mardi 26 mars 2013


Sainte Marguerite Clitherow, martyre

Peu après son mariage, Marguerite Clitherow, avec l’accord de son mari demeuré protestant, adhéra à la foi catholique, dans laquelle elle éleva aussi ses enfants. Emprisonnée, puis relâchée deux ans plus tard pour avoir abrité des prêtres chez elle. Arrêtée de nouveau, sous la reine Élisabeth Ière, elle refusa de plaider sa cause, pour éviter que ses amis, ses domestiques et ses propres enfants ne soient contraints à témoigner contre elle. Cela lui valut la peine de mort ; elle fut exécutée de façon barbare en étant lentement écrasée, à York, en 1586.



Martyre à York, en Angleterre (✝ 1586)

Peu après son mariage, elle se convertit au catholicisme. Emprisonnée, puis relâchée deux ans plus tard, elle abrite des prêtres chez elle. Arrêtée de nouveau, elle est condamnée à mort et exécutée quelques jours après.

Elle fait partie des Quarante martyrs d'Angleterre et du Pays de Galles qui ont été canonisés en 1970.

25 mars au martyrologe romain: À York en Angleterre, l’an 1586, sainte Marguerite Clitherow, martyre. Avec l’accord de son mari, demeuré protestant, elle adhéra à la foi catholique, dans laquelle elle éleva aussi ses enfants, et veilla à cacher chez elle les prêtres recherchés. Emprisonnée plusieurs fois pour cela sous la reine Élisabeth Ière, elle refusa de plaider sa cause, pour éviter que ses amis, ses domestiques et ses propres enfants ne soient contraints à témoigner contre elle. Cela lui valut la peine forte et dure d’être écrasée par un poids lourd jusqu’à ce que mort s’en suive.

Martyrologe romain

St. Margaret Clitherow

St. Margaret Clitherow was born in Middleton, England, in 1555, of protestant parents. Possessed of good looks and full of wit and merriment, she was a charming personality.

In 1571, she married John Clitherow, a well-to-do grazier and butcher (to whom she bore two children), and a few years later entered the Catholic Church. Her zeal led her to harbor fugitive priests, for which she was arrested and imprisoned by hostile authorities. 

Recourse was had to every means in an attempt to make her deny her Faith, but the holy woman stood firm.

Finally, she was condemned to be pressed to death on March 25, 1586. She was stretched out on the ground with a sharp rock on her back and crushed under a door over laden with unbearable weights. Her bones were broken and she died within fifteen minutes.

The humanity and holiness of this servant of God can be readily glimpsed in her words to a friend when she learned of her condemnation: “The sheriffs have said that I am going to die this coming Friday; and I feel the weakness of my flesh which is troubled at this news, but my spirit rejoices greatly. For the love of God, pray for me and ask all good people to do likewise.” Her feast day is March 26th.

St. Margaret Clitherow

Martyr, called the "Pearl of York", born about 1556; died 25 March 1586. She was a daughter of ThomasMiddleton, Sheriff of York (1564-5), a wax-chandler; married John Clitherow, a wealthy butcher and a chamberlain of the city, in St. Martin's church, Coney St., 8 July, 1571, and lived in the Shambles, a street still unaltered. Converted to the Faith about three years later, she became most fervent, continually risking her life by harbouring and maintaining priests, was frequently imprisoned, sometimes for two years at a time, yet never daunted, and was a model of all virtues. Though her husband belonged to the Established Church, he had a brother a priest, and Margaret provided two chambers, one adjoining her house and a second in another part of the city, where she kept priests hidden and had Mass continually celebrated through the thick of thepersecution. Some of her priests were martyred, and Margaret who desired the same grace above all things, used to make secret pilgrimages by night to York Tyburn to pray beneath the gibbet for this intention. Finally arrested on 10 March, 1586, she was committed to the castle. On 14 March, she was arraigned before JudgesClinch and Rhodes and several members of the Council of the North at the York assizes. Her indictment was that she had harboured priests, heard Mass, and the like; but she refused to plead, since the only witnessesagainst her would be her own little children and servants, whom she could not bear to involve in the guilt of her death. She was therefore condemned to the peine forte et dure, i.e. to be pressed to death. "God be thanked, I am not worthy of so good a death as this", she said. Although she was probably with child, this horrible sentence was carried out on Lady Day, 1586 (Good Friday according to New Style). She had endured anagony of fear the previous night, but was now calm, joyous, and smiling. She walked barefooted to the tollbooth on Ousebridge, for she had sent her hose and shoes to her daughter Anne, in token that she should follow in her steps. She had been tormented by the ministers and even now was urged to confess her crimes. "No, no, Mr. Sheriff, I die for the love of my Lord Jesu", she answered. She was laid on the ground, a sharpstone beneath her back, her hands stretched out in the form of a cross and bound to two posts. Then a door was placed upon her, which was weighted down till she was crushed to death. Her last words during an agonyof fifteen minutes, were "Jesu! Jesu! Jesu! have mercy on me!" Her right hand is preserved at St. Mary'sConvent, York, but the resting-place of her sacred body is not known. Her sons Henry and William becamepriests, and her daughter Anne a nun at St. Ursula's, Louvain.

Her life, written by her confessor, John Mush, exists in two versions. The earlier has been edited by FatherJohn Morris, S.J., in his "Troubles of our Catholic Forefathers", third series (London, 1877). The latermanuscript, now at York Convent, was published by W. Nicholson, of Thelwall Hall, Cheshire (London, Derby, 1849), with portrait: "Life and Death of Margaret Clitherow the martyr of York". It also contains the "History of Mr. Margaret Ward and Mrs. Anne Line, Martyrs".

[Note: St. Margaret Clitherow was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970.]

Camm, Bede. "St. Margaret Clitherow." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 25 Mar. 2016 <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Marcia L. Bellafiore.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

Margaret Clitherow M (RM)

Born in York, England, c. 1556; died there 1586; beatified in 1929; canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales; feast day formerly April 2.

Margaret was the daughter of a prosperous candlemaker, Thomas Middleton, who later became sheriff, but who died when she was about nine. Her mother remarried. In 1571, Margaret married John Clitherow, a prosperous grazier and butcher, who held various civic offices. He was an honorable, kind, easy-going, and generous man. Contemporaries described Margaret as well-liked, attractive, merry, and witty. "Everyone loved her and would run to her for help, comfort, and counsel in distress."

The couple, who lived in the Little Shambles of York, had three children. The eldest, Henry, was predestined to carry on the family trade. Next came Anne, then another little boy.

Margaret had been reared a Protestant but three years after her marriage to another Protestant, who never converted, she became a Catholic. From her earliest childhood, Margaret spent much time in prayer and had thought upon God with profound love and great reverence. Honestly and without any consideration of worldly advantage of peace she had prayed for light, that she might be able to distinguish which faith was the true one. When she felt sure that she knew this, she acted without fear or wavering.

Her husband, now the chamberlain of York, was fined repeatedly because Margaret did not attend Protestant services, yet he stood by her. That was how the state attempted to keep Catholics from the Mass--break them down to penury. When they could no longer pay the fines, they were thrown into prison. But this was not Margaret's problem.

She was religiously vocal and active and was imprisoned for two years for not attending the parish church. She was confined in a filthy, cold, dark hole, fed on the poorest prison fare, separated from her loved ones, yet she herself refers to this time as 'a happy and profitable school.' Here no one could be inconvenienced by her fasting and austerities.

While in prison she learned to read; after she was released, she organized in her house a small school for her children and her neighbors' children. Nevertheless, her husband stood by her for she was "a good wife, a tender mother, a kind mistress, loving God above all things and her neighbor as herself." By the sweetness of her nature, she bore witness to the charm of piety.

In a specially built room she hid priests who sought refuge from penal laws, and her home became one of the most important hiding places of the time. Masses were said by the guests, and Margaret would station herself behind the others, nearest the door, possibly to give the alarm in case of discovery.

In 1584, she was confined to her home for a year and a half, apparently for sending her eldest son to Douai in France to be educated. She made barefoot pilgrimages to the execution places of martyred priests, doing so at night to evade spies. These pilgrimages to the spot soaked with the blood of martyrs gave her courage to face the troubles and dangers of daily life.

Her husband remained silent about her activities, but he was summoned before the court in 1586 to give an account of why his son, who was attending a Catholic college, was abroad. While he was thus occupied, his house was raided, but no trace of priests or sacred vessels could be found.

His children were interrogated and gave nothing away, but a Flemish student broke down under threats and revealed the secret room. Vessels and books for celebrating Mass were discovered, and Margaret was accused of hiding priests, a capital offense, and taken to prison. She was joined two days later by her friend, Mrs. Ann Tesh (or Agnes Leech according to another account), whom the boy had also betrayed. She and her friend joked to keep up their spirits.

Her children, the servants, and poor John Clitherow himself were divided among various prisons, and little Anne Clitherow, a child of 10, was ill-treated for refusing to disclose anything of her mother's affairs, or to cease praying as her mother had taught her.

When called before the judge in the Guildhall of York, Margaret said, "I know of no offense whereof I should confess myself guilty." She was urged by Judge Clinch to choose a trial by jury, but she resisted because she did not want her children, servants, and friends to have to testify, and thus have to perjure themselves and offend God or testify against her--and know that they had caused her death, which she knew was inevitable. "Having made no offense, I need no trial. If you say I have offended, I will be tried by none but by God and your own conscience."

Her replies under examination show that this self-taught woman was able to support her faith by purely intellectual arguments and to correct the various Protestant clergymen's erroneous assertions regarding Catholic dogmas and practice.

One Puritan who had argued with her in prison courageously declared in court that to condemn someone on the charge of a child was contrary to the law of God and man. The judge wished to save her but was overruled by the council, and so he sentenced her to the penalty for refusing to plead, the peine forte et dure, which is to be pressed to death.

She was not allowed to see her children, and she was still visited by people who tried to change her mind, including her stepfather, who was mayor of York that year. She saw her husband once. One clergyman spoke kindly to her. Margaret begged him to say no more:

"I ground my faith upon Jesus Christ, and by Him I steadfastly believe to be saved, as is taught in the Catholic Church through all Christendom, and promised to remain with Her unto the world's end, and hell gates shall not prevail against it: and by God's assistance I mean to live and die in the same faith; for if an angel come from heaven, and preach any other doctrine than we have received, the Apostle biddeth us not to believe him. Therefore, if I should follow your doctrine, I should disobey the Apostle's commandment."

On the eve of her death, March 25, 1586, Margaret requested companionship, and a Protestant woman in jail for debt was provided. She did not know what to say, so she watched as Margaret knelt for hours in prayer gaining a radiant calm as she did so.

Thus, at the age of 30, Margaret went to her death smiling, carrying over her arm a long white robe; her shroud, which she had made in prison. On reaching the vaulted cellar where she was to die, she prayed for the Catholic clergy, and for Queen Elizabeth, that God would change her faith and save her soul. She refused to pray with Protestants in attendance.

Margaret was executed in the Toolboothe at York, the first woman to suffer the ultimate penalty of the new penal code. She was made to strip and lie flat on the ground, with a sharp stone under her back, and her hands were bound to posts. A large oak door was laid over her and weights totalling seven or eight hundred pounds were placed upon it until she burst (though she had suffocated first). It took about 15 minutes for her to die, and her last words were: "Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, have mercy upon me!"

She had sent her hat to her husband "in sign of her loving duty to him as to her head," and her shoes and stockings to her daughter, that she should follow in her steps. The child became a nun at Saint Ursula's Convent in Louvain, and both of Margaret's sons became priests.

Margaret's body was buried in a rubbish heap outside the city wall. Six weeks later some Catholics disinterred it and carried it away but no one knows where. But one hand had been severed from the body--this is the relic of Margaret Clitherow that is venerated today at Saint Mary's Convent in York.
No one had told Margaret's two imprisoned children that their mother was dead. In fact, little Anne was told by some Protestants that if she would not go to their church and hear a Protestant sermon, her mother would be put to death. So the child went, to save her mother's life.

Her biography was written by her confessor, Father John Mush. One of Margaret's hands is preserved in a reliquary at the Bar Convent in York. She shrine is in a road off the Shambles of York (Attwater, Attwater2, Benedictines, Claridge, Delaney, Farmer, Undset, White).

In art, Saint Margaret is depicted as an Elizabethan housewife, kneeling; or standing on a heavy wooden door (White). A contemporary portrait shows her to be charming in appearance with irregular, intelligent, and delicate features surrounded by the becoming matron's coif of the period, a broad and open forehead, finely drawn eyebrows, and a sweet little mouth (Undset).



Daniel F. McSheffery

You must return from whence you came, and there, in the lowest part of the prison, be stripped naked, laid down, your back on the ground, and as much weight laid upon you as you are able to bear, and so to continue for three days without meat or drink, and on the third day to be pressed to death, your hands and feet tied to posts, and a sharp stone under your back.

These words of condemnation were spoken by a British magistrate of her majesty Queen Elizabeth. On Tuesday, March 15, 1586, in the Court of York, Judge George Clinch condemned to death Margaret Middleton Clitherow, a 33-year-old Yorkshire housewife who was pregnant with her fourth child. Her crime was sheltering Roman priests who were "traitors and seducers of the queen's subjects."

We know many of the details of the life of this heroic martyr, especially her last painful days of imprisonment, from her spiritual director Father John Mush, a seminary priest. Recognizing the holiness of her life and the great inspiration she was to persecuted Catholics throughout Elizabethan England, Mush wrote a detailed biography in the days immediately following her gruesome execution.

Margaret Middleton was born during the last years of the reign of Mary Tudor. Her parents were Thomas and Jane Middleton. Her father was a respected businessman—a candlemaker—in the city of York. One of five children, she was brought up Protestant and like the other girls in the family she was not taught to read or write. This did not mean she was a neglected child but that the closing down of the religious orders had all but destroyed the country's educational system. Few of the girls living in the city of York in those days received any education at all.

Margaret lived in turbulent times. Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558. The vast majority of English people were Catholic and wished to remain Catholic. When the new queen threatened to destroy their Church, they shrugged their shoulders and waited for it to all blow over. It took several years for them to realize, when it was too late, that if they wanted to retain their faith, they must be ready to suffer for it. The law clearly stated that the Mass was outlawed and the whole population was ordered to attend the new services in their parish church.

The Middleton family accepted the new religion and the Queen as the head of the Church. Her father prospered and became sheriff of York. He died when his daughter was 14.

When Margaret was 18, her mother arranged that she marry a Protestant, John Clitherow, who owned his own meat business and became one of the wealthiest men in the city. He was confident that his new wife would join him in worshipping in the Queen's Church.

This she did for the first couple of years of their marriage. At the age of 21, however, the bride returned to the Church of her ancestors and made her profession of faith and allegiance to the Pope of Rome. At the same time John professed his Protestant faith and became a chamberlain in the city of York.

The Clitherow family reacted to this difference of religion in the same way that many of the wealthy families did. The husband conformed to the new religion while his wife did not. Throughout their marriage, John paid her fines for not attending church services, even allowed his wife to bring up their children as Catholics and was very careful not to know if the forbidden Popish Mass was being celebrated in his house.

John was not hostile to the Church. In fact his brother William was ordained a Catholic priest. Like many others in England of his day, the chamberlain of York probably expected the Catholic faith would return before long and he did not want to be completely on the wrong side of the fence if this should happen. So he did make things as easy as he could for his wife. He was careful to ignore the fact that Father Mush was a frequent visitor and obviously was celebrating Mass for Margaret and her friends.

Margaret proved to be a loving wife and mother. She was disturbed by John's protestations of faith in the Queen's religion but she still loved him dearly. Speaking of him in later life she remarked, "Know you, I love him next to God in this world. . . . If I have offended my husband in any way, save for my conscience, I ask of God and him forgiveness." Her husband shared her love. He said that he could wish for no better wife, "except only two faults, and these were, she fasted too much and would not go with him to church."

The Clitherows had three children: Henry, Anne, and the third child William born when she was in prison for failure to attend services at the established church. While in prison, she taught herself to read and write. She always maintained a great rapport with all her children and they grew up as staunch Catholics even though they never knew their mother beyond their twelfth year. Knowing that she could not educate them herself she violated the law by hiring a Catholic tutor, a man named Stapleton. He became responsible for the education of the two younger children and she secretly sent her oldest son to be educated in the Catholic college at Douai in France. She never lived to see the day when her two sons were ordained as priests and her daughter entered religious life.

Her home became one of the most important hiding places for fugitive priests in all of England. The Clitherow house was equipped with a secret cupboard where the vestments, the wine and the altar breads were kept. It also had a "priest's hole" where the fugitive cleric could be hid. When her house was under almost constant surveillance, Margaret hired a room some distance off that also provided a hiding place for the priest. Local tradition among the Yorkshire people said that she also housed her clerical guests right under the noses of the authorities in the Black Swan Inn at Peaseholme Green. Mass, it was said, was celebrated in the inn where the Queen's agents were lodged.

Margaret, meanwhile, was becoming a fearless and very outspoken Catholic.

The government was perturbed by the persistence of so many of the people of Yorkshire in the old faith. The area was far removed from London. For a long time past, the Kings of England had appointed a special body called the Council of the North to carry out the royal policy in this remote area of the land. From the reports of government agents, it was clear that the north was solidly Catholic in sentiment, though not always in outward behavior. The change of religion had to be carried out largely by men who were specially sent down by the government for that purpose.

A child weakened

Those close to the Queen demanded that the Council of the North crack down with strong measures to make an example of the prominent Catholics in the community. On March 10, 1586, the council summoned the Chamberlain of York, John Clitherow and demanded that he explain the absence of his son abroad. This was a bold move because the chamberlain was a well respected member of the Protestant community. He was outraged and refused to give them any information about the whereabouts or activity of his son Henry who had enrolled in the seminary in France.

Margaret was not upset to find out that her husband was summoned. She was sure that the authorities would use the occasion to search their home but she was certain that they would find nothing that would incriminate her or her husband. Mass had been said that morning and the priest had escaped. The faithful Mr. Stapleton was conducting class for a group of children. When the alarm was sounded, the teacher escaped through a window. When the searchers burst open the schoolroom door, they found nothing but a group of children studying their lessons. Had it been only the Clitherow children and their Catholic neighbors involved, the authorities would not have learned very much. The Yorkshire children were strong in their faith and were not easily intimidated.

There was in the group a weak spot. There was an older student whom the children considered a foreigner. He was older than all the rest-about 14 years of age. He was Flemish and a stranger to the ways of England and its anti-Catholic laws. Fear showed on his face and the authorities recognized it. They stripped him and threatened him with a flogging. He quickly gave in and told them everything he knew.

He showed them everything—where the Mass was said and where the vestments and altar breads were kept. This was more than the searchers had even hoped for. It clearly proved that Mass was being celebrated in the house despite the law. The Flemish boy told them everything he knew and even some things he did not know. He was only too willing to speak and not too accurate in what he said.

Quickly the authorities ransacked the house. They carried off all of the incriminating evidence. The two Clitherow children were taken to loyal Protestant families and Margaret was never allowed to see her children again. The servants were arrested and thrown into prison because they were loyal to their mistress. Once again Margaret found herself in prison.

When she was brought before the council, she astonished everyone. She was not only fearless, she had a smile on her face. She seemed relieved at being arrested. It was as if she had foreseen the danger and it may have been a relief to have the suspense end when the outcome was known to be inevitable. She was confined with her friend Anne Tesh who was being held for hearing Mass. The two were supportive of each other and confounded their captors with their continued good humor in their jail cell.

On the third day of her confinement, the authorities allowed her husband John to visit her briefly. The visit took place in the presence of the jailer. She was never to see her husband again. The meeting had a sobering effect on both.

During the days of her confinement, the authorities spread rumors about her throughout the community. One of the priests that said Mass at her home, Father Francis Ingleby was arrested but the Council could not find anyone who could connect him with Margaret. The great difficulty in getting evidence showed how strong was the popular sentiment on the Catholic side.

Many pleaded with her

Early in the evening of Monday, March 14, Margaret Clitherow was brought before the judges at Common Hall in the city of York. A large crowd was in the streets and in the court for she was dearly loved by many of the citizens. Her indictment was read and she was asked how she pleaded. In answer she said, "I know of no offense whereof I should confess myself guilty. Having made no offense, I need no trial."

Following her refusal to plead guilty the judges tried to convince her to stand trial. For hours they tried to discredit her but she refused to be shaken. Judge Clinch warned her that if she refused to stand trial, the law would sentence her to a far more painful death than a jury could. The other judges on the panel accused her of crimes of every kind including having intercourse with the priests she harbored. Nothing seemed to move her and the presiding judge sent her back to prison for the night hoping that the solitary confinement would alter her thinking and bring her to her senses.

On the next day she was taken back to the Common Hall in the early morning. Judge Clinch reminded her that under the law of Queen Elizabeth, when an accused person refused to make a plea and stand trial before a jury, the accused would be sentenced to what was called "peine forte et dure." The person was laid naked on the stone floor of an underground cell with a door laid over him and on the door heavy stones were piled. Further weights were piled upon him until he was pressed to death.

Margaret refused to make a plea and to stand trial because she did not want her young children called to court. She told her friend Mrs. Tesh that she knew she would be executed in any case and she did not want to have her children forced to give evidence against their mother. Many at the court pleaded with her to change her mind. Even the judge tried to persuade her to no avail.

Finally the judge passed sentence that she should be crushed to death as a punishment for having "harbored and maintained Jesuits and seminary priests, traitors to the Queen's majesty and her laws."

Ten days were allowed to pass between her sentencing and execution. On the day of her execution she was calm and forgiving. When asked to pray for the Queen, she asked God to turn Her Majesty to the Catholic faith. They placed the board upon her and the hired executioners placed the huge stones upon her. Within a quarter of an hour she was dead. The sheriffs left the body under the door from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon. They then buried her body in some waste ground, where they hoped it would never be found.

Her death took place on March 25, 1586 on Good Friday.

In 1970, Pope Paul VI canonized St. Margaret Clitherow under the charming title of "The Pearl of York." Her home at #36 The Shambles is on one of the most beautiful streets in her native city. It has become a martyr's shrine and each year thousands of pilgrims come to pay her homage.

Margaret Clitherow was a martyr for her Catholic Faith. She died because she harbored the priests of Christ's Church and made it possible for them to celebrate the Eucharist for the faithful in England in the time of Queen Elizabeth. It was through the faith and the courage of women like St. Margaret that the Church survived the Great Persecution and survives and flourishes today.

This article appeared in the April 1994 issue of "The Homiletic & Pastoral Review," 86 Riverside Dr., New York, N.Y. 10024, 212-799-2600, $24.00 per year.

Provided Courtesy of: Eternal Word Television Network. 5817 Old Leeds Road. Irondale, AL 35210



Domenica, 25 ottobre l970

We extend Our greeting first of all to Our venerable brother Cardinal John Carmel Heenan, Archbishop of Westminster, who is present here today. Together with him We greet Our brother bishops of England and Wales and of all the other countries, those who have come here for this great ceremony. We extend Our greeting also to the English priests, religious, students and faithful. We are filled with joy and happiness to have them near Us today; for us-they represent all English Catholics scattered throughout the world. Thanks to them we are celebrating Christ’s glory made manifest in the holy Martyrs, whom We have just canonized, with such keen and brotherly feelings that We are able to experience in a very special spiritual way the mystery of the oneness and love of .the Church. We offer you our greetings, brothers, sons and daughters; We thank you and We bless you.

While We are particularly pleased to note the presence of the official representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Reverend Doctor Harry Smythe, We also extend Our respectful and affectionate greeting to all the members of the Anglican Church who have likewise come to take part in this ceremony. We indeed feel very close to them. We would like them to read in Our heart the humility, the gratitude and the hope with which We welcome them. We wish also to greet the authorities and those personages who have come here to represent Great Britain, and together with them all the other representatives of other countries and other religions. With all Our heart We welcome them, as we celebrate the freedom and the fortitude of men who had, at the same time, spiritual faith and loyal respect for the sovereignty of civil society.


La solenne canonizzazione dei 40 Martiri dell’Inghilterra e del Galles da Noi or ora compiuta, ci offre la gradita opportunità di parlarvi, seppur brevemente, sul significato della loro esistenza e sulla importanza the la loro vita e la loro morte hanno avuto e continuano ad avere non solo per la Chiesa in Inghilterra e nel Galles, ma anche per la Chiesa Universale, per ciascuno di noi, e per ogni uomo di buona volontà.

Il nostro tempo ha bisogno di Santi, e in special modo dell’esempio di coloro che hanno dato il supremo testimonio del loro amore per Cristo e la sua Chiesa: «nessuno ha un amore più grande di colui che dà la vita per i propri amici» (Io. l5, l3). Queste parole del Divino Maestro, che si riferiscono in prima istanza al sacrificio che Egli stesso compì sulla croce offrendosi per la salvezza di tutta l’umanità, valgono pure per la grande ed eletta schiera dei martiri di tutti i tempi, dalle prime persecuzioni della Chiesa nascente fino a quelle – forse più nascoste ma non meno crudeli - dei nostri giorni. La Chiesa di Cristo è nata dal sacrificio di Cristo sulla Croce ed essa continua a crescere e svilupparsi in virtù dell’amore eroico dei suoi figli più autentici. «Semen est sanguis christianorum» (TERTULL., Apologet., 50; PL l, 534). Come l’effusione del sangue di Cristo, così l’oblazione che i martiri fanno della loro vita diventa in virtù della loro unione col Sacrificio di Cristo una sorgente di vita e di fertilità spirituale per la Chiesa e per il mondo intero. «Perciò - ci ricorda la Costituzione Lumen gentium (Lumen gentium, 42) – il martirio, col quale il discepolo è reso simile al Maestro che liberamente accetta la morte per la salute del mondo, e a Lui si conforma nell’effusione del sangue, è stimato dalla Chiesa dono insigne e suprema prova di carità».

Molto si è detto e si è scritto su quell’essere misterioso che è l’uomo : sulle risorse del suo ingegno, capace di penetrare nei segreti dell’universo e di assoggettare le cose materiali utilizzandole ai suoi scopi; sulla grandezza dello spirito umano che si manifesta nelle ammirevoli opere della scienza e dell’arte; sulla sua nobiltà e la sua debolezza; sui suoi trionfi e le sue miserie. Ma ciò che caratterizza l’uomo, ciò che vi è di più intimo nel suo essere e nella sua personalità, è la capacità di amare, di amare fino in fondo, di donarsi con quell’amore che è più forte della morte e che si prolunga nell’eternità.


Il martirio dei cristiani è l’espressione ed il segno più sublime di questo amore, non solo perché il martire rimane fedele al suo amore fino all’effusione del proprio sangue, ma anche perché questo sacrificio viene compiuto per l’amore più alto e nobile che possa esistere, ossia per amore di Colui che ci ha creati e redenti, che ci ama come Egli solo sa amare, e attende da noi una risposta di totale e incondizionata donazione, cioè un amore degno del nostro Dio.

Nella sua lunga e gloriosa storia, la Gran Bretagna, isola di santi, ha dato al mondo molti uomini e donne che hanno amato Dio con questo amore schietto e leale: per questo siamo lieti di aver potuto annoverare oggi 40 altri figli di questa nobile terra fra coloro che la Chiesa pubblicamente riconosce come Santi, proponendoli con ciò alla venerazione dei suoi fedeli, e perché questi ritraggano dalle loro esistenze un vivido esempio.

A chi legge commosso ed ammirato gli atti del loro martirio, risulta chiaro, vorremmo dire evidente, che essi sono i degni emuli dei più grandi martiri dei tempi passati, a motivo della grande umiltà, intrepidità, semplicità e serenità, con le quali essi accettarono la loro sentenza e la loro morte, anzi, più ancora con un gaudio spirituale e con una carità ammirevole e radiosa.

È proprio questo atteggiamento profondo e spirituale che accomuna ed unisce questi uomini e donne, i quali d’altronde erano molto diversi fra loro per tutto ciò che può differenziare un gruppo così folto di persone, ossia l’età e il sesso, la cultura e l’educazione, lo stato e condizione sociale di vita, il carattere e il temperamento, le disposizioni naturali e soprannaturali, le esterne circostanze della loro esistenza. Abbiamo infatti fra i 40 Santi Martiri dei sacerdoti secolari e regolari, abbiamo dei religiosi di vari Ordini e di rango diverso, abbiamo dei laici, uomini di nobilissima discendenza come pure di condizione modesta, abbiamo delle donne che erano sposate e madri di famiglia: ciò che li unisce tutti è quell’atteggiamento interiore di fedeltà inconcussa alla chiamata di Dio che chiese a loro, come risposta di amore, il sacrificio della vita stessa.

E la risposta dei martiri fu unanime: «Non posso fare a meno di ripetervi che muoio per Dio e a motivo della mia religione; - così diceva il Santo Philip Evans - e mi ritengo così felice che se mai potessi avere molte altre vite, sarei dispostissimo a sacrificarle tutte per una causa tanto nobile».


E, come d’altronde numerosi altri, il Santo Philip Howard conte di Arundel asseriva egli pure: «Mi rincresce di avere soltanto una vita da offrire per questa nobile causa». E la Santa Margaret Clitherow con una commovente semplicità espresse sinteticamente il senso della sua vita e della sua morte: «Muoio per amore del mio Signore Gesù». « Che piccola cosa è questa, se confrontata con la morte ben più crudele che Cristo ha sofferto per me », così esclamava il Santo Alban Roe.

Come molti loro connazionali che morirono in circostanze analoghe, questi quaranta uomini e donne dell’Inghilterra e del Galles volevano essere e furono fino in fondo leali verso la loro patria che essi amavano con tutto il cuore; essi volevano essere e furono di fatto fedeli sudditi del potere reale che tutti - senza eccezione alcuna - riconobbero, fino alla loro morte, come legittimo in tutto ciò che appartiene all’ordine civile e politico. Ma fu proprio questo il dramma dell’esistenza di questi Martiri, e cioè che la loro onesta e sincera lealtà verso l’autorità civile venne a trovarsi in contrasto con la fedeltà verso Dio e con ciò che, secondo i dettami della loro coscienza illuminata dalla fede cattolica, sapevano coinvolgere le verità rivelate, specialmente sulla S. Eucaristia e sulle inalienabili prerogative del successore di Pietro, che, per volere di Dio, è il Pastore universale della Chiesa di Cristo. Posti dinanzi alla scelta di rimanere saldi nella loro fede e quindi di morire per essa, ovvero di aver salva la vita rinnegando la prima, essi, senza un attimo di esitazione, e con una forza veramente soprannaturale, si schierarono dalla parte di Dio e gioiosamente affrontarono il martirio. Ma talmente grande era il loro spirito, talmente nobili erano i loro sentimenti, talmente cristiana era l’ispirazione della loro esistenza, che molti di essi morirono pregando per la loro patria tanto amata, per il Re o per la Regina, e persino per coloro che erano stati i diretti responsabili della loro cattura, dei loro tormenti, e delle circostanze ignominiose della loro morte atroce.

Le ultime parole e l’ultima preghiera del Santo John Plessington furono appunto queste: «Dio benedica il Re e la sua famiglia e voglia concedere a Sua Maestà un prospero regno in questa vita e una corona di gloria nell’altra. Dio conceda pace ai suoi sudditi consentendo loro di vivere e di morire nella vera fede, nella speranza e nella carità».


Così il Santo Alban Roe, poco prima dell’impiccagione, pregò: «Perdona, o mio Dio, le mie innumerevoli offese, come io perdono i miei persecutori», e, come lui, il Santo Thomas Garnet che - dopo aver singolarmente nominato e perdonato coloro che lo avevano tradito, arrestato e condannato - supplicò Dio dicendo: «Possano tutti ottenere la salvezza e con me raggiungere il cielo».

Leggendo gli atti del loro martirio e meditando il ricco materiale raccolto con tanta cura sulle circostanze storiche della loro vita e del loro martirio, rimaniamo colpiti soprattutto da ciò che inequivocabilmente e luminosamente rifulge nella loro esistenza; esso, per la sua stessa natura, è tale da trascendere i secoli, e quindi da rimanere sempre pienamente attuale e, specie ai nostri giorni, di importanza capitale. Ci riferiamo al fatto che questi eroici figli e figlie dell’Inghilterra e del Galles presero la loro fede veramente sul serio: ciò significa che essi l’accettarono come l’unica norma della loro vita e di tutta la loro condotta, ritraendone una grande serenità ed una profonda gioia spirituale. Con una freschezza e spontaneità non priva di quel prezioso dono che è l’umore tipicamente proprio della loro gente, con un attaccamento al loro dovere schivo da ogni ostentazione, e con la schiettezza tipica di coloro che vivono con convinzioni profonde e ben radicate, questi Santi Martiri sono un esempio raggiante del cristiano che veramente vive la sua consacrazione battesimale, cresce in quella vita che nel sacramento dell’iniziazione gli è stata data e che quello della confermazione ha rinvigorito, in modo tale che la religione non è per lui un fattore marginale, bensì l’essenza stessa di tutto il suo essere ed agire, facendo sì che la carità divina diviene la forza ispiratrice, fattiva ed operante di una esistenza, tutta protesa verso l’unione di amore con Dio e con tutti gli uomini di buona volontà, che troverà la sua pienezza nell’eternità.

La Chiesa e il mondo di oggi hanno sommamente bisogno di tali uomini e donne, di ogni condizione me stato di vita, sacerdoti, religiosi e laici, perché solo persone di tale statura e di tale santità saranno capaci di cambiare il nostro mondo tormentato e di ridargli, insieme alla pace, quell’orientamento spirituale e veramente cristiano a cui ogni uomo intimamente anela - anche talvolta senza esserne conscio - e di cui tutti abbiamo tanto bisogno.

Salga a Dio la nostra gratitudine per aver voluto, nella sua provvida bontà, suscitare questi Santi Martiri, l’operosità e il sacrificio dei quali hanno contribuito alla conservazione della fede cattolica nell’Inghilterra e nel Galles.

Continui il Signore a suscitare nella Chiesa dei laici, religiosi e sacerdoti che siano degni emuli di questi araldi della fede.

Voglia Dio, nel suo amore, che anche oggi fioriscano e si sviluppino dei centri di studio, di formazione e di preghiera, atti, nelle condizioni di oggi, a preparare dei santi sacerdoti e missionari quali furono, in quei tempi, i Venerabili Collegi di Roma e Valladolid e i gloriosi Seminari di St. Omer e Douai, dalle file dei quali uscirono appunto molti dei Quaranta Martiri, perché come uno di essi, una grande personalità, il Santo Edmondo Campion, diceva: «Questa Chiesa non si indebolirà mai fino a quando vi saranno sacerdoti e pastori ad attendere al loro gregge».

Voglia il Signore concederci la grazia che in questi tempi di indifferentismo religioso e di materialismo teorico e pratico sempre più imperversante, l’esempio e la intercessione dei Santi Quaranta Martiri ci confortino nella fede, rinsaldino il nostro autentico amore per Dio, per la sua Chiesa e per gli uomini tutti.


May the blood of these Martyrs be able to heal the great wound inflicted upon God’s Church by reason of the separation of the Anglican Church from the Catholic Church. Is it not one-these Martyrs say to us-the Church founded by Christ? Is not this their witness? Their devotion to their nation gives us the assurance that on the day when-God willing-the unity of the faith and of Christian life is restored, no offence will be inflicted on the honour and sovereignty of a great country such as England. There will be no seeking to lessen the legitimate prestige and the worthy patrimony of piety and usage proper to the Anglican Church when the Roman Catholic Church-this humble “Servant of the Servants of God”- is able to embrace her ever beloved Sister in the one authentic communion of the family of Christ: a communion of origin and of faith, a communion of priesthood and of rule, a communion of the Saints in the freedom and love of the Spirit of Jesus.

Perhaps We shall have to go on, waiting and watching in prayer, in order to deserve that blessed day. But already We are strengthened in this hope by the heavenly friendship of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales who are canonized today. Amen.

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