Sunday 10 August 2014

St. Henry Morse, the priest of the plague - a film new about an English Martyr


In 2007 Mary's Dowry Productions created a new form of film media in which to present the lives of the Saints on DVD. We invite you to watch our film prayerfully and quietly and to engage your spiritual senses. Watch with your spiritual eye, listen with your spiritual ear.
Mary's Dowry Productions loves to recreate key moments, silently and with no dialogue, from a Saint's life, using historical costume and beautiful backdrops. Original contemplative music runs beneath a detailed narrative that seeks to engage the viewer with the Saint. Our films offer a window into the life of each Saint.

‘St. Henry Morse: The Priest of the Plague’, a famous Jesuit priest of 17th Century England, is looked at in our new film of his life, available worldwide on DVD.  He has a fascinating and important story that is tied to the history of England.  This brave man responded to the call of Christ once he had converted from the State Religion and left England to train abroad to become a Catholic priest.  The Catholic Church and Christian Faith had been attacked by Protestants since Henry VIII left the Catholic Faith and established his own Church of England, one that he could control and guide, declaring himself its head.  The former Catholic King created his own bishops, thus breaking the line of Apostolic Succession in this new Church.  Men such as Henry Morse, raised in the State religion yet responding to God’s grace, risked their lives to convert to the Catholic Faith and he, like many, became a priest, determined to return to his homeland and bring the outlawed Sacraments to the faithful Catholics of England, reconciling many Protestants to the Catholic Church as well. 
St. Henry Morse - filmed on location at
The Sistine Chapel Reproductions, Worthing
One of the lesser known of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales, Saint Henry Morse left us such a great witness to the Catholic Faith in England during persecution and some important words, especially his last speech at the gallows.  While he was training for the priesthood in Rome, St. Henry Morse worked as a tour guide, showing English visitors around the more famous parts of the City.  We saw this as an opportunity to include our world famous copy of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling painted by Gary Bevans (father of Mary’s Dowry Productions founders) as a double for the one in Rome which St. Henry Morse would have perhaps guided people around in the 17th Century.  For most of our films on the lives of the English Martyrs we film simple costumed scenes in ‘the barn’ attached to our parish church of the English Martyrs, Goring.  We have found this very useful when there is a great lack of historical imagery and paintings relating to the English Martyrs, so we create ‘moving pictures’ of vital moments in their story to run beneath the narrative, combined with sacred art, maps and other imagery relating to the era, using costumed characters in relevant settings.  St. Henry Morse laboured throughout England for many years, staying for some time at a Catholic Mass centre in the north run by Dorothy Lawson known as St. Anthony’s.  For this location we used the Hiorne Tower in Arundel Park, a location close to us.  We have filmed this interesting folly for several other productions and it always works well as it is a solitary structure with a mysterious atmosphere well suited to the contemplative, historical moods of our films. 
The Cybermen at
The Hiorne Tower, Arundel
The Hiorne Tower is actually a triangular shaped folly situated in Arundel Park close to Arundel Castle.  The tower was built during the eighteenth century by Francis Hiorne for the then Duke of Norfolk; it is unusual as it is named after the architect and not the owner.  The Duke was actually looking for an architect to rebuild the castle and designing the folly was a test, though Hiorne died shortly after its completion.  The Hiorne tower is located on a very steep hill overlooking Swanbourne Lake, and it is also said in local folklore to be haunted.  It is believed that a young woman climbed the tower and threw herself from the top.  Her ghost has been seen on moonlight nights at the top of the tower looking out over the car park, presumably searching for her lost love.  Sometimes the sound of ghostly canons can be heard and the ghost of a cavalier named the Blue Man has been spotted by keen ghost hunters in the vicinity.  The Hiorne Tower was also used in an episode of Doctor Who, the 1988 episode ‘Silver Nemesis’ featuring the Cybermen.  We always imagine seeing the Cybermen when we are up there filming!  It is great to be able to feature this interesting local building in our films and in ‘St. Henry Morse: Priest of the Plague’ you will notice it doubling as the exterior shot for ‘St. Anthony’s Hall’.  But St. Henry Morse is most famous for ministering to the London plague victims of 1636 with fellow English Martyr St. John Southworth.  We recreated several scenes to run beneath the narration for the plague scenes.  These shots include Plague Doctors approaching infected houses and visiting victims of the dreaded disease. 
The Plague Doctor
An excellent Steampunk Plague Doctor came in very useful for this part of the film!  St. Henry Morse carried a white stick to show all he passed that he himself visited plague victims.  He was given a list of 400 families infected and since Catholics were considered as non-persons at that time they were ignored and abandoned by the government doctors and physicians.  A group of Catholic doctors assisted St. Henry Morse and St. John Southworth in their work among the Catholics.  St. Henry Morse contracted the plague himself but miraculously recovered so as to continue his work among the sick.  He was hunted, captured, imprisoned, arrested and exiled many times but always returned to England to continue his work for the people and the Church.  Finally, the Jesuit priest was sentenced to death at the Tyburn gallows in 1643.  His last words resound down the timeline of England to today, both appropriate and relevant for he said while at the gallows: “The kingdom of England will never be truly blessed until it returns to the Catholic faith and its subjects are all united in one belief under the Bishop of Rome.” He ended by saying: “I pray that my death may be some kind of atonement for the sins of this kingdom.” Then he said his prayers and asked that the cap be pulled over his eyes; beat his breast three times, giving the signal to a priest in the crowd to impart absolution. He then said: “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”
St Henry Morse: The Priest of the Plague
Mary's Dowry Productions
After he was dead his body was torn open, his heart removed, his entrails burned and body quartered. In accordance with the custom that followed executions, his head was exposed on London Bridge and his quartered body was mounted on the city’s four gates.  St. Henry Morse was 50 years old at the time of his martyrdom. He was canonised along with 39 other English Martyrs by Pope Paul IV in 1970. Our film of his life runs for half an hour and gives a detailed layout of his whole journey, mission and Martyrdom. It is not a ‘movie’ produced for entertainment, neither is it purely a documentary but a creative way to learn his story using historical images, costumed visuals, maps, footage of nature, relevant imagery, narration, original music and more.
   Visit our website for full listings of our DVDs on the Saints and Martyrs.

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