St Ambrose Barlow OSB

A former pupil at Valladolid, St Ambrose Barlow spent 20 years as a priest in Lancashire before being martyred.

Born in Barlow Hall near Manchester in 1585, Ambrose was the son of a nobleman who had been a reluctant convert to the Church of England following the suppression of the Roman Catholic Church. Ambrose’s grandfather had died while imprisoned for his beliefs while his father, Sir Alexander Barlow, had two-thirds of his estate confiscated when he refused to conform with the rules of the newly established religion.

Having served an apprenticeship as a page, Ambrose followed his true calling, travelling to Douai in France to take up his first academic training in the College of St Gregory before being admitted as a pupil of the Royal English College in Valladolid 1610. On completing the second year of philosophical studies he returned to Douai, making his religious profession there in 1616. The following year he was ordained a priest.

On his return to England, Father Ambrose exercised his missionary ministry in Lancashire. His way of living was said to be simple and apostolic, while his enthusiasm for his sacred trade was such that he was nonchalant about the dangers of religious persecution.

He had already been incarcerated on several occasions when in 1631, as he ended an Easter Sunday Mass, the Protestant vicar of Eccles and his followers, armed with sticks and shields, arrested him. He was dragged before a judge before being incarcerated.

After four months of detention, he was processed in Lancaster Castle before Sir Robert Heath, who had received orders from the government to inflict on Father Ambrose the maximum punishment, as a deterrent to Lancashire’s numerous Catholics.

On hearing the indictment against him, Father Ambrose readily admitted to being a priest. On Friday 10th September 1641 he was stripped, hung, quartered and boiled in oil before his head was exposed on a pike. He was solemnly canonised by Pope Paul VI on October 25 1970.

St Thomas Garnet SJ

The son of Richard Garnet, Confessor of the Faith, and nephew of a fellow martyr Father Henry Garnet SJ, Thomas Garnet was born into a prominent family in Southwark, London, in 1574.

For some time he was page to the Count of Arundel until, in 1594, at the age of 20, he entered the college at St Omer in Artois (now part of France). Two years later he was ordered to the Royal English College in Valladolid, where he studied for four years before being ordained a priest.

Having returned to England, he was admitted to the Society of Jesus (SJ) by his famous uncle, Father Henry Garnet, the superior of the Jesuits in England. However, on attempting to leave England to begin his novitiate at Louvain, he was stopped and incarcerated in the Gatehouse jail at Westminster and later in the Tower of London. He was tortured in order to give evidence against Father Henry, who had been implicated in the Gunpowder Plot and was later executed.

After seven months in the Tower of London, Father Thomas was banished from England in 1606 and put on board a ship set for Flanders with 46 fellow priests, where a royal proclamation was read to them threatening death if they returned.

The following year, however, he returned surreptitiously to England, where he was betrayed for being a priest. In November 1607, he was intensively interrogated for the Protestant Bishop of London by Sir Thomas Wade, the superintendent of the keep and a renowned torturer of priests. However, having refused to answer Wade’s questions nor make the new anti-Catholic oath of loyalty, Father Thomas was moved to the Old Bailey prison.

He refused an opportunity given to him by Catholics to escape, choosing to obey an inner voice that said to him “Noli fuguere” (“Don’t flee”). Condemned for his priesthood, he was stripped, hung, drawn and quartered at the gallows in Tyburn, London on June 23 1608.

He was solemnly canonised by Pope Paul VI on October 25 1970.

St John Lloyd

St John Lloyd was martyred as a result of the Popish Plot fabricated by Titus Oates, who was himself a former student at the Royal English College in Valladolid.

Born in Brecon, Wales, in around 1630, he was admitted to the college in 1649. Having completed his philosophy and theology studies, he was ordained in June 1653 and was sent to the mission in Wales.

For 24 years he laboured among the Catholics of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire at a time when his brother, Father William Lloyd, was head of the secular clergy in South Wales. Father John’s demise was a result of Oates, having been expelled from the college in Valladolid, spreading malicious rumours that Jesuits and others were plotting to kill King Charles II.

Father John and Father William were two of many priests arrested and martyred, both sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. Father John was martyred on July 22 1679 and canonised by Pope Paul VI in October 1970.

St John Plessington

St John Plessington was another who lost his life as a result of the anti-Catholic hysteria caused by the malicious conspiracy spread by former Valladolid student Titus Oates.

Born at Dimpless Hall, in Lancashire, John was sent to a private school directed by Jesuit priests in Scarisbrick Hall, later adopting the alias of Scarisbrick when entering the Royal English College in November 1660.

He received his minor orders and diaconate in the Church of María Magdalena in Valladolid before being ordained a priest in March 1662. Returning to England, he was housed with the Massey family in Puddington Hall, while carrying out missionary work around Holywell and Chester.

Father Plessington was in Chester when he was accused, during the so-called “Oates Conspiracy”, of being a priest. After nine weeks in prison, he was stripped, drawn, hung and quartered near Chester on July 19 1679.

According to a local tradition, his dismembered body was sent to Puddington Hall to be exhibited in the four corners of the house but was instead laid on an oak table in the entrance to the house before being buried in the cemetery of Burton.

He was solemnly canonised by the Pope Paul VI on October 25 1970.

St John Roberts OSB

Despite being 22 before he converted to Catholicism, Welshman St John Roberts achieved much for the Church before being martyred just 12 years later.

Born in the town of Trawsfynydd in 1576, John studied initially at the University of Oxford from 1596 until 1597 and then followed a legal education at the Inns of Court in London.

He later went to Paris where he converted to Catholicism before being admitted as a student at the Royal English College in Valladolid in October 1598. Attracted by the monastic life, he moved to the city’s Benedictine community of St Benito before, in 1600, making his religious profession in the church of the Abbey of St Martín at Santiago de Compostela. He was ordained a priest in Salamanca in 1602.

Ordered to the mission in England, Father John arrived in April 1603 and was appointed Vicar of the Spanish Benedictine Congregation in England. Despite being stopped, incarcerated and banished on several occasions, he always returned. During one period of deportation he helped to establish the Benedictine community of St Gregory at Douai and is considered to be its first superior.

On a fifth return to England, he was stopped while dressed in Mass vestments. This time he was condemned to death for being a priest and martyred at Tyburn in December 1610, aged 34. He was solemnly canonised by Pope Paul VI on October 25 1970.

St Henry Walpole SJ

Having converted to Catholicism in his early 20s after witnessing the martyrdom of St Edmund Campion, St Henry Walpole SJ met a similar fate to the man who had so inspired him.

Born in 1558, the son of a Norfolk squire, Henry was educated at Cambridge University and undertook legal training college of Gray’s Inn in London, but he gave up his practice to follow in St Edmund’s footsteps after his clothes were splattered with his blood at his execution at Tyburn in 1581.

He studied at Rheims in France and the English College in Rome, where he entered the Society of Jesus before being ordained a priest in Paris in 1588.

After staying in Brussels for a year, he became military chaplain to the English and Irish Catholics of Sir William Stanley’s regiment in the Spanish forces. He was captured, tortured and incarcerated for five months before being ransomed.

At the end of 1592 he was ordered to Seville, where he was appointed vice-governor of the Royal English College in Valladolid. In June the following year, his superior Father Robert Persons SJ ordered Father Walpole to England and he returned after an expedition to visit Philip II of Spain in Madrid to obtain permission to establish another college in St Omer.

He arrived back in England in December 1593, disembarking near Bridlington, but had reached only ten miles inland when he was arrested by the authorities the following day. Although initially imprisoned in York Castle, the infamous priest hunter Richard Topcliffe asked for permission to transfer Father Henry to the Tower of London.

There he was tortured 14 times before being transferred back to York in the Spring of 1595. Father Walpole was stripped, hung, drawn and quartered in April that year. He was solemnly canonised by Pope Paul VI on October 25 1970.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand - Isaiah 41:10

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