St. Edmund Campion, Martyr (AD 1540 – 1581)

[#13 in the series This Week in English Catholic History: Week of November 25 – December 1]

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HIS week, on December 1, the day of his martyrdom, we celebrate St. Edmund Campion. St. Edmund Campion was the son of a Catholic bookseller whose family converted to Anglicanism. He attended Oxford University. Queen Elizabeth I offered to make him a deacon in the Church of England, but he refused, fled to the Continent, and later converted and joined the Jesuits. He was ordained in 1578.

He worked for a few years in Bohemia before returning to London as part of a Jesuit mission, disguised as a jewel merchant. In London, he worked with his fellow Jesuit St. Nicholas Owen.

He wrote a description of his mission where he openly described his work as religious, which became known as Campion’s Brag. Here is a brief passage from it:

“And touching our Society, be it known to you that we have made a league–all the Jesuits in the world–cheerfully to carry the cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn [Note: this is slang for execution, since most executions took place in the village Tyburn], or to be racked with your torments or consumed with your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun. It cannot be withstood. So the faith was planted: So it must be restored.

It was widely circulated and encouraged many Catholics to remain loyal to their faith. It also made him a hunted man, and he traveled England secretly administering the Sacraments. During this time, he wrote his Ten Reasons against the validity of the Anglican Church. It caused a great sensation, and the hunt intensified. He was finally caught by George Eliot, a professional priest-hunter, con man, and suspected murderer.

He was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was tortured on the rack at least twice. He had four public disputations with his Anglican adversaries on the contents of Campion’s Brag and Ten Reasons. Even though he was still recovering from his torture, he beat all his challengers easily and won over most of the audience.

At his trial on November 20, St. Edmund was found guilty of treason. Answering the verdict, he said, “In condemning us, you condemn all your own ancestors, all our ancient bishops and kings, all that was once the glory of England — the island of saints, and the most beloved child of the See of Peter.”

Lord Chief Justice Wray read the sentence: “You must go to the place from whence you came, there to remain until ye shall be drawn through the open city of London upon hurdles to the place of execution, and there be hanged and let down alive, and your privy parts cut off, and your entrails taken out and burnt in your sight; then your heads to be cut off and your bodies divided into four parts, to be disposed of at Her Majesty’s pleasure. And may God have mercy on your souls.”

Upon hearing the sentence, St. Edmund Campion and the other condemned men, his fellow priests Fr. Ralph Sherwin and Fr. Alexander Briant, began singing the Te Deum. They were martyred in Tyburn 11 days later.

Let us pray a prayer written by St. Edmund himself: “I have made a free oblation of myself to Your Divine Majesty, both of life and of death, and I hope that you will give me grace and force to perform. This is all I desire. Amen.”

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For a weekly dose of English Catholic Patrimony, if your Ordinariate parish or parochial community would like to receive This Week in English Catholic History in advance in single page black-and-white pdf form (perhaps inserted in the bulletin), please contact us at <foster1452@gmail.com>, and we will be happy to oblige, gratis

Written by Mr. John Burford, IV and Dr. Foster Lerner of Incarnation Catholic Church in Orlando, Florida; a parish of The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter © 2018.

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John (wearing purple tie, above) is the founder and owner of Magnolia Prep, an SAT and ACT tutoring business with branches in several major US cities. Foster (wearing golden tie, above) holds a Doctorate in Medicine from  Nova Southeastern University Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine, and is currently pursuing post-graduate studies in medicine.

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