By MAURICE FITZPATRICK
WHEN we think of the English Martyrs our thoughts. especially those of us who live in London. turn almost automatically. to 'two places. Tyburn and the Tower of London. Many of the Martyrs knew the Tower. that grim fortress. prison and sometime palace, well. To them it was a place of incarceration, torture and death or a place from which they were led to death.
Names immediately spring to mind, St. Thomas More. St. John Fisher. Blessed Edmund Campion, Blessed John Southwell. the Carthusians from Charterhouse, the Franciscans from Greenwich and Richmond. Blessed Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel; Nicholas Owen, a Jesuit laybrother.
With these memories of a gallant line of men who snffered and, m so many oases died for the Faith. The Tower has become for Catholics, at least, a place of pilgrimage. Here we can see the cell of St. Thomas More, the wide span of the Traitors Gate through which so many of the Martyrs passed to their sufferings, the dreaded torture chamber. housed in the basement of the White Tower and also the chapel of St. John in the White Tower with its
memories of Blessed Edmund Campion, Blessed Ralph Sherwin and Blessed Philip Howard.
THE chapel of St. John was construeted about the year 1080 and possesses a crypt and a sub crypt; it is the oldest Norman chapel in London and in a perfect state of preservation. In the past, the installation ceremonies for the Knights of the Bath were performed here and the new Knights would keep vigil before the altar, their armour placed in front of them. This scene is visualized in the painting by J. Pettie, " The Vigil,in the late Gallery.
During Wat Tyler's rebellion. in June, 1381, the rebels broke into the Tower and, coming to the Chapel. dragged Simon of Sudbury. Archbishop of Canterbury from before the altar and Sir Robert Hales. the Treasurer. to immediate execution on .loser Hill.
When Henry VI was murdered in the Tower in 1470, his body lay here before burial. Elizabeth of York, queen of Henry VII, came to the palace of the Tower in 1503 for a confinement. An occasion of great joy was turned into one of national mourning when the queen died here in childbirth. She lay in state for two days in the chapel of St. John, the place ablaze with the light of many candles.
WITH Henry VIII
upon the throne, the setting aside of the Pope's authority in England, and the Act of Supremacy, the Tower became the prison of so many of the faithful both clerical and lay. The Mass was still celebrated and there is no record to the contrary stating that the Holy Sacrifice was not still offered in the chapel of St. John.
It can be appreciated what an enormous consolation this was and a tower of strength to those imprisoned in the various cells throughout this great fortress. With the coming of Edward VI, Protestantism became gradually established and the country saw the advent of Cranmer's first and second Book of Common Prayer, so the Mass was no longer offered in the Chapel of the Tower.
Mary Tudor became queen in the year 1553 and England Was reconciled to the Holy See in 1554. It was in St. John's Chapel that John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, in 1553, was reconciled to the Church by Bishop Gardiner, prior to his execution. Under Edward VI he had been a prominent Protestant.
In the following year, Mars was betrothed to Philip of Spain in this Chapel prior to her marriage in Winchester Cathedral on July 25 of this same year.
With the coming of Elizabeth to the throne, Protestantism was finally established and the Mass was banished from the Chapel of St. John.
On September 1, 1581. Blessed Edmund Campion, his body broken by torture in the dungeons of the Tower, together with Blessed Ralph Sherwin. were brought to the Chapel. They were made to sit upon low stools before a company of learned Anglican divines and Blessed Edmund was submitted without preparation to the first of four Conferences in which it was hoped to discredit his "Brag" and "Ten Reasons" and to prove his well-known scholarship to be just a myth.
DESPITE the fact that it was only 10 days since he had last been put to torture, that he was a sick man, that he was not provided with books of reference, as were his opponents, Campion made a sTeditable stand as was witnessed by some Catholics present
This memorable scene in the chapel of St. John is very ably described in Evelyn Waugh's "Edmund Campion." Philip, Earl of Arundel, was also present on this occasion and was so impresses] by Campion that from being a light-hearted courtier he became a fervent Catholic.
He was later to suffer impriaonsilent, was tried on it charge of high treason, sentenced to death and although the sentence was never carried out. he spent the remainder of his life in the Tower where he died in 1595. Because he refused to renounce the Faith, despite the fact that he was offered his freedom. the restoration of his estates and honours. by so doing. he is ranked arnongst the Martyrs.
DURING the reign of Charles II, St. John's Chapel ceased to be used for its original purposes, the furnishings were removed and it was used as a store for keeping State Records and thus it appears to have remained until the last century, when Queen Victoria had it restored for its natural use, and today services are regularly conducted there.
The Chapel of St. John the Evangelist is on the second floor of the White Tower and is reached by a narrow staircase from the Small Arms Room.
One is immediately struck by its rugged solidity and stern, austere appearance. The roof is high and entirely devoid of any definite colour or decoration. The nave is divided into three bays, the arches of which are quite plain, inter sected by massive Norman columns which tend to give it and the two adjoining aisles. a narrow appearance.
The columns have carved capitads, soveral having a "T'" shaped design only found in construction of this early date. The Chapel is lighted by eight windows all of which are situated on the south side and in the apse at the eastern end.
The Norman apse behind the altar is pierced by five arches leading into an ambulatory. There is a clerestory above the Chapel which has 13 deep arches and, like the remainder of the building, is in an excellent state of preservation. It was here that the ladies of the court, in Catholic days, assisted at the Sacrifice of the Mass.
The two narrow aisles have roofs containing plain groined vaulting and blind areading can be seen in the thick wall of the north aisle. The general appearance of the Chapel of St. John today, is, as has been already noted, of rugged, austere solidity but prior to the Reformation, it was, as so many Catholic churches, richly furnished and decorated. The walls were hung with tapestries. the windows held their coloured glass and there was a Rood, bright and gay with colour.
TODAY, for Catholics, the Tower, is, in part, a place of pilgrimage and standing here in this Chapel, we must pause and think a while of our glorious English Martyrs. especially in this place, Blessed Edmund Campion, Blessed Ralph Sherwin, and Blessed Philip Howard and before we pass from its austere quiet to the glitter and ancient glamour of the Sword Room on the next part of our tour of the White Tower, let us remember that it was in this ancient Chapel that a small part of the reckoning was paid for the Faith which we enjoy today.