"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)


St. Margaret Clitherow: Pressed to death under a weight of at least 700 pounds (320 kg)

The French author and lexicographer Guy Miege who, from 1668 taught languages in London, says the following about the English practice of Pressing to death:
"For such as stand mute at their trial, and refuse to answer Guilty, or Not Guilty, pressing to death is the proper punishment. In such a case the prisoner is laid in a low dark room in the prison, all naked but his privy members, his back upon the bare ground his arms and legs stretched with cords, and fasten'd to the several quarters of the room. This done, he has a great weight of iron and stone laid upon him. His diet, till he dies, is of three morsels of barley bread without drink the next day; and if he lives beyond it, he has nothing daily, but as much foul water as he can drink three several time, and that without any bread: which grievous death some resolute offenders have chosen, to save their estates to their children. But, in case of high treason, the criminal's estate is forfeited to the Sovereign, as in all capital crimes, notwithstanding his being pressed to death."
The most famous case was that of St. Margaret Clitherow. Raised in a Protestant England, she converted to Roman Catholicism in 1574. On June 6, 1576, she was designated a recusant (i.e., one who fails to attend Anglican services). The parish register notes that she is "great with child," and because of this, she was excused from having to report to the authorities. She was incarcerated, nonetheless for almost a year during which she gave birth to her third child, a boy named William. Despite her successive imprisonments and releases, indomitable Clitherow harboured forbidden masses in her home, where she also hid Roman Catholic (then outlawed) priests. During a raid on March 10, 1586, she was seized this time for more than just a failure to attend church services. Her Protestant husband, John Clitherow had been called before the Council of the North to explain the absence of his son Henry. He refused to provide any information about his son's whereabouts, and so the authorities searched his home. There, one of the frightened Clitherow servants revealed to the authorities the existence of a priest hole (i.e., a secret room where Margaret had hidden priests). Although there were no men hiding there when the house was searched, authorities gathered ample evidence to arrest Margaret. There were vestments and bread left from the Mass imputing the crime of having "harbored and maintained Jesuits and seminary priests, traitors to the Queen's majesty and her laws."

In response, Margaret reportedly said, "I know of no offense whereof I should confess myself guilty. Having made no offense, I need no trial." In order to avoid a trial in which her own children and other household members would be used as witnesses to give evidence against her she refused to plead guilty or innocent. As a result she was sentenced to peine forte et dure, being pressed to death, which was the legal punishment meted out to those who refused to make a plea and stand trial. Here is the account of her death found in New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia:
[...] Although she was probably with child, this horrible sentence was carried out on Lady Day, 1586 (Good Friday according to New Style). She had endured an agony of fear the previous night, but was now calm, joyous, and smiling. She walked barefooted to the tollbooth on Ousebridge, for she had sent her hose and shoes to her daughter Anne, in token that she should follow in her steps. She had been tormented by the ministers and even now was urged to confess her crimes. "No, no, Mr. Sheriff, I die for the love of my Lord Jesu," she answered. She was laid on the ground, a sharp stone beneath her back, her hands stretched out in the form of a cross and bound to two posts. Then a door was placed upon her, which was weighted down till she was crushed to death. Her last words during an agony of fifteen minutes, were "Jesu! Jesu! Jesu! have mercy on me!" [...]
Fr. John Mush, Margaret's confessor, wrote in The Life and Death of Mistress Margaret Clitherow (written 1586, first printed 1849) much about what we now know about the saint. Margaret's daughter, Anne, was imprisoned for four years for refusing to attend a Church of England service, and finally became a nun at St. Ursula’s in Louvain. Her sons Henry and William became priests. Fr. JM Manzano, SJ

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the canonization of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales on October 25, 1970 by St. Pope Pius VI.

St. John Almond, priest, 1612
St. Edmund Arrowsmith, Jesuit priest, 1628
St. Ambrose Edward Barlow, Benedictine priest, 10 September 1641
St. John Boste, priest, 24 July 1594
St. Alexander Briant, Jesuit priest, 1 December 1581
St. Edmund Campion, Jesuit priest, 1 December 1581
St. Margaret Clitherow, laywoman, 25 March 1586
St. Philip Evans, Jesuit priest, 1679
St. Thomas Garnet, Jesuit priest, 1608
St. Edmund Gennings, priest, 1591
St. John Griffith (alias Jones, Buckley, or Griffith, or Godfrey Maurice), Franciscan friar, 1598
St. Richard Gwyn (alias Richard White), layman, 1584
St. John Houghton, Prior of the London Charterhouse, 4 May 1535
St. Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel, layman, 1595
St. John Kemble, priest, 1679
St. Luke Kirby, priest, 30 May 1582
St. Robert Lawrence, Prior of the Beauvale Charterhouse, 4 May 1535
St. David Lewis, Jesuit priest, 1679
St. Anne Line, laywoman, 1601
St. John Lloyd, priest, 1679
St. Cuthbert Mayne, priest, 1577
St. Henry Morse, Jesuit priest, 1645
St. Nicholas Owen, Jesuit lay-brother, 1606
St. John Payne, priest, 1582
St. Polydore Plasden, priest, 1591
St. John Plessington, priest, 1679
St. Richard Reynolds, Brigittine monk of Syon Abbey, 4 May 1535
St. John Rigby, layman, 1600
St. John Roberts, Benedictine priest, 1610
St. Alban Bartholomew Roe, Benedictine priest, 1642
St. Ralph Sherwin, priest, 1 December 1581
St. John Southworth, priest, 1654
St. Robert Southwell, Jesuit priest, 1595
St. John Stone, Augustinian friar
St. John Wall, Franciscan priest, 1679
St. Henry Walpole, Jesuit priest, 1595
St. Margaret Ward, laywoman, 1588
St. Augustine Webster, Prior of the Axholme Charterhouse, 4 May 1535
St. Swithin Wells, layman, 1591
St. Eustace White, priest, 1591

Comments

BACK TO TOP