Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Martyrs of the Archdiocese of Birmingham

Today is the feast of three martyrs from what is now the territory of the Archdiocese of Birmingham.

Saint Kenelm ( died 821)

Saint Kenelm was the son of Kenwulf, who was King of Mercia from 796 to 821. There is a strong local tradition that identifies a particularly steep and narrow valley in the Clent Hills as the place where Kenelm was murdered. The site is marked by a medieval Church dedicated to him. A two-line Anglo-Saxon verse, which probably represents the folk-memory of the event, can be translated:
On the Clent Hills · Kenelm is there
in the cow valley · born to be king
under a hawthorn tree · a headless corpse lies he.
An eleventh-century Life of St Kenelm in Latin contains many fanciful legends but reflects the belief that the Prince was killed as the result of dynastic quarrels within the Mercian royal family; in fact his uncle Kelwulf succeeded to the throne. In an age when politics were conducted according to the maxim: “Kill or be killed”, it is probable that Kenelm’s reputation for holiness came from his refusal to adopt such methods to obtain power. He was remembered by the people of the West Midlands as a faithful follower of Christ in particularly difficult circumstances.
Kenelm was buried with his father in the crypt of St Pancras’ Abbey at Winchcombe (Gloucestershire), which became a place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages. In the nineteenth century, Cardinal Newman was eager to encourage devotion to English saints; he would walk on pilgrimage from the Oratorian house at Rednal to St Kenelm’s Church on the Clent Hills.

The legend of St Kenelm, with its miraculous events and strong visual imagery is a good example of the distinctive Mercian tradition of hagiography, which is very different from the more prosaic, if clearly historic, tradition of Northumbrian saint's lives.

There is more about St Kenelm and his cult, as well as the historical evidence - which would suggest he was 25 rather than 7 when he was slain, and that the event took place in 811 rather than a decade later, as well as pictures of some of the churches of which he is patron, pointing to the diffusion of devotion to him - at the following online sites Saint Kenelm, The Legend of St Kenelm , which has an account not only of the legend but also very informative additional information on the veneration of the saint, a bibliography and a set of links to other sites and St. Kenelm, King of Mercia

    Blessed John Sugar, Priest, and Robert Grissold, Martyrs
    Blessed John Sugar was bom at Wombourne near Wolverhampton about 1558 and studied at St Mary’s Hall, Oxford, which was always linked to and finally merged with Oriel in 1902. He became ia clergyman of the Established Church at Cannock in Staffordshire. He later became a Catholic, studied at the English College, Douai, and was ordained a priest on 21 April 1601. His ministry was in Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire, where he travelled on foot and especially looked after the “poorer and meaner sort of Catholics”.

    Blessed Robert Grissold lived at Rowington in Warwickshire; he was the son of a weaver and is described as a “husbandman”; he had a special reverence for Catholic priests. He and John Sugar were arrested on the highway on 8 July 1603 after a raid on the Grissold house; Robert was given the chance of escaping by his first cousin, Clement Grissold, who was with the search party and had probably led it to the house, but he refused to leave the priest. Both were offered their freedom if they would conform. They were executed at Warwick on 16 July 1604. Sugar said on the scaffold “Be ye all merry, for we have not occasion of sorrow but of joy: for although I shall have a sharp dinner, yet I trust in Jesus Christ that I shall have a most sweet supper”.
    They were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1987.
    Text adapted from the Universalis website

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