Tuesday, November 30, 2004

St. Cuthbert Mayne

30 November also commemorates the day of martyrdom of St. Cuthbert Mayne, one of the 40 martyrs of England and Wales canonized in 1970. He was the first of the "seminary priests", i.e., the priests trained abroad at colleges outside England, to be martyred. This is his story as related by Fr. Henry Bowden, C.O. in "Mementoes of the Martyrs and Confessors of England and Wales":

He was born near Barnstaple in Devon in 1544 and was brought up by his uncle, a schismatic priest, who had him ordained in the Church of England before he was twenty. At Oxford Mayne came under the influence of Gregory Martin and Edmund Campion; these two kept in touch with him from Douay, he abjured Protestantism, and in 1573 was himself entered at that college. After ordination he returned to England (the fifteenth missionary priest sent from Douay), and was stationed at Golden, Francis Tregian’s house near Truro.

Here he passed as the estate steward, but his priestly ministry lasted only a year. The sheriff of Cornwall, Richard Grenville (of the “Revenge”), suddenly descended on Tregian’s house and searched it; sixteen people were arrested, among them Cuthbert Mayne. When the searchers beat on the door of his room, he had opened it and the sheriff had seized him by the coat, exclaiming “What art thou?” And Mayne replied, “I am a man”. But round his neck was found an “Agnus Dei”: it suggested that he was something else as well as a man – a priest.

At the Launceston assizes Mayne was indicted for treason under various heads, including importing and publishing a papal document and celebrating Mass. The evidence was very insufficient, and one of the judges had qualms about it. So the case was re-considered in London, but the Privy Council directed that the verdict of guilty should stand. On the day before that set for his execution, Mayne was offered his life if he would renounce his religion, or at least swear that the queen was supreme head of the Church in England: he refused peremptorily, confirming his refusal by a sign of the cross and a kiss upon the bible. The next morning, 30 November 1577, he was dragged on a sledge to Launceston market-place, where he was not allowed to address the people. At the last moment he was invited to implicate Mr Tregian and Sir John Arundell (there were those who had their eye on these gentlemen’s estates); Mayne replied, “I know nothing of them except that they are good and godly men; and of the things laid to my charge, no one but myself knows anything.”

A year later Edmund Campion wrote to Gregory Martin: “We all thank you for your account of Cutherbert’s martyrdom; it gave many of us real religious joy. Wretch that I am, how that novice has outdistanced me. May he be favourable to his old friend and tutor!”