Wednesday, 25 September 2019

16th century England - Persecution and Martyrdom of Christ's Church




William Lacy, Priest, martyred 1582.



William Lacy was a Yorkshire gentleman, born at Hauton, who for some time enjoyed a place of trust in that country under Queen Elizabeth, and had a fair prospect of being advanced higher had not his religion stood in his way. He was one of the chief gentlemen of those days whose house was open to the priests that came over from the Colleges abroad, where they always met with a kind welcome, and were sure to want no service or assistance that he could afford or procure them. But as he was taught by these gentlemen that neither he or his could in conscience frequent the Protestant churches, his absenting himself was soon taken notice of, and he was obliged to give up his charge. Neither was this all, but so many means were found to distress him, and such heavy fines imposed upon him every month for his and his family’s recusancy, that he was obliged to leave his house and home, and to travel about, sheltering himself sometimes with one friend, sometime another; and being never able to stay long in a place without danger of being apprehended and imprisoned by the adversaries of his faith.  At length, his wife dying, he took a resolution, although he was now pretty well advanced in years, to go abroad in order to dedicate the remainder of his days to the service of God and his neighbours,  in the ecclesiastical state.

            He had no sooner taken this resolution, but he took the first opportunity to pass over into France to the College lately translated from Douai to Rheims, where he was received according to his merits, and diligently applied himself to the study of divinity, frequenting the schools with the young divines, and giving great edification to all by his humility and other virtues.  After having for some time, exercised himself in this manner in the English College of Rheims, he went from thence to Pont-a-Musson in Lorraine, to follow his studies there; from whence his devotion carried him to Rome, to visit the holy places consecrated by the sufferings of the apostles and martyrs.  Here he procured a dispensation that he might be made priest; for having been married to a widow, he could not be ordained without a dispensation – which was the easier granted  him in consideration of his personal merit and great virtues.  So having made the Spiritual Exercises in the English College at Rome, he received all his orders, and shortly after returned home to labour in the mission, which he did with great fruit for the space of about two years, bringing over many souls to Christ and His Church.

            He frequently visited the Catholics that were prisoners for their conscience in York Castle, where on the 22d of July, 1582, having been with others present at Mass, celebrated before day by Mr Bell, and making the best of his way out of the Castle, upon the keepers and turnkeys taking an alarm, he was seized under the Castle walls, and carried in the morning before the Lord Mayor of York and Councillor Check, who, having strictly examined him, committed him prisoner to the Castle, with orders that he be loaded with irons, which he kissed when they were put on him by the keepers. With this load of chains he was hurried away to Thorp, the Archbishop’s seat to be examined by him. What passed here, says my author, between him and the Archbishop, we could by no means come to know, because after this interview Mr Lacy was cast into a dungeon by himself, so that we could not have any access to him.

            Upon 11th August he was brought to the bar, where he was arraigned for having been made priest at Rome;  which  he acknowledged, and which appeared from the letters of ordination he had about him at the time of his apprehension.  But the judge, not content with this confession, pressed him further with that murthering  question  whether he acknowledged the Queen to be supreme head of the Church of England. He replied that in this matter, as well as in all other things, he believed as the Catholic Church of God and all good Christians believed.  Upon this he was brought in guilty of high treason, and had sentence to die as in cases of high treason. He heard the fatal sentence with a serene countenance and an undaunted courage, saying God be  forever blessed! I am now old, and by the course of nature could not expect to live long. This will be no more to me than to pay the common debt a little before time. I am rejoiced, therefore, at the things which have been said to me.  We shall go into the house of the Lord, and so shall be with the Lord for ever.

            The day appointed for his death was the 22d of August, when Mr.Lacy and Mr Kirkeman, another gentleman of the same character, were laid upon a hurdle and drawn to the place of execution. On the way they made their confessions to each other; and when they came to the gallows, Mr.Lacy first made his prayer to prepare himself for his last conflict, and then ascending the ladder, began to speak to the people, and to exhort them to provide for the salvation of their souls by flying from heresy. But the ministers, apprehending that the cause of their religion would suffer by such discourses, procured to have his mouth effectually stopped by hastening the hangman to fling him off the ladder, and so put an end to his mortal life.

            He suffered at York, August 22, 1582.



                                                          Taken from ‘Martyrs to the Catholic Faith’

                                                                       ‘Memoirs of Missionary Priests

                                                                     and other Catholics of both sexes

                                                            that have suffered death in England on

                                                      religious accounts from the year 1577 to 1684.’

                                                                                             by  Bishop Challoner V.A.L.

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