Jesuit Priests and Martyrs: d. 1679
+ These martyred priests were falsely accused of conspiring to assassinate King Charles II of England in what is often called “the Popish Plot.”
+ The martyrs honored today are Blesseds Thomas Whitbread, John Fenwick, William Harcourt, John Gavan, and Antony Turner. In total, 45 Catholics were executed.
+ Their show-trial included a mix of muddled and contradictory testimony, largely based on allegations of Titus Oates, an Anglican priest who fabricated the “plot” to win the favor of the king. The lack of justice in the trials of the various martyrs demonstrates the rampant anti-Catholic sentiment that prevailed in England at the time. One onlooker remarked, “If there had been a jury of Turks, the prisoners would have been acquitted.”
+ Before their execution, as they stood on the scaffold with nooses around their necks, each of the martyrs was offered pardon if they would admit their knowledge of the “plot.” Since the conspiracy was a complete myth, they could reveal nothing and were executed. Their bodies were later given to friends who buried them in the churchyard of St. Giles-in-the-Fields.
+ The Martyrs of the Titus Oates Plot were beatified in 1929.
Following the executions, one of the chief justices in London began to grow suspicious of the evidence. In later trials, Titus Oates’ lies were exposed and Oates, who had been celebrated throughout England, was tried for perjury, flogged, and sentenced to life in prison.
“As gold in the furnace, the Lord put his chosen to the test; as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself; and in due time they will be honored, and grace and peace will be with the elect of God.”—Wisdom 3:6-7, 9
Grant a joyful outcome to our prayers, O Lord, so that we, who each year devoutly honor the day of the passion of the holy Martyrs, may also imitate the constancy of their faith. 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 [adapted])
Saint profiles prepared by Brother Silas Henderson, S.D.S.