The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales were beatified in 1886 by Pope Leo XIII. They represented men and women from every level of society who gave everything to God.
The 16th and 17th centuries in England were very turbulent times for Catholics. The nation had been Catholic for 1,000 years, but despite millennia of blessings, the nation would turn its back on God by going into schism and eventually into heresy.
The apostasy of England's priests and bishops is legendary — so legendary that only one bishop, St. John Fisher, remained steadfast. All other bishops gave in to King Henry VIII's demands and kept their estates and political clout.
Englishmen fled the island and went to Rheims, France, where they would join the Jesuits. This was when the Jesuits were the Navy SEALs of missionaries. They knew it was almost certain death if they were caught. Not only that, but they could expect gruesome torture leading up to death. They went anyway.
Saint Thomas More, a layman and the king's chancellor, got off easy, merely being beheaded. Priests were treated with exceptional vehemence once they were caught by a particularly dedicated group of trackers called priest hunters.
The 41-year-old Jesuit priest and soon-to-be saint Edmond Campion traveled to England in June 1580 and was caught only a year later. After being imprisoned and tortured four months on the rack, a jury declared him and his priest companions guilty and worthy of terrible punishment:
You must go to the place from whence you came, there to remain until ye shall be drawn through the open city of London upon hurdles to the place of execution, and there be hanged and let down alive, and your privy parts cut off, and your entrails taken out and burnt in your sight; then your heads to be cut off and your bodies divided into four parts, to be disposed of at Her Majesty's pleasure.
Campion appeared unphased and responded, "In condemning us, you condemn all your own ancestors, all our ancient bishops and kings, all that was once the glory of England — the island of saints and the most devoted child of the See of Peter."
The story of another martyr sounds like something out of a spy novel. Saint Nicholas Owen was a small man and a master carpenter. He built ingenious hiding spots in homes to protect priests from priest hunters. Besides that, he helped Fr. John Gerard escape the Tower of London. Gerard would, later on, write The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest, which gave the world a look into the cloak-and-dagger world of the English Catholic underground. Owen died due to his torture on the rack.
The examples of these 40 martyrs speak to American Catholics today. With a weak and feckless episcopacy, the attack on faithful Catholics will become more blatant. If the Marxists keep getting their way, cancel culture will mean more than getting booted off social media.
Look to the English martyrs for inspiration.
Learn more by watching The Download—Modern Martyrdom.