Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Beautiful Film about the English Martyrs

Faith of our Fathers – In search of the English Martyrs is a new film presented by Fr Marcus Holden and Fr Nicholas Schofield, priests of the Dioceses of Southwark and Westminster respectively. In the course of the two-part film they travel throughout England visiting a number of historic sites of great significance in the story of the English Martyrs. This is a beautiful and highly-recommended film which contains fascinating insights into this turbulent period of Catholic history. One feels very drawn into the sense of exploration as the two priests set off on their journey, a pilgrimage in which they speak with evident devotion to the Martyrs. Starting off at the Westminster Diocesan Archives, where Fr Schofield is the Archivist, they go to the seminary at Allen Hall where Fr Stephen Wang speaks about St Thomas More who lived in a house on the site.

At Westminster Cathedral, the Master of Music, Martin Baker talks about the music of the reformation, pointing out that Byrd’s Mass for five voices, which was heard so publicly at the Cathedral on the occasion of Pope Benedict’s visit, would originally have been sung in secret by necessity. Archbishop Vincent Nichols talks of the inspiration of the English martyrs and his personal favourite, St John Fisher. He talks of the different type of courage required today to proclaim the Gospel in the face of public scorn.

Fr Schofield’s own parish in Uxbridge is the next stop, before the pair go to Stonor Park to see the priest holes and the hiding place of the secret printing press which St Edmund Campion used to produce Catholic literature such as the ‘Ten Reasons’ (a set of arguments against the validity of the Anglican Church which caused a huge controversy). Also shown is the 13th century chapel in which Mass has been celebrated continuously since the thirteenth century. The Stonors have lived at the house since this time and the current head of the family, Lord Camoys, speaks about the exclusion from society of young Catholics who were denied positions in government, law and industry: ‘The programme to annihilate Catholicism could hardly have been more thorough, but it didn’t work.’

At the ‘Priest’s House’ in West Grinstead they show the priest holes built by the ingenious craftsman St Nicholas Owen and the hidden altar at which Blessed Francis Bell, among others, celebrated Mass. Travelling north, they visit Wardley Hall in Lancashire and are given a tour of the house by Bishop Terence Brain who shows them the skull of St Ambrose Barlow. Bishop Brain recalls the energy surrounding the process which led to the canonization of the Forty Martyrs in 1970 and talks of the importance of retrieving that sense of focus.

At Arrowsmith House they recount the story of St Edmund Arrowsmith’s capture and show the tiny statue of Our Lady which fell from his pocket during pursuit, giving him away. At Chorley the amazing story of Blessed Robert Wrennall is told: the first attempt to hang him failed when the rope broke. When he came to from a dazed state lying on the ground, he ran up the ladder, eager to be hung properly without any further delay. Asked by the Sheriff ‘Why are you in such a hurry to die?’, he replied ‘If you had seen that which I have just now seen, you too would be eager to die.’

The film also takes in the Shrine of Our Lady at Ladyewell with its amazing collection of relics, Rievaulx and Ampleforth where the Abbot speaks about the role of monasteries and the fate of the monks post-dissolution, the Shrine of St Margaret Clitherow 'The Pearl of York', the most prominent female martyr, and finishes at Tyburn Convent in London, just yards from the site of the infamous ‘Tyburn Tree’ where so many of the martyrs gave up their lives.

The DVD, produced by St Anthony Communications, is multi-region and can be bought from

Here is a trailer:

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