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Saint Edmund Gennings

Thursday, December 10, 2015
St Edmund Gennings is a martyr of the Catholic faith in England. He has one of the most remarkable stories of the English martyrs. Saint Edmund ministered to the persecuted Catholics of England in the 1590’s and is particularly noted for his love of the Mass and the English people. 

He was a convert to Catholicism at 17, and ordained a priest in 1590. Around one month after ordination, he set out across rural England in search of souls to save. Edmund had a short ministry. It was against the law in Elizabethan England to celebrate or attend the Catholic Mass, say devotions, or even pray the Rosary. St Edmund traveled in the countryside meeting Catholic families, giving advice to the persecuted, hearing confessions and saying private Mass in secret. Edmund Gennings was executed by order of Queen Elizabeth I after being caught saying Mass in the house of Saint Swithun Wells at Gray’s Inn, London, on November 7th 1591. St Edmund endured days of extreme torture, and refused to renounce the Catholic faith. Edmund was offered his liberty if he conformed to the state church. He responded saying he will live and die in the true Roman Catholic faith. He refused to conform to the protestant Church, and rejected the thinking that the Queen can ever be head of the Church in spiritual matters. 

St Edmund was sentenced to death. He was hanged, drawn and quartered outside the same house on December 10th 1591. He along with the other English martyrs, gave their lives for Christ and his Catholic Church. “If to return to England a Priest, or to say Mass be a Popish treason, then I confess I am a traitor. But I think not so. And therefore I acknowledge myself guilty of those things, not with repentance, but with an open protestation of inward joy.” Topcliffe, the notorious priest-hunter, was enranged with the attitude of St Edmund Gennings. He then ordered that Edmund be hanged and immediately cut down. When the hangman began his butchery, St Edmund was still alive when his heart was ripped from his chest. With his last breath he cried out, Saint Gregory: Pray for me. The hangman swore, “Zounds! See, his heart is in my hand, and yet Gregory is in his mouth. O egregious Papist!”. The martyrdom of Edmund Gennings was the occasion of several extraordinary incidents, including the conversion of his younger brother John to the Catholic faith, who became a Franciscan and later wrote his biography, published in 1614.

Image courtesy of Mary's Dowry Productions

Luke Doherty O.P.

Fr Luke Doherty is assistant priest at Holy Cross, Leicester, and Catholic Chaplain to HMP Leicester |  luke.doherty@english.op.org


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