Today is the Feast of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. There are, however, I believe really 284 beatified and canonized martyrs from the time of the Reformation in England.
The monstrous Henry VIII began to execute those who would not sign on to the Act of Supremacy, passed by Parliament in 1534 and which claimed that the King and his issue were “the only supreme head on Earth of the Church of England”, thus usurping the place of the Vicar of Christ, the Pope. Clement VII had refused to grant an annulment to Henry who wanted to put aside his duly married wife Catherine of Aragon. After the Act of Supremacy, Parliament passed the Treason Act. Anyone refusing to sign on to the Act of Supremacy was therefore deemed to have committed treason, a capital crime. Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher were the most famous of those slain by refusing to go along. There was another Act of Supremacy passed in 1558 under Elizabeth because the Catholic Queen Mary had had the previous Act repealed in 1554. This would lead eventually to the virtual conflation of Church and State which has remained as a powerful corrosive force in the Anglican “Church” of England to this day. Effectively, as societal mores change, because of politics the doctrine of its “Church” must change.
At the time of Elizabeth, Pope St. Pius V in 1570 excommunicated the Queen and released all her subjects from obedience to her. In turn she enacted harsher laws, making it high treason for any priest to be in England and for any person to aid them. The usual punishment was to hang, draw and quarter then, many at Tyburn which is now at a traffic crossing in London near Marble Arch at the intersection of Edgeware and Oxford Street.
In 1896 Leo XIII declared in his Bull Apostolicae curae that Anglican orders were “absolutely null and void”. In 2000 the CDF clarified in Dominus Iesus that bodies without apostolic succession are not, technically, true churches, and refers to them as “ecclesial communities”.
Once upon a time, the Feast of the Forty Martyrs was celebrated on 25, which is the Feast of Sts. Crispin and Crispinian, whose relics are in San Lorenzo in Panisperna in Rome.
Speaking of Rome, the residence of English seminarians the priests studying in the Eternal City, the English College not far from the Palazzo Farnese on the Via di Monserrato. The chapel of the College has murals of the English Martyrs, some of whom had studied in Rome in that very place.
In May of 2018, I went to the English College for a spectacular exposition of items from the time of the English martyrs. For example:
Alumni of the English College have reason to be proud of their fellows. My good friend Fr. Timothy Finigan has posted a video about the English Martyrs and I refer you to his fine blog. HERE
Let us not forget that there are modern martyrs. The number of martyrs in the 20th century is truly staggering. There are our suffering brethren in China, now in an ever worsening position because of the “deal” made with the Holy See. There are signs of rising persecution within and without.
Ask the holy martyrs of every age to help us in our times.