Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The Life Of Fr John Gerard S.J. (A Hunted Priest) Part 37.

"Since it was my chief friends who were involved in that disaster of the Powder Plot, the Council on this account believed me to be privy to it, and from the first sought for me with great persistence and severity. They sent certain magistrates to search our house most exactly, with orders, if they found me not, to stay in the house till recalled, to post guards all round the house every night, and to have men on the watch both day and night at a distance of three miles from the house on every side, who were to apprehend all whom they did not know and bring them before the said magistrates. All this was done to the letter. But immediately the news reached us of such a plot having been discovered, and we learnt that certain of our friends had been killed and others taken, expecting that in such a season we too should have something to suffer, we had made all snug before they came, so that they found nothing. They continued searching however for many days, till at last my hostess discovered to the justice in chief command one of the hiding-places in which a few books had been stowed away, thinking that he would then desist from searching any further under the impression that if a priest had been in the house he would have been hidden there, yet they continued in the house for full nine days; and I meanwhile remained shut up in a hiding-hole where I could sit but not stand upright. This time however I did not suffer from hunger, for every night food was brought to me secretly: nay, after four or five days, when the rigour of the search was somewhat relaxed, my friends even took me out at night and warmed me at a fire; for it was wintry weather, just before Christmas-tide. And when nine days had passed, the searching party withdrew, believing it impossible I could be there so long without being discovered.

"In the meantime they had taken a priest who, knowing nothing of the watch set about the place, was coming to our house for safety. This good priest (by name Thomas Laithwaite, 1 who is now of our Society, and is labouring in England) had left us a few days before at my request, when we heard of the Plot, in order to communicate with Father Garnet, and obtain from him for me instructions how to act in the present crisis. Even on his way thither he was taken, but escaped again for that time in the following manner. His captors took him to an inn, intending to bring him up for examination and committal the next day. On entering the inn, he took off his cloak and sword and laid them on a bench; then on pretence of looking after his horse and getting him taken to water, he went to the stable, and as there was a stream near the house, he bade the boy lead the horse thither at once, and himself went along also. When they had come to the stream and the horse was drinking, 'Go,' said he to the lad, 'get ready the hay, and the straw for his bed, and I will bring him back when he has drunk.' The boy returned to the stable without further thought, and he mounting his horse spurred him into the stream, and swam him to the opposite bank. Those in the inn, seeing his cloak and sword still lying there, had for some time no suspicion of his stratagem; but hearing from the stable-boy what had happened, they saw they had been outwitted, and immediately set off in pursuit. They were however too late, for the fugitive, knowing the way well, got to the house of a Catholic before night, and lay hid there for a few days. Then, finding that he could not get to Father Garnet, and thinking all danger had passed in our direction, he tried to return to me. But while avoiding Charybdis he fell into the clutches of Scylla; for, as I said above, he was taken on his way to our house, and dragged to London. They were not able, however, to prove him a priest, and his brother was allowed to buy him his freedom for a sum of money.

" Two other priests who were resident with me in that house (one of whom, as I said before, was Father Strange) at the beginning of their troubles wished to go to Father Garnet and remain with him. Both of them however were taken prisoners on their way; one was thrown into Bridewell, and was afterwards banished together with other priests; while Father Strange, the other, was sent to the Tower, where he suffered much, as has been before mentioned.

" The history of this Plot, its causes and consequences, is but too well known ; since it has been written by both friends and enemies, though perhaps by neither exactly as it ought to be. I myself when I came from England to Rome, was ordered to put in writing an account of the whole affair, and did so as well as I could. There is no need therefore to repeat here, what I wrote at length on that occasion —in what state England then was—how the persecution not only was not relaxed on the accession of the King [James I.], but was even embittered, and carried on more grievously than even All the Catholics therefore expected, and some knew for certain, that new laws would be made against them in Parliament, more severe and cruel than the former ones; that not only would nothing be relaxed of the tyranny of the Queen, but that the yoke which they had so long borne with weary necks would be made yet heavier to bear. Hereupon some of the younger and more impatient sort, seeing that they were scourged, not now with whips only but with scorpions—that no human hope was left them except from such aid as they could give themselves, since peace was now concluded between His Catholic Majesty and the King of England, from which peace the Catholics were excluded (though it was they who had a right to peace and not the wicked)—these persons, I say, seeing this, and forgetting at last that patience in which we ought to possess our souls, and not enduring any longer to see sacred things trodden under foot, and the faithful robbed of their goods and loaded with innumerable evils, to the daily lamentable ruin of weak souls, determined to raise the people of God from this disastrous state, and to wage war in strictest secrecy against the enemies of their own souls and bodies and of the Catholic cause. I say, in secrecy, because it must be acknowledged that any open opposition was no longer possible, since the Catholics were broken in strength and ground down to the earth, and all their arms had been taken from them. Thus it was that these persons I speak of, wishing to deliver themselves and others from this terrible slavery of soul and body, devised this plot, which they thought the only possible way of accomplishing what they wished, viz., by taking off at a single blow all the chief enemies of the Catholic cause.

"On all these points I have written at full in the treatise I mentioned. I have also detailed there the way in which they had determined to proceed, and how one of them 2 disclosed the matter in confession to one of our Fathers when it was already ripe for execution, who refused to hear him any further unless he was allowed to inform his Superior; and how the
Robert Catesby
Superior [Father Garnet], upon hearing so bloody a scheme, at once commanded the Father to deter and prevent his penitent as much as he could from prosecuting it, and immediately wrote to the Pope, entreating His Holiness to forbid the Catholics to take any measures of external violence. I have also there set down how the Superior himself and Father Oldcorne were at last taken at [Henlip] the residence of the latter, after remaining pent up for twelve days in a hiding-hole:—how with them were also taken two serving-men, or as I have heard since and fully believe, two lay-brothers of our Society, both of whom suffered martyrdom. One of these, Rodolph [Ashley] 3 by name, suffered with Father Oldcorne, whose companion and attendant he had been, and whose feet he kissed as the Father was ascending the ladder to his execution, giving him thanks aloud for the charity and benevolence he had experienced from him, and praising God for having allowed him to die in the company of so holy a priest.

"The other was Little John [Nicholas Owen], who for nearly twenty years had been Father Garnet's companion, and of whom I have made frequent mention in the course of this Narrative. He was well known to the persecutors as the chief deviser and maker of hiding-places all over England, and consequently as one who could discover more priests, and do more harm to Catholics, if he could be brought to make disclosures, than any other man. They therefore tortured him so long and so cruelly, that at last he died 4 under their hands ; but they were never able to shake the constancy of his soul.

"I have related also in that treatise how Fathers Garnet and Oldcorne were brought up to London, and frequently examined, especially Father Garnet; how both of them were tortured, but Father Oldcorne 5 most: how this latter was then taken back to Worcester, and there, though nothing but his priesthood was proved against him, condemned and executed by hanging and quartering, and so died a martyr: how Father Garnet was brought to trial in London, and gave so clear and eloquent defence of himself, that all were struck with admiration ; but after a time was so interrupted and brow-beaten by Cecil and others, that the gentle Father could not proceed with his defence as he had begun : 6 and how when brought to the place of execution, by the firmness and modesty of his whole demeanour, and by the heroic calmness with which he received or rather embraced his death, he touched the hard hearts of his cruel enemies, and rendered them well-affected towards him.

"All these details, which I have here barely enumerated, in my other narrative I have described at full. I will however add here something on the way in which the straw was obtained, on which appeared the miraculous likeness of Father Garnet; for I was afterwards present at the death-bed of him who found the straw, or rather to whom God granted it. This person [John Wilkinson] then narrated to me a little before his death, that on the morning of the holy martyr's execution he had felt himself moved by an unusual fervour, and by a desire of being present at his martyrdom, mainly with the view of obtaining some portion of his relics. He had therefore, he said, pushed forward close to where the executioner was hacking his body in pieces, but durst not touch anything for fear of the officers standing round; just then, the executioner having severed the venerable head from the body threw it into a basket full of straw, upon which an ear of straw leapt out into his hand, or so close to it that he could remove it without attracting any notice. This ear of straw he found was stained with blood, so that he kept it with great reverence and joy; and he protested to me that for some days he found himself more inclined to spiritual things and to follow the counsels of Christ than he had ever been before; so that he felt no peace till he gave up all he had, and made arrangements for coming hither across the water, to make his studies for the priesthood. He had also a strong desire of entering the Society; and in these pious sentiments he continued to his death, which took place at St. Omers, and in which he gave such edification to all about him, that no one there remembers a holier death than his.

"I will also add here a further testimony regarding an incident of Father Oldcorne's martyrdom. I mentioned in that other narrative of mine, that I had had information by letter from England, that this holy martyr's intestines, being thrown into the fire according to sentence, burned for sixteen days, exactly the number of years during which he had kindled in that country the fire of Divine love and maintained it by his word and example. Now quite lately I had a conversation on this subject with a pious priest, who at present goes by the name of Father North at St. Omers. He tells me that he was himself a prisoner at Worcester at the time, and that he heard then from many persons, not only that the fire lasted all that time notwithstanding a great deal of rain that fell, but that it broke out into high flames, and that multitudes went to see it, who on their return acknowledged the truth of the report: so that at last, on the sixteenth or seventeenth day they were obliged to extinguish the fire, or at least cover it up by heaping earth upon it. This same Father also declared that he subsequently saw in the courtyard of the house where these two Fathers were taken the form of a crown traced out by grass that had grown there. He said that this grass was different both in kind and colour from any other about; that it grew taller also, and traced clearly out the shape of an imperial crown. He added moreover that the beasts that got into the court-yard through the broken gates (for the house from the time of the capture had been neglected and abandoned), browsed there for many months, yet never during the whole time touched this crown or trod upon it. He looked on it as a symbol of the innocence of these Fathers and of their eternal reward."

1 Father Thomas Laithwaite died in England, June 10, 1655, in his seventy-eighth year, forty-nine years after his admission into the Society, having spent thirty on the English Mission. Summ. Def. Vide infr. p. 404.

2 This was Catesby, the prime mover of the whole plot.

3 See Troubles, First Series, p. 162.

4 After thus wringing his life from him by torture, his gaolers gave out that he had committed suicide in prison, to escape further question : thus adding calumny to murder. And this statement is found in most of the larger histories of England. The holy brother was never brought into any court, nor allowed the least chance of communication with any friends; nor could anything be learnt of him after his capture, but what his gaolers chose to tell. That he was tortured barbarously they acknowledged, by saying that he committed suicide to escape their cruelty; that he never revealed anything was also acknowledged. It must be remembered that those who were killed in prison were always given out by the authorities as suicides. But who can believe that a man who would suffer the extremity of torture rather than offend God by revealing what would injure his neighbour, would not also suffer the same extremity rather than offend God by self-murder? The Day of Judgment will refute this calumny as well as others.

5 He was hung up by the hands, in the way Father Gerard has described of himself, for five hours at a time, and that for five successive days.

6 James himself said that " the Jesuit had not had fair play."