Somehow the martyrs are part of the DNA at Downside. We are very conscious of the sacrifice that our martyr-brothers made in trying to keep the Faith alive in England in the period following the Reformation.

St Ambrose Barlow was born in Manchester in 1585. He studied for the priesthood at Valladolid initially, before recognising that he had a vocation to monastic life at which point he entered our Community and was ordained in 1617. He returned to England and ministered to the Catholics around Manchester for 24 years, being based in his family home. On Easter Sunday 1641, a group, led by the local vicar, came to arrest him and those at Mass. He was taken to Manchester, where he was tried, before being hanged, drawn and quartered.

St John Roberts was born in 1577 in North Wales. He left his studies, and went to France where he became a Catholic, before moving to Spain to enter the Benedictine monastery in Valladolid. A number of monks from that community gained permission to start a new foundation in Douai, which would be for Englishmen intending to return to England to help the Catholics there. He became the first Prior of that community, under the patronage of St Gregory the Great. He was arrested more than once, and even managed to escape from prison, but in 1610 he was arrested again, having said the Mass on the First Sunday of Advent. He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered as a Catholic priest. At his execution, the crowd insisted that he be allowed to hang until dead, in recognition of the services he had rendered to all. Only then did the disembowelling take place.

Each year we celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving in the abbey church, just as they did in Douai, when they heard of a monk’s martyrdom and we use the ‘persecution chalice’, which was used by our monks when in prison in France, and we recall our own duty to be faithful to all that they died for. Around the monastery we have portraits of these monks, which are daily reminders. And to celebrate their martyrdom, we will, of course, have an informal supper this evening!