticks in his eyes, ears, nose, and mouth, and then they buried it near to the body, for they durst not set it upon their gate, because the last before, which was long since martyred amongst them, Mr. John Cornelius Mohun, anno domini, 1594, they set up his head upon their town gate, and presently there ensued a plague, which cost most of them their lives; so that still they fear, yet will not amend; God hold His Merciful Hand over them, or else I fear a severe judgment will befall them for this their last inhuman cruelty. I wish the contrary, and heartily pray that we may all partake of the prayers and sufferings of this our glorious martyr, whose magnanimity and patience were to me both admirable and profitable. And well did one minister say, who was present at his death, amongst forty more of his coat, that if many such men should die, and be suffered to speak as he did, they should soon shut up their books. This is credible, although for some respects the man is not named. Sir, this briefly is what I conceived myself obliged to signify unto you concerning this subject, not doubting but you will conceive the same comfort in reading it, as I did in writing the same unto you, who am, sir, &c. E. WILLOUGHBY.