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HomeCATHOLIC LIFESAINTS & ANGELS.St. Edmund Campion
St. Edmund Campion
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Feastday: December 1
Edmund was born in London, the son of a bookseller. He was raised a Catholic, given a scholarship to St. John’s College, Oxford, when fifteen, and became a fellow when only seventeen. His brilliance attracted the attention of such leading personages as the Earl of Leicester, Robert Cecil, and even Queen Elizabeth. He took the Oath of Supremacy acknowledging Elizabeth head of the church in England and became an Anglican deacon in 1564. Doubts about Protestanism increasingly beset him, and in 1569 he went to Ireland where further study convinced him he had been in error, and he returned to Catholicism. Forced to flee the persecution unleashed on Catholics by the excommunication of Elizabeth by Pope Pius V, he went to Douai, France, where he studied theology, joined the Jesuits, and then went to Brno, Bohemia, the following year for his novitiate. He taught at the college of Prague and in 1578 was ordained there. He and Father Robert Persons were the first Jesuits chosen for the English mission and were sent to England in 1580. His activities among the Catholics, the distribution of his Decem rationes at the University Church in Oxford, and the premature publication of his famous Brag (which he had written to present his case if he was captured) made him the object of one of the most intensive manhunts in English history. He was betrayed at Lyford, near Oxford, imprisoned in the Tower of London, and when he refused to apostatize when offered rich inducements to do so, was tortured and then hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn on December 1 on the technical charge of treason, but in reality because of his priesthood. He was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970 as one of the forty English and Welsh Martyrs. His feast day is December 1.
Saint Edmund Campion, S.J. (24 January 1540 1 December 1581) was an English Roman Catholic martyr and Jesuit priest. While conducting an underground ministry in officially Protestant England, Campion was arrested by priest hunters. Convicted of high treason by a kangaroo court, he was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. Father Campion was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886 and canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. His feast is celebrated on 1 December.
Early years and education (15401569)
Born in London on 24 January 1540, Campion received his early education at Christ’s Hospital (a school), and, as the best of the London scholars, was chosen in their name to make the complimentary speech when Queen Mary visited the city in August 1553. He then attended St John’s College, Oxford, becoming junior fellow in 1557 and taking the required Oath of Supremacy, probably on the occasion of his B.A. degree in 1560. He took a Masters degree at Oxford in 1564.
Two years later he welcomed Queen Elizabeth to the university, and won her lasting regard. He was selected to lead a public debate in front of the queen. By the time the Queen had left Oxford, Campion had earned the patronage of the powerful William Cecil and also the Earl of Leicester, tipped by some to be future husband of the young Queen.
When Sir Thomas White, the founder of the college, was buried in 1567, the Latin oration fell to the lot of Campion.
Religious difficulties now arose; but at the persuasion of Richard Cheyney, Bishop of Gloucester, although holding Catholic doctrines, he received deacon’s orders in the Anglican Church. Inwardly “he took a remorse of conscience and detestation of mind.” Rumours of his opinions began to spread and he left Oxford in 1569 and went to Ireland to take part in a proposed establishment of the University of Dublin.
Campion was appointed tutor to Richard Stanihurst, son of the Speaker of the Irish parliament, and attended the first session of the House of Commons, which included the prorogation. Campion was transferred by Stanihurst’s arrangement to the house of Christopher Barnewall at Turvey in the Pale, which he acknowledged saved him from arrest and torture by the Protestant party in Dublin. For some three months he eluded his pursuers, going by the name “Mr Patrick” and occupying himself by writing A Historie of Ireland.
In 1571, Campion left Ireland in secret and escaped to Douai in the Low Countries (now France) where he was reconciled to the Catholic Church and received the Eucharist that he had denied himself for the last twelve years. He entered the English College founded by William Allen. The College’s enrollment grew, and a little after Campion’s arrival a papal subsidy was granted. Campion found himself reunited with Oxford friends. He was to teach rhetoric while there and finish studying for the degree of Bachelor of Divinity, which was granted him by the University of Douai on 21 January 1573. After this, he received Minor Orders and was ordained sub-deacon.
Rome, Brunn and Prague (15731580)
Campion then travelled to Rome on foot, alone and in the guise of a pilgrim, to join the Jesuits. In April 1573, in Rome, he was received in the Society of Jesus by Mercurianus, the orders fourth Superior General. He was assigned to the Austrian Province as there was not yet an English province of the Jesuits and began his two year novitiate at Brunn in Moravia. He was ordained deacon and priest by Anthony, Archbishop of Prague and said his first Mass on 8 September 1578. For six years, Campion taught at the Jesuit college in Prague as professor of Rhetoric and professor of Philosophy.
Mission to England (15801581)
In 1580, the Jesuit mission to England began. The mission was strictly forbidden, according to Campion’s Brag, “to deal in any respects with matters of state or policy of this [English] realm...” Campion accompanied Fr. Robert Persons who, as superior, was intended to counterbalance his own fervour and impetuousness. He had been surprised to learn that he was chosen to take part in the mission, and expressed the fear that he lacked constitutional courage. The members of the mission were instructed to avoid the company of boys and women and to avoid giving the impression of being legacy hunters. Before embarking, the members of the mission were embarrassed to receive news of a landing by papal-sponsored forces in the Irish province of Munster in support of the Irish rebel James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald. They also learned that a letter detailing their party and mission had been intercepted and that they were expected in England.
Campion finally entered England in the guise of a jewel merchant, arriving in London on 24 June 1580, and at once began to preach. His presence soon became known to the authorities and to his co-religionists lying in London’s prisons. Among the latter was Thomas Pounde in the Marshalsea, where a meeting was held to discuss means of counteracting rumors circulated by the Privy Council to the effect that Campion’s mission was political and treasonous. Pounde rode in haste after Campion and explained the need for Campion to write a brief declaration of the true causes of his coming. The diffusion of this declaration, known as the Challenge to the Privy Council, or, Campion’s Brag, made his position more difficult. He led a hunted life, administering the sacraments and preaching to Catholics in Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, and Lancashire.
During this time he wrote his Decem Rationes (”Ten Reasons”), arguments against the validity of the Anglican Church. The book was printed in a clandestine press at Stonor Park, Henley, and 400 copies were found on the benches of St Mary’s, Oxford, at the Commencement, on 27 June 1581. It caused great sensation, and the hunt for Campion was stepped up. On his way to Norfolk, he stopped at Lyford Grange, the house of a certain Francis Yate, then in Berkshire, where he preached on 14 July and the following day, by popular request. Here, he was captured by a spy named George Eliot and taken to London with his arms pinioned and bearing on his hat a paper with the inscription, “Campion, the Seditious Jesuit.”
Imprisonment, torture and disputations
Imprisoned for four days in the Tower of London in a tiny cell called “Little-ease”, Campion was then taken out and questioned by three Privy CouncillorsLord Chancellor Sir Thomas Bromley, Vice-Chamberlain of the Royal Household Sir Christopher Hatton and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicesteron matters including whether he acknowledged Queen Elizabeth to be the true Queen of England. He replied that he did, and was offered his freedom, wealth and honours, including the Archbishopric of Canterbury, which he could not accept in good conscience.
Campion was imprisoned in the Tower more than four months and tortured on the rack three times. During this time, false reports of a retraction and of a confession by Campion were circulated. He had four public disputations with his Anglican adversaries, on 1, 18, 23 and 27 September 1581, at which they attempted to address the challenges of Campion’s Brag and Decem Rationes. Although still suffering from the effects of his torture, and allowed neither time nor books for preparation, he reportedly conducted himself so easily and readily that he won the admiration of most of the audience.
He was arraigned and indicted on 14 November 1581 with several others at Westminster on a charge of having conspired, in Rome and Reims, to raise a sedition in the realm and dethrone the Queen.
Edmund Campion, in a 1631 print. Trial, sentence and execution
The trial was held on 20 November 1581. After hearing the pleadings for three hours, the jury deliberated an hour before delivering its verdict: Campion and his fellow defendants were found guilty of treason. He answered the verdict: “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 devoted 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 Majestys pleasure. And God have mercy on your souls.
On hearing the death sentence, Campion and the other condemned men broke into the words of the Te Deum. After spending his last days in prayer he was dragged with two fellow priests, Fathers Ralph Sherwin and Alexander Briant, to Tyburn where the three were hanged, drawn and quartered on 1 December 1581. Campion was 41 years of age.
Veneration and Feast Day
Edmund Campion was beatified by Pope Leo XIII on 9 December 1886. Blessed Edmund Campion was canonized nearly eighty-four years later in 1970 by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales with a common feast day of 4 May. His feast day is celebrated on 1 December, the day of his martyrdom.
The actual ropes used in his execution are now kept in glass display tubes at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire; each year they are placed on the altar of St Peter’s Church for Mass to celebrate Campion’s feast daywhich is always a holiday for the school.
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