THE BLOOD OF THE MARTYRS IS THE SEED OF THE CHURCH
A group known as the 85 Martyrs were beatified in Rome in November 1987 by Pope Saint John Paul II. They provide a powerful witness to the defense of the Faith during the Reformation and an inspiration for us today.
But what is meant by the Reformation?
From the 14th century onward there were various groups of people opposed to the doctrine and power of the Catholic Church. The most notable of these were the Lollards who believed in the SOLE authority of Scripture in religion and denounced the worldliness of the clergy, They influenced the development of Protestantism on the continent.
In England the Reformation came from the above. Although King Henry VIII was keen to keep the Lutheran ideas out of England he became increasingly autocratic and defiant of the Papacy. When Pope Clement VII refused to recognize the nullity of his first marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon and threatened to excommunicate King Henry in 1533 if he did not dismiss Anne Boleyn whom he had secretly married, the King of England made moves to break with Rome. Laws were passed in 1534 giving the king of England the right to nominate bishops, culminating in the Act of Supremacy.
This Act declared King Henry VIII the Supreme Head of the Church in England. Under the Act of Succession, all officials and clergymen had to take an oath saying that Anne Boleyn's children had right of succession. Under the Treason Act, anybody questioning or refusing to accept the new Royal title was guilty of High Treason.
It was a result of these laws that the first martyrs died in England. Among them were St John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, and St Thomas More, the former Lord Chancellor, both executed in 1535.
As things progressed the Mass was gradually outlawed, it was illegal to be a Catholic priest in England, hundreds of men, women, monks and priests were executed by law and the beautiful shrines and statues, images and devotions to Our Lady, for which England was renowned, were destroyed, smashed and, as in the case of the Saxon statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, was dragged to Chelsea and burned.
King Henry VIII wanted control of the extensive monastery lands and had a law passed in 1536 suppressing nearly 300 monasteries and confiscating their property. It was not until the reign of Edward VI that any great changes in Church practice occurred.
Gradually the Mass was abolished and a new Liturgy was intruded in the Prayer Book of 1552. Under Queen Mary I, the Reformation went in reverse as the country tried to recover and return laws, properties and churches, union with the Universal Church and the Mass, statues, shrines and devotions to the people. Persistent leaders against the Catholic Faith such as Thomas Cramner were executed under the heresy laws that had been in place for centuries (remember that Queen Elizabeth I would burn Anabaptists etc...during her reign under the same laws).
When the Protestants came back to power they gave Queen Mary I the infamous sobriquet 'Bloody Mary' which lasts in history to this day. Almost 200 priests and lay people were put to death in Queen Elizabeth's reign alone, including many of our famous English Martyrs.
In 1886, Pope Leo XIII (who had a special love for England) declared 318 English and Welsh Catholics to have been true Martyrs for the Faith. Of these, 157 have been beatified and another 42 canonized. Another 85 were numbered among the Blessed in 1987 and are wonderful intercessors for the faithful Britain today.
Get to know the Martyrs of England and Wales through DVD from Mary's Dowry Productions: