Catholics in England Suffered Long Repression

Manila Bulletin, September 11, 2010 | Go to article overview

Catholics in England Suffered Long Repression


STONOR, England (AP) - For nearly three centuries after the Reformation, Catholics in England were outlaws.But in the turmoil and persecution that followed the break between King Henry VIII and Rome, noble families such as the Stonors clung to their faith, "in spite of dungeon, fire and sword," as the Victorian hymn "Faith of our Fathers" put it."We're just stubborn, really," says Ralph Thomas Campion Stonor, the seventh Lord Camoys, a title bestowed on an ancestor for valor in the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.Pope Benedict XVI will recall the years of persecution during his upcoming tour of Britain Sept. 16-19. He will visit Westminster Hall, the medieval chamber within the Houses of Parliament where the Catholic Thomas More was tried and convicted of treason in 1535. More refused to swear an oath accepting the annulment of King Henry's marriage, thus becoming one of the first of the legion of English Catholic martyrs.The Stonor family's history mirrors the vicissitudes of Catholics, both noble and humble, who defied the law and risked death to preserve their faith through times of persecution until they regained full legal rights in the 19th century.The Stonors were among those described as respectable "recusants," people who refused to attend Church of England services; respectable because they did not join in any plots to overthrow the monarchy.It was possible, even in the turbulent times of Queen Elizabeth I, to be openly Catholic and still enjoy royal favor. A notable case was the composer William Byrd, who wrote music for the Chapel Royal and for the Catholic Mass.The Stonor family sheltered another famous martyr, the Jesuit priest Edmund Campion. Campion's printing press was discovered at the Stonor house after Campion was arrested in 1581. Dame Cecily Stonor, who had already been paying yearly fines equivalent to 50,000 pounds ($77,000) in today's money, and her son John were arrested as well,She stoutly refused to renounce her faith in which, she declared, she found "nothing taught in it but great virtue and sanctity, and so by the grace of God I will live and die in it."The heavy fines and confiscation of Catholic lands depleted the wealth of the Stonors, who by the 14th century had owned 22 manors in eight counties plus 60 acres (24 hectares) of land in the center of London.Various post-Reformation laws barred Catholics from entering London, traveling more than 10 miles (16 kilometers) from home or owning horses worth more than 10 pounds, but the Stonor family continued to live in some comfort in their grand house, nestled between hills in the countryside 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of London.Camoys pointed out a painting from the more relaxed time of King James II, a Catholic who reigned from 1685 to 1688. The painting shows a large number of horses - clearly worth more than allowed - outside the house, along with a fine carriage.Persecution ran both ways. Queen Mary, the Catholic daughter of Henry VIII, vigorously sought to uproot the Church of England; Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, author of the Book of Common Prayer, and Bishops Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer were among scores burned at the stake during her reign from 1553 to 1558. Mary also bestowed a knighthood on Francis Stonor.Pope Pius V fueled official paranoia in 1570 by publishing a bull pronouncing the Protestant Queen Elizabeth to be excommunicated and deposed. …

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