Sunday, 22 May 2011

"Burn him, burn him!"

The scene is Smithfield in London, 22nd May 1538. In the centre of the market area a huge pile of wood and faggots, stands ready to be lit and, over the pyre, a gallows with chain attached and waiting to be shackled to the chain a man implacably standing by for the fire to be ignited.

The man was Oxford born Franciscan, Blessed John Forest; his crime? To be a Catholic priest. Bl John Forest had become a popular man at court under the patronage of Catherine of Aragon. He was appointed first chaplain to the Queen and, later, her confessor.

"Neither fire, faggot or scaffold shall separate me from Thee, O Lord"
As Henry VIII began his persecution of the Church and augmented his personal annulment plans, so Friar John spoke out boldly and could be observed publicly preaching against the Crown and its actions.

By 1534 he was in jail and suffering for his outspokeness, but by early in 1538 he began to weaken in his resolve. Thomas Cranmer persuaded him to recant but, on returning to prison he was swiftly counselled by brother Friars and priests and rallied in his resolve to stand firm in his faith.

Finally, he was condemned to be burnt as a heretic and Bishop Latimer assigned to read a sermon of recantation in the hopes that this priest would cave in at the last moment. 
As Latimer preached so Friar John countered and rejoined and so compelling were his responses that Latimer, losing all self control screamed out: "Burn him, burn him!" He was then carried to the gibbet and and suspended by his waist over the pile. As the flames began to advance a wooden statue of a saint, believed to be that of St Derfell from North Wales was added to the blaze.

This fulfilled a supposed prophecy regarding the Saint that "one day he will set a forest on fire."
Friar John's sufferings extended for two hours as strong winds dissipated the flames so that he scorched slowly rather than rapidly. At the end of the two hours he was unshackled and his body cast on the fire.

Before he died the martyr prayed out loud:

"Neither fire, faggot or scaffold shall separate me from Thee, O Lord"

                        Blessed John Forest - Ora pro nobis!

Posted by Richard Collins - Linen on the Hedgerow


  1. See the Holy Fathers go their end like bridegrooms to the feast!

  2. Thats powerful.
    I'm really glad I read that - it will stay with me for a long time I think.


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