St John Southworth

Father John Southworth was a Lancashireman whose family lived at Samlesbury Hall. They chose to pay heavy fines rather than give up their Catholic faith.

He was trained at the English College in Douai in northern France, and ordained a priest before returning to England on mission, 13 October, 1619. For performing the priestly duties of the Catholic faith, he was arrested, tried, convicted and imprisoned to await a sentence of death. Imprisoned first in Lancaster Castle, and afterwards in the Clink, London, from there he and fifteen other priests were, on 11 April, 1630, delivered to the French Ambassador (1) for transportation abroad and deported to France.

In 1636 once more he returned to England and lived in Clerkenwell, London, during a plague epidemic. He assisted and converted the sick in Westminster and was arrested again.

In 1637 he seems to have taken up his abode in Westminster, where he was arrested, 28 November, and again sent to the Gatehouse. From there he was again transferred to the Clink and in 1640 was brought before the Commissioners for Causes Ecclesiastical, who sent him back to the Clink on 24 June 1640.

On 16 July 1640 he was again liberated, but by 2 December 1640 he was once again in the Gatehouse. After his final apprehension he was tried at the Old Bailey, and as he insisted on pleading "guilty" to being a priest, he was reluctantly condemned by the Recorder of London, Serjeant Steel. His sentence was to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

He was allowed to make a long speech at the gallows, of which here is a portion: “Neither my coming into England, nor my practice in England, was to act anything against the secular government. I never acted or thought any hurt against the present Protector (Oliver Cromwell) I had only a care to do my own obligation and discharge my own duty in saving my own and other men’s souls. This Faith, is the faith for which I die, O Holy Cause! and not for any treason against the laws.” His remains were permitted to pass into the possession of the Duke of Norfolk's family, who had them sent to the English College at Douai.

The Spanish ambassador returned his corpse to Douai for burial. His corpse was sewn together and parboiled, to preserve it.

Following the French Revolution, his body was buried in an unmarked grave for its protection. The grave was discovered in 1927 and his remains were returned to England. They are now kept in the Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs in Westminster Cathedral in London. The above photo is St John Southworth clothed in a red chasuble as befits a martyr. His feast which is only celebrated in the Diocese of Westminster is 25 October.


Serendipity. I have no idea why I wrote this today, I was drawn to it.

(1) An interesting side note to this story is that it was during this time that Charles I was the king of England, whose wife Henrietta Maria the youngest daughter of Henry IV and Marie de'Medici. While Charles I, was not a Catholic, but his sons were, Charles II and James II.

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