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 CNS Story:

ENGLAND-MARTYRS May-5-2005 (510 words) With photo. xxxi

Catholic, Anglican bishops honor first English martyr of Reformation

By Simon Caldwell
Catholic News Service

LONDON (CNS) -- In a show of religious unity, a Catholic bishop and an Anglican bishop commemorated the death of the first English martyr of the Protestant Reformation.

Anglican Bishop Richard Chartres of London and Catholic Auxiliary Bishop George Stack of Westminster led an ecumenical service May 4 in memory of St. John Houghton, one of 18 Carthusian monks killed by King Henry VIII in the 16th century. It was the first time the two churches celebrated the ceremony together.

The service was held on the grounds of the former London Charterhouse, the monastery where St. John served as abbot. The two bishops unveiled a commemorative stone on the site of the cloister.

Bishop Chartres, explaining why Anglicans would honor Catholic martyrs, described King Henry as a "monster of egotism" with "messianic pretensions" similar to Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin.

"We salute the courage and discernment of those who said 'no,'" he said. "We are honoring martyrs who deserve to be remembered with thanksgiving by the whole church."

Inside the church, Bishop Stack compared St. John to the late Archbishop Oscar A. Romero of San Salvador, who was gunned down in 1980 for speaking out against human rights abuses in El Salvador.

"We who today give thanks to the witness of these Carthusian martyrs and the martyrs of every age may not be called upon to die for the faith that we profess, but there is no doubt that, whatever our Christian tradition, each of us who believe are challenged to live for that faith by Jesus Christ, the king of martyrs who gave his life as a ransom for all of us," he said.

Red roses, each representing a martyr, were then placed into a model of the "Tyburn Tree," the triangular London gallows where 105 Catholics were executed during the Reformation.

St. John was the first of four priests hanged May 4, 1535, after they were convicted of treason for refusing to take the oath of the Act of Supremacy, the law that made the king the supreme leader of the Church of England.

St. Thomas More, watching their departure from the window of his cell in the Tower of London, remarked to his daughter, Margaret, how the men went "to their deaths as cheerfully as bridegrooms to their marriage."

St. John was said to have remained conscious throughout an ordeal that involved partial hanging and disembowelment.

Two other Carthusian abbots, St. Robert Lawrence and St. Augustine Webster, and a Brigittine monk, St. Richard Reynolds, were executed in the hours that followed.

Afterward, King Henry ordered one of St John's arms to be nailed over the main entrance of the Charterhouse as a warning to others.

Within five years, six more Carthusians were executed and nine others tied to posts and starved to death in London's Marshalsea Prison.

St. John, St. Robert, St. Augustine and St. Richard were among 40 English and Welsh martyrs canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970. May 4 is the feast of the English and Welsh martyrs.


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