St. John Roberts, Martyr (AD 1577 – 1610)

[#15 in the series This Week in English Catholic History: Week of December 9 – 16]

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HIS week, on December 10, the day of his martyrdom, we remember St. John Roberts. St. John Roberts was a Welsh Benedictine monk and priest. He was born in 1577 at Trawsfynydd, a small village in northern Wales. His parents were John and Anna Roberts of Rhiw Goch Farm. Like many members of the Ordinariates of Anglicanorum cœtibus today, John was baptized as a Protestant.

He attended Oxford in 1595 before leaving after two years to study law at Furnival’s Inn, London. He later traveled in Europe, and converted to Catholicism after visiting Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Also instrumental in his conversion was the influence of a Catholic fellow-countryman. When John converted, he abandoned his legal studies. On the advice of Fr. John Cecil, Roberts moved to Spain to attend the English seminary at Valladolid, before later leaving to become a monk at the local monastery, St. Benedict’s.

After his ordination in 1602, John led an undercover mission of Catholic priests to England, where as an important part of his evangelization he worked with plague victims in London. He was repeatedly caught, imprisoned, and banished to the continent, but Saint John kept returning to England. On his fifth mission to England, he was followed by his former mentor, ex-priest-turned-spy John Cecil (alias John Snowden), who had traitorously compiled a dossier on Roberts for King James I–Yes, the same King James after whom was named the much-celebrated 1611 King James Version of the Bible, which included the deuterocanon and almost verbatim the words of the Lord’s Prayer as they currently appear in the Catholic Novus Ordo Missal of 1970 and the Ordinariates’ Divine Worship Missal of 2013. God uses whom He will for his unsearchable purposes.

Fr. Roberts was arrested by the King’s agents right after he had finished saying Mass, and he was taken to prison while still wearing his Eucharistic vestments. The night before his hanging, a devout Spanish lady arranged for him to have dinner with 18 other Catholic prisoners. During their supper together, St. John was full of joy. He felt self-conscious about this, and asked his hostess, “Do you think I may be giving bad example by my joy?” She said, “No, certainly not. You could not do any better than to let everyone see the cheerful courage you have as you are about to die for Christ.”

On December 10, St. John Roberts – as was traditionally allotted commoners deemed traitors to King and country – was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn. Like our Lord himself by tradition at the time of his crucifixion, John was 33 years old. In jubilant mockery of a ceremony designed to strike fear into the hearts of would-be Catholics, when John saw the fire in which his bowels were to be burned, he said, “Ah, I see you have prepared a hot breakfast for us!”

Usually, the prisoner was disemboweled while still alive, but St. John Roberts was so popular among the poor because of his work with plague victims, that they insisted he be killed first so as not to feel the pain, and the will of the common people prevailed at least that far.

His heart was then held aloft by the executioner, who said, “Behold the heart of the traitor!” But the angry crowd, instead of saying the standard response (“Long live the king!”), said nothing. It was dead silent.

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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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Pope Adrian IV (c. AD 1100 – 1159)

[#14 in the series This Week in English Catholic History: Week of December 2 – 8]

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HIS week, on December 4, the anniversary of his election as Pope, we remember Pope Adrian IV. Pope Adrian IV is the only Briton ever elected Pope.

Pope Adrian IV was born Nicholas Breakspear, son of Robert Breakspear, in Abbotts Langley, England. Robert later became a monk at St. Albans. Nicholas was refused admission to his local monastery, so he traveled to France and became a canon regular at St. Rufus monastery near Arles. He eventually became prior, then abbot in 1145. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

King St. Edmund, Martyr (c. AD 841 – 869)

[#12 in the series This Week in English Catholic History: Week of November 18 – 24]

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HIS week, on November 20, the Ordinariates honor King St. Edmund, Martyr. St. Edmund was born in Nuremburg, Germany in 841. He was crowned the King of East Anglia on Christmas Day, 855 at the age of 14 by Bishop St. Humbert of Elmham. He was a model king who treated his subjects with justice. He spent an entire year memorizing all 150 Psalms by heart. He was martyred by the Vikings when they invaded East Anglia in 869. Continue reading

St. Hugh of Lincoln (c. AD 1135 – 1200)

[#11 in the series This Week in English Catholic History: Week of November 11 – 17]

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AINT Hugh was actually born in Avalon, France, to a wealthy noble named William, Lord of Avalon, and his wife Anna. His English connections come later. He was the first canonized Carthusian. His feast day is November 17th.

Hugh’s mother died when Hugh was only eight years old. After Anna’s death, William retired from the world to a monastery and brought his son Hugh with him. Hugh’s older brother, also named William, carried on the affairs of the family while father and son sought God in holy contemplation as professed religious. Hugh made his perpetual vows at the age of fifteen. Continue reading

Blessed John Duns Scotus (AD 1266 – 1308)

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#10: Week of November 4 – 10:

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T is commonly said there are three medieval theologians who stand above all the rest in contribution: St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, and this week’s Britannic feature, Blessed John Duns Scotus. Blessed John’s feast day is November 8th.

John was born to a wealthy farming family in the town of Duns just North of the Scottish border with England. He was reported to be a beautiful child both in appearance and behavior, and he received a solid moral education from his parents.

Blessed John Duns Scotus attended catechism classes at the Cistercian Melrose Abbey (also appearing in our article on St. Cuthbert) where he gained a deep devotion for the Blessed Virgin Mary – for which the Cistercians are well-known – who would later be the subject of Scotus’ most significant theological contribution. Continue reading

Saint Winifred (AD 635 – 660) and Saint Bono (d. c. AD 650)

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AINT Winifred was born in Tegeingl, in Northeastern Wales, and her Feast Day is November 3rd. She was born into great wealth as the daughter of the Welsh nobleman Tyfid ap Eiludd during the period when Christianity was only beginning to have its effect in the British Isles.

Winifred appears to have been exposed to Catholic Christianity through her mother, Wenlo. Wenlo’s brother Bono is also venerated as a Saint by the church for his work as a founding abbot of the abbey of Caernarfon. During Winifred’s life, women had no say in their marriage partner, and marital unions were typically arranged by parents in order to secure political alliances. Continue reading