Saint John Plessington – Garstang
John Plessington (c.1637 – 19th July 1679), also known as John Plesington, William Scarisbrick and William Pleasington, was born at Dimples Hall, near Garstang, Lancashire, the son of Robert Plessington, a Royalist Catholic, and Alice Rawstone, a family thus persecuted for both their religious and political beliefs.
Educated by Jesuits at Scarisbrick Hall, then at the Royal College of Saint Alban at Valladolid, Spain and then Saint Omer’s monastery in France, he was ordained in Segovia on 25th March 1662. He returned to England in 1663 ministering to covert Catholics in the areas of Holywell and Cheshire, often hiding under the name William Scarisbrick.
He was also tutor at Puddington Hall near Chester. Upon arrest in Chester during the Popish Plot scare caused by Titus Oates, he was imprisoned for two months, and then hanged, drawn and quartered for the crime of being a Catholic priest. From the scaffold at Gallow’s Hill in Boughton, Cheshire he spoke the following:
“But I know it will be said that a priest ordayned by authority derived from the See of Rome is, by the Law of the Nation, to die as a Traytor, but if that be so what must become of all the Clergymen of the Church of England, for the first Protestant Bishops had their Ordination from those of the Church of Rome, or not at all, as appears by their own writers so that Ordination comes derivatively from those now living.”
He was beatified in 1929 by Pope Pius XI, and canonized and made one of the Forty Martyrs on 25th October 1970 by Pope Paul VI.
Saint Edmund Arrowsmith
Edmund was the son of Robert Arrowsmith, a yeoman farmer, and Margery Gerard, a member of an important Lancashire Catholic family. Among his mother’s relations was Fr John Gerard, who wrote The Diary of an Elizabethan Priest, as well as another martyr, the Blessed Miles Gerard. Edmund was born at Haydock, Lancashire, England in 1585, the eldest child. He was baptized Brian, but always used his Confirmation name of Edmund. The family was constantly harassed for its adherence to Catholicism, and in 1605 Edmund left England and went to Douai to study for the priesthood. He was soon forced to return to England due to ill health, but recovered and returned to Douai in 1607.
Edmund was ordained in Arras on 9th December 1612, and sent on the English mission a year later. He ministered to the Catholics of Lancashire until around 1622, when he was arrested and questioned by the Anglican Bishop of Chester. Edmund was released when King James I ordered all arrested priests be freed, joined the Jesuits in 1624. In 1628, he was arrested when betrayed by a young man, the son of the landlord of the Blue Anchor Inn in south Lancashire, whom he had censured for an incestuous marriage. He was convicted of being a Catholic priest. He was sentenced to death, and hanged, drawn and quartered at Lancaster on 28th August 1628. His final confession was heard by St John Southworth, who was imprisoned along with Edmund.
Before mounting the scaffold, Edmund made a prayer to the Almighty:
“I die for love of thee; for our Holy Faith; for the support of the authority of thy vicar on earth, the successor of St Peter, true head of the Catholic Church which thou hast founded and established.” His last words were, “Bone Jesu”, (“Good Jesus”).
Edmund’s hand was preserved and kept by the Arrowsmith family as a relic until he was beatified and it now rests in the Catholic Church of St Oswald and St Edmund Arrowsmith, Ashton-in-Makerfield, England. His beatification occurred in 1929. He was canonized as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales by Pope Paul VI in 1970. His feast day is 28th August.
Blessed Robert Nutter – Burnley
Robert Nutter was born at Burnley in about 1550. He entered Brasenose College, Oxford in 1564 or 1565, and, with his brother John Nutter, also a Catholic martyr, became a student of the English College, Rheims. Having been ordained priest, on 21st December, 1581, he returned to England.
On 2 February 1584 he was committed to the Tower of London, where he remained in the pit for forty-seven days, wearing irons for forty-three days, and twice subjected to the tortures of “the scavenger’s daughter”.
On 10 November, 1584, he was again consigned to the pit, where he remained until, on 21 January, 1584-5, he, with twenty other priests and one layman, was shipped aboard the Mary Martin of Colchester, at Tower Wharf.
Landing at Boulogne on 2nd February, he revisited Rome in July, but, on 30th November, was again committed to prison in London, this time to Newgate Prison, under the alias of Rowley.
In 1587 he was removed to the Marshalsea Prison, and thence, in 1589 or 1590, was sent to Wisbech Castle, Cambridgeshire. While in prison he joined the Dominican Order.
There, in 1597, he signed a petition to Father Henry Garnet in favour of having a Jesuit superior, but, on 8 November, 1598, he and his fellow martyr, Edward Thwing, with others, besought the Pope to institute an archpriest (ie. a priest in charge).
He escaped, but was recaptured and hanged at Lancaster on 26th July 1600. He was beatified in 1987.
Blessed John Woodcock – Leyland
John Woodcock was born in Leyland, Lancashire, England in. His parents, Thomas and Dorothy Woodcock, the latter a Catholic, were of the middle class.
Woodcock converted to Catholicism about 1622, and after studying at Saint Omer for a year was admitted to the English College, Rome, on 20th October 1629.
On 16th May 1630, he joined the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin in Paris, but soon afterwards transferred himself to the English Franciscans at Douai. He received the habit from Henry Heath in 1631 and was professed by Arthur Bell a year later. For some years he lived at Arras as chaplain to a Mr Sheldon.
Late in 1643 he landed at Newcastle-on-Tyne, and was arrested on the first night he spent in Lancashire. After two years’ imprisonment in Lancaster Castle, he was condemned on 6th August 1646, on his own confession, for being a priest, together with two others, Edward Bamber and Thomas Whittaker.
On 7th August 1646, in an attempted execution, he was flung off a ladder, but the rope broke. He was then hanged a second time, was cut down and disembowelled alive. The Franciscan Sisters at Taunton possess an arm-bone of the martyr.
John Woodcock was among the eighty-five martyrs of England and Wales beatified by Pope John Paul II on 22nd November 1987.
Blessed Thomas Whittaker – Burnley
Thomas Whittaker was born at Burnley and when quite young went to study for the priesthood at the English College at Valladolid. He was ordained and sent on the English mission in 1638.
For the next few years he worked very successfully in his native Lancashire until he was arrested in 1643. On the way to Lancaster Castle the party stopped at an inn for refreshment, and the guard got drunk. Thomas took advantage of the situation and escaped naked into the night.
Fortunately a loyal Catholic, hearing of his plight, took him in and provided him with clothing, food and shelter until it was safe for him to continue his work. For some time he ministered to Catholics in Cloughton-on-Brock, near Garstang, where he was sheltered by the Midgeall family.
The local Catholic Church still possesses his oak desk, a small box in which he kept the Blessed Sacrament and other relics of this martyr. His second period of freedom lasted only a few months. He was arrested at Goosnargh, where he was severely beaten until he confessed to being a Catholic priest.
In Lancaster Castle he was put in the lowest and darkest dungeons, where he remained for six weeks before being allowed the liberty given to other prisoners.
On August 7th 1646 he was taken from the Castle to Quernmore, where after a few moments of prayer, he was hanged and cruelly butchered.
Blessed William Thomson – Blackburn
William Thomson was born in Blackburn and educated at the local grammar school before going to Rheims where he was ordained in 1584. For the next two precarious years he worked in the London area where he lived secretly in a house in Ely Place owned by Anne Line (who was herself later martyred and subsequently canonised as one of the forty martyrs). Here he was arrested and was executed at Tyburn for being a Catholic priest on April 20th 1586.
Blessed William Marsden – Chipping
A convert to Catholicism, William Marsden was born at Chipping, the son of a recusant yeoman named Richard Marsden. As a young man he went to France to be trained as a priest. After being ordained he set sail for England with another priest named Robert Anderton, who is thought to have come either from the Isle of Man or from Euxton Hall near Chorley.
Whilst crossing the English Channel, a violent storm arose during which the two priests knelt and asked that they be saved so that they could suffer martyrdom. Their prayers were answered. On arriving at the Isle of Wight they were recognised almost immediately and sent to prison.
At their trial the Anglican Bishop of Winchester taunted them with the “Pope Joan: myth” and repeatedly mocked them for serving a woman in the Church.
Anderton quickly replied that whether it was “Pope Joan” or Queen Elizabeth I, the Bishop approved of having a woman as “Head of the Church” and he was therefore in no position to criticise them on that account. Both were executed on the Isle of Wight on April 25th 1586.
Blessed Thomas Cottam – Longridge
Thomas Cottam was born on a farm between Longridge and Chipping in 1549. He was brought up a protestant and remained so whilst he was reading for his degree at Oxford. He then went to London, where he became a Catholic.
In 1575 he gave up a lucrative post and went to Douai to become a priest. From thee he went to the Jesuit novitiate in Rome. There his health broke down and he was sent to Lyons to recover before completing his studies.
Whilst he was abroad, Thomas met a man called Sledd, who pretended to be a Catholic. He was in fact a spy and sent accurate descriptions of the English Catholic clergy to the authorities in England.
John Cottam was ordained in Rheims Cathedral in 1580 and on June 5th set sail for Dover. On his arrival in England, he was immediately recognised and put under the care of a Dr Humphrey Ely, who was dressed like a soldier, but who was in fact a double agent.
Dr Ely’s commission was to take Thomas Cottam to London and hand him over to the authorities; but on arriving at the capital, Fr Cottam was allowed to escape. This placed Ely in a very difficult position and it gave Fr Cottam much cause for concern.
After seeking the advice of his Jesuit superiors, he decided to give himself up. After being arrested, he spent two years in prison. On being informed by the Lieutenant of the Tower of London that he would be executed the following day, he joyfully exclaimed, “Give thanks to God, for tomorrow is my day”.
Fr Cottam was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on May 30th 1582. After his death many of his kinsfolk became Catholics and their names appear in the lists of recusants.
St John Southworth of Salmesbury
John Southworth came from a Lancashire family who lived at Samlesbury Hall. They chose to pay heavy fines rather than give up the Catholic faith.
He studied at the English College in Douai, now in northern France (and then moved to Hertfordshire as St Edmund’s College, Ware) and was ordained priest before he returned to England. Imprisoned and sentenced to death for professing the Catholic faith, he was later deported to France.
Once more he returned to England and lived in Clerkenwell, London, during a plague epidemic. He assisted and converted the sick in Westminster and was arrested again.
He was again arrested under the Interregnum and was tried at the Old Bailey under Elizabethan anti-priest legislation. He pleaded guilty to exercising the priesthood and was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. At his execution at Tyburn, he was hanged but spared the drawing and quartering.
The Spanish ambassador returned his corpse to Douai for burial. His corpse was sewn together and parboiled, to preserve it. Following the French Revolution, his body was buried in an unmarked grave for its protection.
The grave was discovered in 1927 and his remains were returned to England. They are now kept in the Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs in Westminster Cathedral in London.
John Southworth was beatified in 1929. In 1970, he was canonized by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. His feast day is 27th June.