lundi 30 novembre 2015

Saint CUTHBERT MAYNE, prêtre et martyr

Saint Cuthbert Mayne

Martyr en Angleterre ( 1577)

Originaire du Devonshire, Cuthbert Mayne avait été élevé dans la Communion anglicane. Cet étudiant d'Oxford se convertit au "papisme", alla recevoir le sacerdoce en France puis revint dans la Cornouaille britannique. Il fut arrêté au bout d'un an. Condamné à mort "pour avoir célébré la messe romaine", il fut éventré publiquement sur la grand-place de Launceston (Cornwall).

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

À Launceston dans le Devon en Angleterre, l’an 1577, saint Cuthbert Mayne, prêtre et martyr. Ministre anglican, il adhéra à la foi catholique sous l’influence de saint Edmond Campion, fut ordonné prêtre à Douai et exerça son ministère en Cornouailles mais, arrêté au bout d’un an, il fut condamné à mort sous la reine Élisabeth Ière, sous prétexte d’avoir publié une lettre d’indulgence du pape et d’avoir célébré la messe, il fut livré au supplice du gibet, le premier des étudiants du Collège anglais de Douai.

Martyrologe romain


Cuthbert Mayne M (AC)

Born at Youlston (near Barnstaple), Devonshire, England, 1544; died 1577; beatified in 1886; canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales (general feast day is October 25); feast day was November 29.

Saint Cuthbert was raised as a Protestant by his uncle, a schismatic priest. His elementary education was provided at the Barnstaple Grammar School. He himself was ordained a Protestant minister when he was about 19 without an inclination or preparation for the role.

Cuthbert studied at Saint John's, Oxford, where he received his master's degree and met the still-Protestant Saint Edmund Campion. Like many converts to Catholicism, Cuthbert Mayne hesitated out of fear--of rejection by family and friends, of losing his appointments and falling into poverty--although his was convicted of its truth. At the urging of Campion, Mayne became a Catholic in 1570 (age 26) (another source says 1573 at Douai). He was forced to flee England when letters from Campion at Douai were intercepted by the bishop of London, who ordered the arrest of all mentioned in the letter. He went to the English College at Douai, which was founded in 1568, to study for the priesthood. He received his bachelor's degree in theology and was ordained there in 1575. The following year he was sent back to England with Saint John Payne to preach in the mission.

He became estate steward of Francis Tregian at Golden, Cornwall, and was arrested the following year with Tregian after the high sheriff, Richard Grenville searched Tregian's mansion and found Mayne with an agnus Dei around his neck. Mayne was taken to Launceston, thrown into a filthy prison, and chained to the bedpost.

At Launceston assizes during Michelmas, he was found guilty of having obtained from Rome and published at Golden a "faculty containing matter of absolution" of the Queen's subjects. (What they had actually found was an outdated announcement of the jubilee indulgence of 1575 published at Douai.) He was also charged with having celebrated Mass, because they found a missal, chalice, and vestments at Golden. But at the direction of Justice Manwood, after consultation with Grenville, the jury found him guilty of violating statutes 1 and 13 of Elizabeth and sentenced him to death. Several gentlemen, including Tregian, and their three yeomen were charged with abetting Mayne and sentenced to perpetual imprisonment and forfeiture of their property.

The circumstances were such that a majority of the judges of the country, gathered at Serjeants' Inn to reconsider the case, thought the conviction could not stand. But the Privy Council directed that the sentence be executed as a warning to priests coming from the Continent.

The day before his scheduled execution, Mayne was offered his liberty in exchange for his oath that the queen possessed ecclesiastical supremacy. He asked for a Bible, kissed it, and said: "The queen neither ever was nor is nor ever shall be the head of the Church of England." At the marketplace before his execution, Cuthbert Mayne aws not given the opportunity to address the crowd from the scaffold. When invited to implicate Tregian and his brother-in-law, Sir John Arundell, the saint replied: "I know nothing of them except that they are good and pious men; and of the things laid to my charge no one but myself has any knowledge."

Thus, Cuthbert was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Launceston on November 25 on the charge of treason because he was a priest who refused to accept the supremacy of Queen Elizabeth I in ecclesiastical matters. He was cut down before he died, but was probably unconscious before the disembowelling began. He was the first Englishman trained for the priesthood at Douai to be martyred (at that time the penal code distinguished between priests trained on the Continent and those "Marian priests," who had been ordained in England). For this reason, Cuthbert Mayne is the protomartyr of English seminaries. His feast is kept at Plymouth and in several other English dioceses (Attwater, Attwater 2, Benedictines, Delaney, Walsh). 

Blessed Cuthbert Mayne

Martyr, b. at Yorkston, near Barnstaple, Devonshire (baptized 20 March, 1543-4); d. at Launceston, Cornwall, 29 Nov., 1577. He was the son of William Mayne; his uncle was a schismatical priest, who had him educated at Barnstaple Grammar School, and he was ordained a Protestant minister at the age of eighteen or nineteen. He then went to Oxford, first to St. Alban's Hall, then to St. John's College, where he took the degree of M.A. in 1570. He there made the acquaintance of Blessed Edmund Campion, Gregory Martin, the controversialist, Humphrey Ely, Henry Shaw, Thomas Bramston, O.S.B., Henry Holland, Jonas Meredith, Roland Russell, and William Wiggs. The above list shows how strong a Catholic leaven was still working at Oxford. Late in 1570 a letter from Gregory Martin to Blessed Cuthbert fell into the Bishop of London's hands. He at once sent a pursuivant to arrest Blessed Cuthbert and others mentioned in the letter. Blessed Cuthbert was in the country, and being warned by Blessed Thomas Ford, he evaded arrest by going to Cornwall, whence he arrived at Douai in 1573. Having become reconciled to the Church, he was ordained in 1575; in Feb., 1575-6 he took the degree of S.T.B. at Douai University; and on 24 April, 1576 he left for the English mission in the company of Blessed John Payne. Blessed Cuthbert took up his abode with the future confessor, Francis Tregian, of Golden, in St. Probus's parish, Cornwall. This gentleman suffered imprisonment and loss of possessions for this honour done him by our martyr. At his house our martyr was arrested 8 June, 1577, by the high sheriff, Grenville, who was knighted for the capture. He was brought to trial in September; meanwhile his imprisonment was of the harshest order. His indictment under statutes of 1 and 13 Elizabeth was under five counts: first, that he had obtained from the Roman See a "faculty", containing absolution of the queen's subjects; second, that he had published the same at Golden; third, that he had taught the ecclesiastical authority of the pope in Launceston Gaol; fourth, that he had brought into the kingdom an Agnus Dei and had delivered the same to Mr. Tregian. fifth, that he had said Mass.

As to the first and second counts, the martyr showed that the supposed "faculty" was merely a copy printed at Douai of an announcement of the Jubilee of 1575, and that its application having expired with the end of the jubilee, he certainly had not published it either at Golden or elsewhere. As to the third count, he maintained that he had said nothing definite on the subject to the three illiterate witnesses who asserted the contrary. As to the fourth count, he urged that the fact that he was wearing an Agnus Dei at the time of his arrest was no evidence that he had brought it into the kingdom or delivered it to Mr. Tregian. As to the fifth count, he contended that the finding of a Missal, a chalice, and vestments in his room did not prove that he had said Mass.

Nevertheless the jury found him guilty of high treason on all counts, and he was sentenced accordingly. His execution was delayed because one of the judges, Jeffries, altered his mind after sentence and sent a report to the Privy Council. They submitted the case to the whole Bench of Judges, which was inclined to Jeffries's view. Nevertheless, for motives of policy, the Council ordered the execution to proceed. On the night of 27 November his cell was seen by the other prisoners to be full of a strange bright light. The details of his martyrdom must be sought in the works hereinafter cited. It is enough to say that all agree that he was insensible, or almost so, when he was disembowelled. A rough portrait of the martyr still exists; and portions of his skull are in various places, the largest being in the Carmelite Convent, Lanherne, Cornwall.


CAMM, Lives of the English Martyrs, II (London, 1905), 204-222, 656; POLLEN, Cardinal Allen's Briefe Historief (London, 1908), 104-110; COOPER in Dict. Nat. Biog., s.v.; CHALLONER, Memoirs of Missionary Priests, I; GILLOW, Bibl. Dict. Eng. Cath., s.v.; DASENT, Acts of the Privy Council (London, 1890-1907), IX, 375, 390; X, 6, 7, 85.

Wainewright, John. "Blessed Cuthbert Mayne." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 2 Dec. 2015 <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron. With thanks to Fr. John Hilkert and St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.


Cuthbert Mayne is one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales canonised by Pope Paul VI on 25th October 1970. He converted from Protestantism to Catholicism and became a priest and a martyr. Patrick Duffy tells his story. A Protestant minister Cuthbert Mayne was born at Yorkston, near Barnstaple in Devon and baptized on St […]

Cuthbert Mayne is one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales canonised by Pope Paul VI on 25th October 1970. He converted from Protestantism to Catholicism and became a priest and a martyr. Patrick Duffy tells his story.

A Protestant minister

Cuthbert Mayne was born at Yorkston, near Barnstaple in Devon and baptized on St Cuthbert’s Day, 20th March, 1543. He grew up in the early days of the Boy King Edward VI with an overtly Protestant government installed. Cuthbert’s uncle was a former Catholic priest who favoured the new doctrines and it was expected that Mayne, a good-natured and pleasant young man, but with no great thought of principles of any kind, would inherit his uncle’s benefice.  Educated at Barnstaple Grammar School and ordained a Protestant minister at the age of nineteen, he was installed as rector of Huntshaw, near his birthplace. There followed university studies at Oxford, first at St Alban’s Hall, and then at St John’s College, where he was made chaplain, taking his BA in 1566 and MA 1570.

A convert to Catholicism

It was in Oxford that Mayne made the acquaintance of Edmund Campion (see 1st December), who at that time was still a Protestant like himself and a Catholic Dr Gregory Martin. Mayne became convinced of the truth of the Catholic faith and converted to Catholicism. Late in 1570, a letter addressed to him from Gregory Martin fell into the hands of the Anglican Bishop of London and officers were sent at once to arrest him and others mentioned in the letter. Mayne evaded arrest by going to Cornwall and from there went in 1573 to the English College at Douai.

Returns to England as a Catholic priest

Ordained a Catholic priest at Douai in 1575, he left for the English mission with another priest, John Paine, and took up residence in the guise of an estate steward with Francis Tregian, a gentleman, of Golden, in St Probus’s parish, Cornwall. Tregian’s house was raided and the searchers found a Catholic devotional article (an Agnus Dei symbol) round Mayne’s neck and took him into custody along with his books and papers. Imprisoned in Launceston jail, the authorities sought a death sentence but had difficulty in framing a treason indictment, but five different charges of contravening the Act of Supremacy were brought against him.


The trial judge directed the jury to return a verdict of guilty and he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Mayne responded, Deo gratias. Francis Tregian was also sentenced to die, but in fact he spent 26 years in prison. Two nights before his execution, Mayne’s cell was reported by his fellow prisoners to have become full of a “great light”. Before his execution, some Protestant ministers came to offer him his life if he would acknowledge the supremacy of the Queen as head of the church. His reply was to kiss his Bible and say: “The Queen neither ever was, nor is, nor ever shall be head of the Church of England”.


Mayne was executed in the market place at Launceston on November 29, 1577. He was not allowed to speak to the crowd, but only to say his prayers quietly. He was the first martyr not to be a member of a religious order. He was the first “seminary priest”, priests who were not trained in England but in houses of studies on the continent, as distinct from those who were (“Marian priests”).

San Cuthberto Mayne

Youlston (Cornovaglia, GB), 1544 - Launceston, 30 novembre 1577

Martirologio Romano: A Lanceston in Inghilterra, san Cutberto Mayne, sacerdote e martire, che, abbracciata le fede cattolica e ordinato sacerdote, esercitò il suo ministero in Cornovaglia, finché, condannato a morte sotto la regina Elisabetta I per aver reso di pubblico dominio una Lettera Apostolica, fu consegnato al patibolo, primo fra gli studenti del Collegio Inglese di Douai.

Nasce al tempo della crisi che sotto Enrico VIII Tudor (1509-1547) stacca l’Inghilterra dalla Chiesa di Roma, dando vita a una sorta di “cattolicesimo autonomo”, che ha per capo il re. Chi non gli obbedisce, anche in materia religiosa, diventa un traditore. E infatti con questa accusa vanno al supplizio sacerdoti, frati e laici eminenti come Tommaso Moro, già cancelliere della corona.

Morto Enrico VIII, e dopo un lustro di regno nominale di suo figlio Edoardo VI ancora minorenne, va sul tronol la sua prima figlia Maria, detta “la Cattolica”, che capovolge la politica del padre, ristabilendo la situazione di prima. Ma copia sciaguratamente la brutalità di Enrico: pensa di ravvivare la fede usando i patiboli, e si merita il soprannome di “Sanguinaria”.

Cuthberto Mayne ha uno zio prete che lo ha messo molto presto a scuola, con un disegno preciso: portare anche lui al sacerdozio, e averlo poi come collaboratore e successore. Quando è sui 14 anni, ecco in Inghilterra un’altra svolta: Elisabetta I, succeduta alla sorellastra Maria nel 1558, riprende la politica di Enrico e la porta alle estreme conseguenze: non solo il distacco dalla Sede romana, ma il ripudio del cattolicesimo nella dottrina, nel culto, nell’ordinamento del clero; severa imposizione del giuramento di fedeltà alla Corona. E gran lavoro per il boia, come ai tempi di Enrico VIII e a quelli di Maria. Lo zio prete di Cuthberto non ha avuto fastidi e ha conservato il posto perché si è affrettato a giurare: è diventato “anglicano”, insomma.

E sui suoi passi procede anche il nipote. Verso i vent’anni è ordinato a sua volta ministro del culto, prosegue poi gli studi a Oxford. Ma qui entra in contatto con gente nuova: cattolici clandestini. Ce n’è ancora qualche decina di migliaia nel regno d’Inghilterra. (Ben pochi, ma attivissimi. Preti che improvvisano attività missionaria nel loro carcere; laici che organizzano reti di nascondigli per i ricercati, e tipografie clandestine e contrabbando di messali).

In Francia, a Douai, è nato addirittura un seminario per i giovani inglesi che in questi climi vogliono diventare sacerdoti cattolici. Dalle amicizie personali, poi, gli viene una spinta crescente, un’attenzione nuova per la fede cattolica. In un giorno del 1570, proprio una lettera spedita a lui da Douai lo trasforma da cappellano in ricercato: l’ha intercettata la polizia, c’è pericolo di arresto, e Cuthberto abbandona Oxford entrando in clandestinità. Riesce a lasciare l’Inghilterra, raggiunge Douai, ed eccolo infine accolto nel seminario.

Nel 1575 riceve l’ordinazione sacerdotale; rimane ancora per qualche mese per completare la preparazione, e nel 1576 eccolo in Cornovaglia sotto copertura: ufficialmente dirige una fattoria, e di fatto è il parroco clandestino dei cattolici del luogo. Un ministero molto breve, il suo: a metà del 1577 lo arrestano, ed è già tutto scritto: la sua opera di prete clandestino è alto tradimento e comporta la morte. Lui potrebbe salvarsi se giurasse fedeltà alla Corona, secondo le leggi di Elisabetta I. Ma rifiuta. Morte con squartamento, dunque, previa impiccagione.Ma forse lui non soffre, perché cade e sviene salendo il patibolo a Launceston. E così, privo di sensi, viene appeso alla forca.

Paolo VI lo canonizza nel 1970 come uno dei quaranta martiri d’Inghilterra e Galles (la cui festa è il 25 ottobre).

Domenico Agasso