Monday, February 4, 2019

Saint of the Month: Blessed John Speed!

In addition to being among the Martyrs of England and
Wales, Bl. John Speed is often listed among the Durham
Martyrs.  This set of men seem to be an important collective
point of reference to the Catholic community of Durham,
which has named its parish after them.

Bl. John Speed

AKA: St. John Spence, possibly
Feast Day: February 4.

Really Existed? Almost certainly.
Timeframe: Elizabethan era.  Died 1594.
Place: Northern England

Credentials: Beatified in 1927 along with 135 other English and Welsh victims of religious violence.
Martyrdom: Execution by hanging.  Some degree of torture during trial, imprisonment, and the execution itself is not unlikely.

Patron Saint of: No known tradition of patronage.
Symbolism: None.

“The time of the Tudor kings and queens,” we learn from, “was a difficult time for religious people.” Truer words ne’er spoken. You’ll recall that Henry VIII, at the nexus of his unique home life and his political considerations, invented the Protestant Church of England, which many more traditional Catholics found troubling. His daughter Mary, for instance. When she came to the throne, there was a considerable backlash, and it was a difficult time to be a leading Protestant figure. Indeed, 280 were burned at the stake during her five-year reign.  Which, seriously, what is even wrong with people that we have a stock phrase in our language for the concept of "burned at the stake"?

When Mary herself died, her sister Elizabeth took over the throne to commence her epic 45 reign. Would she roll with Dad’s Protestantism, or her sister’s Catholicism? Easy choice, since under Catholic doctrine of the time she was illegitimate and thus ineligible for the crown. Protestantism it was, therefore, and Protestant it would just get more and more as Elizabeth dealt with her potential rival the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, kept up the traditional rivalry with Britain’s longtime Catholic rival France, sent her fleet against the Catholic Spanish Armada, and sent armies to subdue the Catholic Irish. Was Elizabeth a passionate proponent of Protestant theology? Nah, probably not. It’s just that all her enemies were Catholic.

As Queen Elizabeth got old and tired, her administration lost a lot of its golden-age luster. The bills came due for past military adventures, her more talented supporters started checking out and retiring, and the economy stagnated into a long recession. Like a lot of rulers before and after, she responded, consciously or not, by looking for a class of people she could publicly torment in order to bolster her popularity, and secret Catholics seemed like a good choice. In 1584, just for example, she signed a law making it a capital offense to be an English priest. Over the next dozen years, many priests and people who associated with them would be imprisoned, tortured, and killed, sometimes in unspeakably cruel ways.

John Speed wasn’t a priest himself, but he helped priests who were in the country illegally get from house to house and perhaps from town to town in Northern England. He was caught, and was subsequently killed for his crimes on February 4, 1594, in Durham. It says here that he was hung, which if true was a lousy way to go, but not as elaborately horrible as the horrors inflicted on some of his friends, I'll tell you what.

Pius XI beatified Speed en bloc with 135 other victims of anti-Catholic violence in 1929. A subset of these, not including Speed, are considered the “Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.” The “Eighty-Five Martyrs of England and Wales” are a different group, beatified by John Paul II in 1987. There are a few other sets, too. Some of them are better known than John Speed as saints and/or historical figures in their own right; the point of beatifying whole groups seems to be to underscore that there were a lot of people risking hard punishments for pursuing their religious beliefs, and a lot of people for whom the risk ended badly.

I should mention that having been beatified but not canonized, John Speed is Blessed but not a “saint” per se.

For some reason lost to memory, there has been a note to myself in the document on which I schedule this publication that reads “SotM, Feb 4, John Speed.” It has been there since January 2013. I don’t know why I once thought he would make a good Saint of the Month, particularly since there is already a Saint representing February 4th on the Michael5000 Calendar. By the time I realized that, however, I had already started writing about Queen Elizabeth’s shoddy late reign and there was no stopping Blessed John Speed as Saint of the Month for February 2019.

Anyway, I wish you a happy feast day of St. Jeanne of Valois, and Blessed John Speed.


DrSchnell said...

"Blessed John Speed" sounds like a lame attempt by the church to come up with a superhero comic book.

Michael5000 said...

Well, it hasn't been a very concerted effort in this case. And not to subject your aside to overkill, but there is I think some conceptual hay to be made in the intersection of saints and superheroes. The latter are newer, louder, often dumber repositories of amazing tales of melodrama and combat, ready to intercede with those of us who lack their powers.

Or something.