Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Cardinal and the love letter


Christine at A Catholic View has a post on St Edmund Campion and that prompted me to remember this episode in his brief ministry:

The beautiful Church of our Lady Queen of English Martyrs
Chideock, Dorset
In the year 1579, the exiled Cardinal Allen wrote to Father Edmund Campion, also in exile in Prague, ordering him, in accord with the wishes of the Jesuit Superior General, to return to the English Mission and to certain death.

The Cardinal’s letter is a heartfelt one, a letter of love made more acute by the fact that he was himself in agony having to send young priests back to England in the knowledge that torture and death most horrible, almost certainly awaited them.

The Cardinal wrote:-

“My father, brother, son, Edmund Campion, for to you I must use every expression of the tenderest ties of love – since the General of your order, who, to you is Christ Himself, calls you from Prague to Rome, and thence to our own England; since your brethren after the flesh call you – I, who am so closely connected with them, with you and with our common country, both in the world and in the Lord, must not keep silence when I should be first to desire you, to call you, to cry to you.
Make all haste and come, my dearest Campion………”

Fr Campion, on hearing the Cardinal’s call, heard it in silence and then blushed deeply and said:

“Indeed, the Fathers seem to suspect something about me. 
I hope their suspicions may be true.

God’s will be done, not mine”

There was already an aura surrounding Campion and talk within the group in Prague had speculated on the young priest’s future and as to when he would be despatched back to his country of birth.

Just the night before Cardinal Allen’s letter arrived, a rather fey young Silesian priest, Father James Gall, had written over Father Campion’s cell the words:

“P. Edmundus Campianus Martyr”

And, prior to that episode, that, another priest had painted an illustration of a garland of roses and lilies, symbols of martyrdom, on the wall above Edmund’s bed.


Less than seven months later, Father Campion landed in England to begin his ministry, it was to last until 1st December 1581 when he was hanged, drawn and quarterd at Tyburn, having sung the Te Deum, after his sentencing in the company of two of his fellow priests who were martyred with him, Fathers Ralph Sherwin and Alexander Bryant.

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