Blessed Philip Powel, G.S.B.
It is a common complaint amongst tenants of the great blocks of flats now being built in London and other big cities that, though fitted with every modern luxery, the rooms are very small. As people say, one could not swing a cat in them. In the reign of Charles I that phrase was current. When Blessed Philip Powel was shut up, before his martyrdom, in the King's Bench prison, a contemporary wrote, " He was lodged in a low earthen ward so little that a man could not swing a catte in it, and yet eleven lodged there."
Philip Powel was born at Trallong in Brecknockshire on Candlemas Day, 1594. His parents, who came or good Welsh stock, were both Catholics and brought up their son in the Faith. He was sent to Flanders in 1614. There he studied at
the University of Louvain. Fr. Powel entered St. Gregory's, Douay, in 1619, and made his profession on the Feast of the Assumption, 1620. On the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas in 1622, Fr. Powel was sent to England, being twenty-eight years old.
Accused When the Civil War began, Fr. Powel took refuge with two old friends at Parcombe near Barnstaple. When the country became overrun with the Parliament soldiers he took service with Goring's army as a chaplain for six months, and then decided to cross over to Wales. Setting sail from Clovelly, we are told that, " As he was sayling upon the sayes upon the feast of St. Peter's chayre, ffeb 22, his ship was boarded by Captain Crouder, ViceAdmirall of the Irish and Welsh seas, where two common soldiers of Captain Croudcr knew him and accused him to be a Priest, and that lately they knew him in the parishes of Yearkscomme and Parcomme where, as they alleadged, he seduced and withdrew the greatest part of the said parishes from their churches.','
At first Fr. Powel refused to acknowledge or deny that he was a priest, but later recommending the matter to God and to the prayers of the Blessed Virgin, and St. Benedict, he acknowledged that he was a Catholic priest and a Benedictine monk, in which resolution he remained firm throughout his trial until death. He remained a prisoner on board for two months. Afterwards he was brought by sea to London and placed in the King's Bench prison.
It is said that his demeanour during trial at Westminster Hall was so gentle and resigned that the people who began by jeering and laughing at him as a "Jesuit " came in the end to regard him with expressions of open sympathy. He confessed to his judges that he had lived on the mission in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, hearing confessions, administering the sacraments and exercising all the other functions of a priest.
The jury found him guilty. When the judge gave the usual sentence Fr. Powel cried out, " Thanks be to God! I have not here room, by reason of the throng, to give God thanks on my knees: but I most humbly thank Him on the knee of my heart."
The judges were so impressed with his bearing that they petitioned for a reprieve, but the Parliament refused.
On June 30, after spending the previous night with his confessor, he said Mass, and then, being summoned to the hurdle, lay down upon it most cheerfully. On his way across London Bridge someone gave him a glass of wine and the martyr asked leave to drink his coachman's health.
Arriving at Tyburn the martyr knelt down to say his prayers and then, rising. asked the people to help him into the cart as he was too feeble to climb up by himself. Turning to them he declared that he died because he was a Catholic priest and a monk of that Benedictine Order which had brought the Faith to England. He seemed so holy and innocent that the very hangman refused to do his office and hid in the crowd. It was fifteen minutes before some wretch was found willing to drive the cart away, and then through the pity of the crowd the martyr was allowed to hang until fully dead.
Unlike the majority of our martyrs who spent only a short time on the mission before reaching their reward, Fr. Powel had lived contentedly for more than twenty years in a remote countryside, teaching his flock and administering the sacraments. In this he is an example to most of us who have to pass our lives in a humdrum routine which can only be happy if we learn by mortification to become indifferent to creatures and united in love to Christ our Lord.
The Rev. John H. Filmer will preach on behalf of the Guild of Our Lady of Ransom on June 6, at Nottingham Cathedral; June 13, at Harrow; and June 20, at Eastbourne.