Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Life Of Fr John Gerard S.J. (A Hunted Priest) Part 15.


"During my stay in this third residence, I gave the Spiritual Exercises to several persons. Among them were two gentlemen, who still stand to the good purposes they then made. They are our staunchest friends in the districts where they live. One of them, Mr. John Lee, lately-defended philosophy at Rome: he is always ready to entertain ours and furnish them with money. The other has shown himself worthy of trust in many matters of moment. After five or six years each of them made another retreat with the most consoling result.

" I sent also some young men abroad to study, with the view of entering on a more perfect state. One died at Douay, after great advancement in his studies, and with a wide-spread reputation for holiness. He had been a comrade of the blessed martyr Father Francis Page, S.J. They were both in an office in London. It was through his means that the blessed Father was first brought to me, to his no small profit, as I shall show hereafter. Some are now Fathers of the Society; for instance, Father Silvester and Father Clare, now living I think at the Seminary of Valladolid. Others of my sending are now serving God in divers places and divers conditions : among whom is Father John Bolt. Great talent for music had won him the warmest love of a very powerful man. He spurned this love, however, and all worldly hopes with it, to attach himself to me; and lent his ear to the counsels of Christ in the Spiritual Exercises."

Father Thomas Silvester was Minister of the College of Valladolid when Father Weston was Rector. 1 Father John Clare must not be confounded with Sir John Warner who took the name of Clare.

Father John Bolt was not a Jesuit, but died a secular priest in 1640, having been chaplain and organist to St Monica's Convent for twenty-eight years. 2 He was arrested in March 159(3/4), with William Wiseman, in a house hired by Father Gerard in Golding-lane, and those then taken were called by Father Garnet "our friends and chiefest instruments." We have his examinations on that occasion, and they will be given when we come to that stormy period in Father Gerard's life. Before that however our autobiographer had an interval of comparative calm, and he has time to think of holy relics.

Thorn from Jesus’ crown

"At this time I had given me some very fine relics, which my friends set for me very richly. Among them was an entire thorn of the holy Crown of our Lord, which the Queen of Scots had brought with her from France (where the whole Crown is kept), and had given to the Earl of Northumberland, who was afterwards martyred. He always used to carry it in a golden cross about his neck as long as he lived, and at his death made it over to his daughter, who gave it to me. It was enclosed in a golden case set with pearls: it is now in the hands of my Superior, along with three other cases made of silver with glass in front. Two of them are old relics, rescued from the pillage of a monastery. They came to me from a source that I could trust. The third contains the forefinger of the martyr, Father Robert Sutton, brother of him whom I mentioned in the first chapter. By a wonderful providence of God, this finger, along with the thumb, was kept from decay, though the whole arm had been set up to be eaten by the birds of heaven. It was taken away secretly by the Catholics after it had been there a year, and was found quite bare. The only parts that were covered with skin and flesh were the thumb and finger, which had been anointed at his ordination with the holy oil, and made still more holy by the touch of the Blessed Sacrament. So his brother, another pious priest, kept the thumb himself and gave the finger to me."

The relics mentioned thus far by Father Gerard were, he tells us, in the hands of his Superior: those that he afterwards describes were left in the care of various private persons "in trust for the Society." The latter, as far as is known, have all perished ; but the account of the former is of great interest to us, as these relics have come down safe to our times, and are all at Stonyhurst.

The two "old relics, rescued from the pillage of a monastery," are there. They have labels in a fourteenth century handwriting, but they are not easily decipherable, and probably Father Gerard could not read them, as he gives no names to the relics.

Statue of Bl. Robert Sutton at
Our Lady of Victories Church,
Lutterworth, where his relics are
now housed in the altar.
The thumb of Robert Sutton, priest and martyr-Father Gerard is wrong in calling it the forefinger—is there also, in a small gilt upright cylindrical reliquary. With it there is enclosed a paper in Father Gerard's handwriting, 3 giving the same account of the relic that he has given above.

There were two martyrs of the name of Robert Sutton. One was a layman, a schoolmaster, who was put to death at Clerkenwell, October 5, 1588. 5 The other, whose relic this is, suffered at Stafford, 6 according to some on the 27th of July, according to others on the 3rd of March, 1587. The brother, who gave this relic to Father Gerard, was Abraham Sutton, who was ordained with Robert at Douay February 23, 157(7/8). They were sent together upon the English mission on the 19th of March, when they had been just a year at the College, and having both been imprisoned, they were banished together in 1585. Abraham, who was at one time tutor to two of the young Fitzherberts, 7 was again banished in 1606. The martyr had two other brothers, William and John, both Jesuits, of whom the elder was Father Gerard's tutor.

The relic of the Crown of Thorns has a curious history. The relics previously mentioned were brought from Liege to Stonyhurst on the transfer of the College in the year 1794, and the thumb of Robert Sutton is mentioned in a letter from Father William Strickland to Father Marmaduke Stone, dated April 7, 1806. The relic of the Crown of Thorns was never at Liege. It was taken to St. Omers about the middle of the seventeenth century, probably in December 1665, as the permission for it to be exposed for public veneration was given by the Bishop of St. Omers on the 8th of January, 1666. This permission was countersigned, after the arrival of the relic in England, by the Vicar Apostolic of the Western District, Charles Walmesley, O.S.B., Bishop of Rama, on the nth of December, 1790, at which time the relic belonged to Mr. Weld of Lulworth, and by the Vicar Apostolic of the Northern District, William Gibson, Bishop of Acanthos, on the 4th of November, 1803, when the relic had been given to Stonyhurst College.

Father Charles Plowden, in his account of the suppression of the English College at Bruges, to which city the College that had existed for two centuries at St. Omers had been transferred a few years before, says that " some young gentlemen of the College chanced to get into their, possession the beautiful and precious reliquary of the Holy Thorn which Queen Mary of Scotland brought away with her from the Royal Chapel of Holyrood House; and knowing that other valuable deposits were in the Carthusian Convent, one. of them in his journey to England left the Holy Thorn there, as in a place of security, consigned to the hands of Father Norris. Father Mann, Prior of the Carthusians, leaving them, voluntarily surrendered the treasures he had received to the Government, taking Father Norris with him to Bruges for that purpose. The Holy Thorn fell into the hands of a scrivener named Van de Steine, who sold it in 1781 to Mr. Thomas Weld for seven guineas, the value of the gold, and under promise to restore it if redemanded by the Government of Maria Teresa. In 1803 Mr. Weld gave it to the Reverend Marmaduke Stone for Stonyhurst."

This account of the purchase by Mr. Weld is perfectly accurate, but the rest of the story as told by Father Plowden is imperfect and incorrect. The facts are these. On the suppression of the Society, not unnaturally, the English boys at the Grand College at Bruges became very unruly and unmanageable on the loss of their masters, and the Government, which had desired to preserve the College for the benefit of the city of Bruges, was obliged to send them away. Some went to Liege and others to their own homes. Among the boys there was the Hon. Hugh Edward Henry Clifford, afterwards the sixth Lord Clifford, then a boy of seventeen. The property of the Jesuits had been seized, and the cupboards were sealed by the Commissaries of Maria Teresa. Mr. Clifford, knowing how the relic of the Holy Thorn was prized by the Jesuit Fathers, broke open the cupboard in which it was, and gave it to a scholastic of the name of Jameson, who was then starting for England in charge of the two sons of Sir James Haggerstone, Bart. Their way lay through Nieuport, where existed the last remains of the famous Carthusian house of Sheen, which had kept up its continuity in the Low Countries all through the times of the persecution in England, to perish in the French Revolution. Father Augustus Mann, better known afterwards as the Abbe Mann, was then Prior, and on learning from Mr. Jameson that he had this treasure with him, he induced him, by fear of excommunication for stealing a relic and by threats of the indignation of Maria Teresa's Government, to leave the relic at Nieuport. The Prior then sent it to the Bishop of Bruges, with a letter dated the 16th of October, 1773 ; but when it reached the Bishop, the Commissaries had left Bruges, and the reliquary was handed over to their notary, Van de Steine, who kept it, and ultimately sold it, as Father Plowden says, to Mr. Weld of Lulworth.

The reliquary is very light and graceful, of the renaissance period, made in gold with little enamels inlaid. Under the foot is the following inscription : " + Hӕc spina de Corona Doi. sancta, fuit primo Mariӕ Reg. Scot. Mart, ab ea data Comiti Northumb. Mart, qui in morte misit illam filiӕ suae Elizӕ, quӕ dedit Soc, hancq. I. Wis. ornavit auro." "My friends set it for me very richly," says Father Gerard. Who can doubt that the " I. Wis." of the inscription is "Jane Wiseman ?"

Father Gerard speaks only of one reliquary, and that one in which the relic is " set with pearls." Several spiral strings of pearls surround the relic at Stonyhurst. But there is another reliquary in existence the very counterpart of it, of exactly the same form and materials, with precisely the same inscription under its foot, containing also a little relic of one of the Holy Thorns. It is clear that, though he has not recorded it, Father Gerard divided into two parts the relic which he received from Lady Elizabeth Woodroff, and Jane Wiseman had two reliquaries made by the same artist. The second differs from the first only in having no strings of pearls. At the time that the first was taken to St. Omers, the second was taken to the English Jesuit Novitiate at Watten by Father John Clerk, the Provincial, who, at the request of Father Martin Grene the Rector, wrote an authentication dated the 17th of January 1666, which was approved by the Bishop of St. Omers on the 5th of February. The inscription, being under the foot, was never read by Father Clerk, who could only attest that it had been kept in the Provincial's room in London, and always venerated by his predecessors as a true relic of the Crown of Thorns. On the expulsion of the Society from France a few years before the suppression, the College of St. Omers became the Grand College at Bruges, and the school at Watten the Petit College in the same city; but though the relics and archives of St. Omers were taken to Bruges, those of Watten were deposited in the Tertianship at Ghent, and there they were seized at the time of the suppression. By some means the Watten relics passed into the possession of Maximilian Macharius de Meulenaere, Dean of the Chapter of St. Bavon and Vicar General of Ghent, who kept them for some years, obtaining for the Holy Thorn the approbation of the Bishop of Ghent, Govardus Gerardus van Eersel on the 23rd of March 1774. Besides the relic of the Holy Thorn, the Dean had the magnificent relic which bears the inscription " A peece of the stump of the crosse of or Savior which was once in the Tower of London with the crown jewels of James I. The Holy Cross the Dean ultimately gave to the Bishop of Ghent, and it is now preserved in the Treasury of the Cathedral of St. Bavon. The Holy Thorn he gave to the confraternity of the Holy Cross in the Church of St. Michael at Ghent on the 24th of April 1808, and in the sacristy of that Church it now is.

We may now let Father Gerard finish what he has to say about the relics that came into his possession, and then we accompany him into scenes of danger.

" I had given me about the same time a silver head of St. Thomas of Canterbury; also his mitre set with precious stones. The head, though neither large nor costly, is very precious from having in it a piece of the skull of the same Saint, which we think was the piece that was cut off when he was so wickedly slain. It is of the breadth of two gold crowns. The silver head was old and had lost some stones, so the gentleman, in whose house I was, had it repaired and better ornamented. On this account, the Superior afterwards let him keep it in his private chapel in trust for the Society.

" In like manner another Catholic gentleman in that county has by the same permission a large piece of the arm of St. Vita, virgin, daughter of a king in the west of England. Many churches in England are dedicated in her honour under the name of Whitchurch. This relic reached me by God's will in this manner. The parson of the place where the whole or great part of her body used to be kept in olden times with due honour, began to be troubled in his rest, insomuch that he could not sleep. The annoyance had lasted for some time, when one day the thought struck him that his troubles came from his not paying proper respect to these bones which he had in his keeping, and that he ought to give them to the Catholics, the rightful owners. He did so, and his rest was never again broken. A good priest told me this story, and gave me a large bone, which a pious Catholic is keeping at present for the Society.

" There was also given me some beautiful altar furniture, which I used to the great comfort and increase of devotion as well of the Catholics of the house as of visitors."

1 Troubles, Second Series, p. 282.

2 Troubles, First Series, p. 297, where the name is in the first instance misprinted "Best."

3 "Pollex Dni. Roberti Suttoni Sacerdotis, qui Staffordӕ vinctus, nocte ante passionem in carcere magna luce circumfusus orare visus est. Partes autem corporis, postquam volatilibus cӕli per annum expositӕ fuissent, a Catholicis sublatӕ, hoc pollice et indice intactis, cӕteris ad ossa usque consumptis, invents sunt."

4 Dr. Oliver has confounded the two; he says that Robert Sutton was " formerly Rector of Lutterworth," but he quotes no authority for so saying.

Challoner, Missionary Priests , vol. i. p. 245.

6 Ibid. vol. i. p. 206.

7 P.R.O., Domestic, Elizabeth, vol. ccxxxv. n. 88.

8 The writer's best thanks are due to W. H. James Weale, Esq., of Bruges, for the reference to the Abbe Mann's letter and for information respecting the relic at Ghent.