The Meaning of the Walk from Newgate to Tyburn
Sunday, April 24. Starting from Giltspur Street, opposite the Old Bailey, at 3 p.m.
The Walk from Newgate to the place where Tyburn gallows once stood (near the Marble Arch) is an act of honour to the memory of more than a hundred of our countrymen who suffered death at Tyburn in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, after having been dragged on hurdles along the line of route we follow today.
They died the cruel death which was then the penalty of treason—these victims of the old savage law were hanged, cut down alive and disembowelled and hacked to pieces by the hangman, dying under his knife. But they were no traitors. They were martyrs in the cause of Faith and Freedom, and deserve the homage, not only of their Catholic brethren of today, but also of every man, whatever his views on religion, who holds that the Tudor and Stuart sovereigns had no right to enforce conformity with the Established Church by the prison, the rack, the halter and the knife.
Those Who Died Those who suffered death at Tyburn under Henry Viii died because they denied the Tudor tyrant's new claim to be lord, not only of men's bodies and property, but also of their souls and consciences; because, like all English folk for nearly a thousand years before their time, they believed that the successor of St. Peter and not the tyrant king was the head of God's Church.
Those who suffered death under Elizabeth and the Stuart Kings and the Commonwealth, were put to death because they were priests and had said Mass, or because, as laymen, they had heard Mass. All the glorious cathedrals of England, all the old parish churches had been built for the celebration of the Holy Mass.
An Act of Parliament had declared the priesthood and the Mass to be treason, and substituted the service of the Book of Cornmon Prayer. These men held, and rightly held, that Parliament had no power to abolish what they believed to he an ordinance of God, and they held that this gift of God was so precious that it was well worth while to die in order that Mass might still be said in England.
No Class Distinction The martyrs of Tyburn represented every class—priests and laymen, men and women, rich and poor, sons of noble families and poor working men. The first five martyrs were put to death there on May 4th, 1535. They were three Carthusian priors, a Bridgettine monk, and the Vicar of Isleworth. The last of the Tyburn martyrs was Blessed Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh, on July 1st. 1681, a name that links together the story of the martyrs of England and Ireland.
Tyburn was not the only place in London which was the scene of martyrdoms. There were executions on Tower Hill, in St. Paul's Churchyard, in Lincoln's Inn Fields, in Southwark, and at other places in
London and its suburbs. But most of the martyrdoms were at Tyburn, which was for centuries the common place of execution for London.
Newgate was not the only London prison which, in the days of persecution, was crowded with prisoners for conscience' sake, many of witoni died of the hardships they suffered. It was in Newgate that many of the monks of the London Charterhouse were deliberately starved to death by order of Henry VIII.
Catholics honour the memory of the martyrs by this pilgrimage of prayer. It starts from Newgate and on the way to Tyburn we visit three churches—each connected with an epoch in the history of the Catholic Faith in England.
Programme (1) St. Etheldreda's Church, in Ely Place, built for Catholic worship in 1276 by the Bishop of Ely, and restored to Catholic worship in 1876, a link with the days when all England was Catholic.
(2) SS. Anselm and Cecilia's, Kingsway, the new church built in 1909 to replace the older church which was demolished when Kingsway was opened out. This old church of St. Cecilia was the first church built for Catholic worship in London after the so-called Reformation, its foundation dating from the period of partial toleration under Charles H. Passing the old graveyard of St. Giles, where several martyrs were buried, the pilgrims make their last visit at (3) St. Patrick's, Soho Square, which occupies the site of the first Catholic church publicly opened in London (in 1792) when the persecuting laws were repealed at the end of the eighteenth century.
The procession ends with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at Tyburn Convent, close to the spot where the gallows stood and where the martyrs died. One of them, in his last words before his execution, told the crowd that even the fiercest persecution could not banish the Catholic Faith from England, and that one day there would be a convent founded close to the place where he stood.
(Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is timed approximately for 5 p.m.).
JOHN H. FILMER.