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Saints Edmund Campion and Robert Southwell

Martyrs of Elizabethan England


Jesuit Priests and Martyrs (d. 1581 and 1595)

Their stories

+ These two Jesuit priests were murdered during the English Reformation because of their work of keeping the Catholic Faith alive in England during a time of unrest and persecution.

+ Edmund Campion was born in London and was raised as Catholic. After studying at Oxford—during which time he was offered the post of deacon in the Church of England—he traveled to Europe and joined the Jesuits. He was ordained in 1578.

+ After working in Bohemia (the modern-day Czech Republic), he returned to England as part of the Jesuit mission. In London, he wrote an account of his new mission, explaining that the work was religious and not political.

+ This work was known as Campion’s Brag and it encouraged many Catholics to remain steadfast in their commitment to Rome. It also incited the wrath of the authorities and he was subsequently arrested, imprisoned, and martyred on December 1, 1581.

+ Robert Southwell was born in Horsham Saint Faith, Norfolk, England. Also raised in a Catholic family, he was educated in France and entered the Jesuits in 1580.

+ Ordained a priest in 1584, he returned to England in 1586 in a clandestine ministry. He served as chaplain to Ann Howard, wife of Saint Philip Howard, and he wrote a number of pamphlets, encouraging Catholics to live their faith simply and piously.

+ Robert Southwell is best known as a poet and hymn writer and his poetry was widely distributed during and after his life. Scholars acknowledge that his writing influenced later authors, including William Shakespeare, John Donne, George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins.

+ In 1592, he was arrested for the crime of being a priest and he was subjected to inhuman cruelty and deprivations. After three years imprisonment, he was executed on February 21, 1595.

+ Edmund Campion and Robert Southwell were canonized with other Martyrs of England and Wales in 1970.

For prayer and reflection

I am a Catholic man and a priest; in that Faith I have lived, and in that Faith do I intend to die. If you esteem my Religion treason, then I am guilty; as for the other treason, I never committed any, God is my judge.”—Saint Edmund Campion

Spiritual bonus

Today marks the beginning of the Season of Advent and a new Church Year. Just like with the secular “New Year,” today is a wonderful time to think about your spiritual life and reflect on what kind of Christian you want to be.


Grant us in your compassion, O Lord, we pray, an increase of that faith which brought glory to your holy Martyrs Edmund and Robert as they maintained it even to the shedding of their blood, and may the same faith bring to us, who truly follow it, justification in your sight. 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.

(from The Roman Missal: Common of Martyrs—For Several Martyrs)

Saint profiles prepared by Brother Silas Henderson, S.D.S.

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