The Annual Pilgrimage to Padley honours the martyrs of the late sixteenth century, who died for their Catholic faith.
This year Deacon Bill Burleigh gave a homily based on the Gospel read at the celebration of Mass at Padley Here is the full text.
“Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest…” How that Gospel message must have rung and resonated in the ears of Tudor Catholics. And especially here in this household, the Fitzherberts, the family and servants who must have thought they were living safely, deep in forest land, well away from the prying eyes of greedy informants ready to betray Catholic observance to the State enforcers.
Now, with Fr Ludlam and Fr Garlick taken and brutally executed, their world was finally broken apart, a way of life shaken to its roots.
We rightly honour today and ask the prayers of the Blessed Robert Ludlam and Blessed Nicholas Garlick. May their prayers guide and renew our Dioceses. But there’s more, much more. We pray, too, for the prayers of the other martyrs stemming from this place as well as our two Padley martyrs – the prayers of Blessed Richard Simpson, strengthened in prison by his fellow priests to accepting death. And we ask the prayers, too, of the unnamed woman, reconciled through sacrament in prison by the martyrs, who was hung alongside them after declaring her faith. A martyr, surely.
And the Padley family too, John Fitzherbert preserved from the death sentence for harbouring priests so that he could pay fines until he was broken. He died of disease in prison squalor three years later. He could have left prison on any day simply by renouncing his faith. He chose not to, and died there. Another martyr?
The ten servants of the Padley household, too, were imprisoned in Derby with the priests and with their employer, John, protector of their faith so quietly lived at Padley. By Christmas, six months later, there were thirty-seven Catholics still in prison at Derby. Among these was James Cleyton of Sheffield, dying there later of the squalor, death by gaol fever. Another martyr?
And there’s more. The daughters of John and Catherine Fitzherbert present at Padley at the capture, now separated and singled out to be converted from Catholic faith. Jane effectively under house arrest and religious re-instruction with one Protestant minister and Mary with another. The re-education failed. Faith was unbroken. Maud, the oldest sister, fared worse, imprisoned in the squalor at Derby, and then at York, for her faith.
All these – Padley martyrs, Padley persecuted, Padley faithful.
“Come to me all you who are overburdened and I will give you rest”. A Gospel for these people, a Gospel for Tudor Catholic England.
How the world had changed! Only 50 years earlier (arguably only 30 years) their faith had thrived. Great monasteries and small all over the country praised God and served the poor, the sick and the traveller. Convents too abounded. In all, over 1200 religious houses, thousands of priests, monks, friars and nuns. The Mass was celebrated in the familiar old Sarum rite. Art of every kind adorned the places of worship in every city, town and village. A Catholic world for a Catholic England.
Now, in later Tudor times, there were victims. Martyrs we know, yes. But ongoing, long-term suffering, even to death, simply for not conforming to the norms and requirements of the changed English society.
The suffering alongside, and in the same years, as the priest martyrs, was widespread, relentless and against the laity. The 30 years of persecution against Sir Thomas Fitzherbert, for example, the brother of Padley’s head of household, ended with his death in a London gaol. On any day Sir Thomas could have been free simply by agreeing to go to the Service in his local church, the same church where he had received the Eucharist as a child. He would not. And so his long suffering continued mostly in prisons but brought back here from time to time, lodged with Protestant neighbours long enough to sell more of his land, collect rents or by any means raise the funds for the relentless fines for refusing to conform. Imprisonment and impoverishment, year after year, decade after decade.
So alongside the slow suffering of the Fitzherberts, hundreds of other lay people suffered. Glimpsing, for example, at the 1587 official lists of lay Catholics imprisoned in squalor because they couldn’t afford the fines, and just taking from the lists the surnames beginning with the letter B, and then just women, and then just in this region we find:
Elizabeth Bamford of Kirk Langham 10months, Agnes Bamford of West Hallam 10months, Anne Baker of Dore, 10 months, Beatrice Barnby of Barnby on Don, 2 months. And sampling a tiny selection of men under the letter B and from round here, Thomas Barlow of Hathersage 12months, Humphrey Bemsford of Fenny Bentley 10months, James Blackwell of Padley 12months. And anyone could die from disease in Tudor prisons.
And alongside the Fitzherberts suffering, were their neighbours, the Fentons. Richard Fenton, born in Sheffield, mayor of Doncaster, removed from office for being Catholic, imprisoned and fined all his adult life. Beginning in 1559 when he was imprisoned at York and, with fifty other lay Catholics, forced to hear Protestant sermons in the prison yard, and subsequently right through his life to 1617 when he died at Burghwallis, aged almost 90. His own daughter Margaret and son in law George Anne suffering, too, in prison in York from 1593 and then him transferred to the nortorious blockhouses at Hull, where at high tide each day the prison cells were flooded. Of eighty-five Catholics imprisoned in those conditions, forty died.
How today’s Gospel must have resonated, been clung to, and comforted so many Tudor Catholics, both those who hung on and those who had conformed, forced by fines, debt, imprisonment and ruin to go to the parish church and the State religion.
In 1592, just four years after the martyrdom of Blessed Robert and Blessed Nicholas, the authorities round here could boast in these words, “Now that Sir Thomas Fitzherbert and John Fitzherbert, his brother, are dead and Richard Fenton is out of the county (in prison) and Sir Thomas Greenwood is coming to church, our county is not annoyed with any man of much account that is a serious recusant”.
And there’s the rub. Fines and imprisonment had largely worked. Gone now were the Catholics who both came to Mass when it was possible and kept their place in society by going to the parish church each week as the law required. Being a Church Papist had, by now, become too dangerous, too difficult. Catholic England had been reduced to a remnant, overburdened, in need, hurting.
How like our own times! Yes, I know we don’t have laws and fines and imprisonment for staying Catholic. But we do have, what later Tudor England also had – the power of social pressure, the drift to be like others, the tendency to keep faith to ourselves, and not be different. And what is the result now, just like in Tudor times? Serious fall away in Mass attendance. How many of us carry the pain, yes pain, of seeing our children and our grandchildren no longer practising their Catholic faith. That pain is the same pain as our Tudor forefathers felt. More and more people falling away, people who used to come to Mass no longer doing so. The slide of our faith from a major influence for good, with all sorts of Catholic institutions to demonstrate it, reduced to an increasingly small and disregarded group.
Our world, like theirs, has changed. We, like them, are becoming overburdened, tired, disheartened, hurt.
“Come to me and I will give you rest,” is a Gospel heaven-sent as we grapple with loss of Masses, re-arrangement of parishes, closure of buildings and a world so different from what we can remember from our childhoods. Memories of much more Catholic times – just like those late Tudor Catholics could remember from their childhoods.
“And I will give you rest,” says he who is risen, rested from his passion, resurrected and now totally active in his Spirit, in our world.
Why does Jesus offer us rest from our toil, our overload? What is rest for? Rest, surely, is about recharging not resigning, it’s about regaining strength, refreshing and renewal into new ways for new days.
We share with Tudor England deep losses and the hurt of falling numbers. Just like those faithful Catholics, we may need rest. But for them, rest was enforced in that they could not re-new. The force of law and exclusion from mainstream society put paid to anything other than a quiet perseverance with the private practice of the faith.
We, in our changed and still changing situation, we are so different – so blessed, so able to rest in order to discern, to re-align, renew the living of true Catholic faith for others. Pope Francis is right. Maintenance is not enough. We are each called to be missionary disciples, going out to announce the gospel, to live our lives, our faith, our Catholic values openly, confidently, firmly united with others in whatever communities regroup around us. Rest, yes, and careful discernment, in times when change is needed, so as to engage with a newly non-Christian society, peppered with people thirsting for roots, for truth, for what is spiritual. So much missionary territory, such a harvest, when we are ready, matured and renewed in knowing our faith more fully, with deepened love for our neighbours struggling or without faith and clearer witness in our lives, lived for them.
So in this Mass we reach upwards and ask for the prayers of the blessed martyrs of Padley; yes, and the prayers of all those from round here who share their heavenly reward, those whose faith was true ‘til death. We ask their prayers for our Dioceses, our faith communities and for faith in our families.
Blessed Nicholas Garlick – pray for us
Blessed Robert Ludlam – pray for us
All you holy martyrs of England – pray for us