On this day in 1595 St. Robert Southwell, S.J.
was hanged, drawn and quartered for his priesthood. (The article the link references was composed in 1912 and refers to St. Robert as the Venerable Robert Southwell. Since that date he has been canonized as one of the 40 Holy Martyrs of England and Wales
“Robert Southwell’s father, a Norfolk landowner, had conformed to the state religion, but he sent his son abroad for a Catholic education. Robert returned to England as a Jesuit priest in 1586. He laboured on the mission with great success, in which his mastery of the English tongue stood him in good service. His poems, in their directness and force, their antitheses and terseness, beauty of conception and fidelity of expression, are a lovely example of how ‘virtue and verse suit together.’ The divine beauty of Jesus, the loveliness of his holy Mother, the workings of grace, the deformations of sin and the nature of sorrow for it, contempt of the world, the brevity of life, all these are told with a charm and a grace in verses now well known, and are set forth with equal power in his letters. Father Southwell was shamefully betrayed by a woman, once his penitent, was many times tortured, and, after three years’ confinement in the Tower and the Gatehouse, was brought to trial and brutally sentenced for his priesthood. On 21 February 1595 he was hanged, drawn, and quartered, at Tyburn before an awe-struck crowd. He was thirty-three years old.” [from Bowden’s Mementoes of the Martyrs]
Southwell on His Fellow Catholics
“As of yet we are alive and well, being unworthy, it seems, of prisons. We have oftener sent than received letters from your parts, though they are not sent without difficulty, and some we know have been lost. The condition of Catholic recusants here is the same as usual, deplorable and full of fears and dangers, more especially since our adversaries have looked for wars. As many of ours as are in chains rejoice and are comforted in their prisons; and they that are at liberty set not their hearts upon it nor expect it to be of long continuance. All, by the great goodness and mercy of God, arm themselves to suffer anything that can come, how hard soever it may be, as it shall please our Lord, for whose greater glory and the salvation of their souls they are more concerned than for any temporal losses. A little while ago they apprehended two priests, who have suffered such cruel usages in the prison of Bridewell as can scarce be believed. What was given them to eat was so little in quantity, and withal most filthy and nauseous.
“The labours to which they obliged them were continual and immoderate, and no less in sickness than in health; for with hard blows and stripes they forced them to accomplish their task how weak soever they were. Some are there [including the writer] hung up for whole days by the hands, in such manner that they can but just touch the ground with the tips of their toes. In fine, they that are kept in that prison truly live ‘in a pit of misery and filth.’ This purgatory we are looking for every hour, in which Topcliffe and Young, the two executioners of the Catholics, exercise all kinds of torment. But come what pleaseth God, we hope that we shall be able to beat all in Him that strengthens us. In the meantime we pray that they may be put to confusion who work iniquity, and that the Lord may speak peace to His people. (Ps. 24 and 89) that, as the royal prophet says, His glory may dwell in our land. I must humbly recommend myself to the holy sacrifices of your Reverence and of all our friends.”
The Nativity of Christ
By St. Robert Southwell, S.J.
Behold the father is his daughter’s son,
The bird that built the nest is hatched therein,
The old of years an hour hath not outrun,
Eternal life to live doth now begin,
The Word is dumb, the mirth of heaven doth weep,
Might feeble is, and force doth faintly creep.
O dying souls, behold your living spring;
O dazzled eyes, behold your sun of grace;
Dull ears, attend what word this Word doth bring;
Up, heavy hearts, with joy your joy embrace.
From death, from dark, from deafness, from despairs,
This life, this light, this Word, this joy repairs.
Gift better than himself God doth not know;
Gift better than his God no man can see.
This gift doth here the giver given bestow;
Gift to this gift let each receiver be.
God is my gift, himself he freely gave me;
God’s gift am I, and none but God shall have me.
Man altered was by sin from man to beast;
Beast’s food is hay, hay is all mortal flesh.
Now God is flesh and lies in manger pressed
As hay, the brutest sinner to refresh.
O happy field wherein this fodder grew,
Whose taste doth us from beasts to men renew.