This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

October 25 -- Feast of the Forty(-one) Martyrs of England and Wales

Saint Swithun Wells
Feasts like this just keep giving of themselves, year after year.  Whenever I have skipped one of the forty on his or her own feast, I can acknowledge him or her on this collective feast.  So I will do today with my own addition, someone whom His Holiness Pope Paul VI did not acknowledge.  As I take the take the liberty to create a more inclusive -- though perhaps less well-considered, less prestigious -- canon, I will add Alice Wells to the lot.

Swithun Wells was a schoolmaster, not a clergyman.  When England went Protestant, he went along with it, but in 1585 he reconciled himself to the Roman Catholic Church.  He did not run afoul of the Catholic suppression until 1591, when the uber-sadistic priest-hunter Richard Topcliffe raided his house.

Topcliffe was a skilled and enthusiastic torturer who vigorously hunted down Catholics in Britain.  He raped one of his prisoners, Anne Bellamy, until she agreed to help him capture the priest Robert Southwell, one of the Forty(-one) Martyrs celebrated today.  When Bellamy became pregnant, Topcliffe insisted that one of his servants marry her to cover the matter up.  He's not the sort of guy I'd want on my side in an ecclesiastical struggle; I am not sure that winning with the Devil's help is really a victory.

Topcliffe raided Wells' home, and while Swithun himself was not there, his wife was.  Also present were a handful of laymen and a couple of priests.  Mass was nearly interrupted, but the laymen held the door until Father Edmund Gennings could finish.  Then the lot were taken into custody.  Wells himself was busted when he returned home.  His comment in court about his absence:  something along the lines of, I was not there but I wish I had been

Like Father Gennings and the other martyrs, he was tortured before being hanged, drawn, and quartered.  Saint Swithun Wells' last words were:

"Hurry up please, Mr. Topcliffe. Are you not ashamed to make a poor old man stand in his shirt in the cold? God pardon you and make you of a Saul a Paul, of a bloody persecutor one of the Catholic Church's children. By your malice I am thus to be executed, but you have done me the greatest benefit that ever I could have had. I heartily forgive you."

Alice Wells got a reprieve, of sorts.  Instead, she died in prison.  That may not have qualified when the Vatican counted the martyrs, but it is good enough here.  So placeSaint Alice Wells beside her husband Swithun and the other thirty-nine martyrs. 

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