St Edmund Campion
Celebrated on December 1st
Jesuit priest and martyr.
Born around 1540, Edmund Campion was the son of a London bookseller and educated at Christ's hospital. He won a scholarship to St John's College Oxford in 1557, where he was a brilliant and popular student. When Queen Elizabeth I visited Oxford in 1566 he was chosen by the university as orator to welcome her.
Edmund was ordained as an Anglican deacon in 1569, but openly expressed his uncertainty about his religious beliefs. After a spell in Ireland where he helped found a university (later Trinity College) and wrote a history of the country, he returned to England in 1571 and then went to France to go to the English College in Douai where he professed his Catholic faith and was ordained subdeacon.
He left for Rome later that year to join the Jesuits. After his novitiate at Brunn, he taught at the Jesuit College in Prague. He was ordained priest there in 1578. In 1580 Edmund and another priest Robert Persons were chosen to start a mission in England. On his journey he visited Charles Borromeo in Milan. He arrived at Dover disguised as a jewel merchant.
Edmund first ministered to Catholic prisoners and wrote a document in which he challenged the Privy Council, describing his mission as 'one of free cost to preach the Gospels, minister the Sacraments, instruct the simple, reform sinners, to refute errors, in brief to cry alarm spiritual against foul vice and proud ignorance, wherewith many of my dear countrymen are abused.'
His attractive personality, courage, eloquence and learning gave new heart to Catholics struggling to keep their faith in England. But his charismatic preaching was something the authorities could not ignore.
Often in disguise, Campion travelled throughout Lancashire, Yorkshire and the Midlands, preaching, celebrating Mass and administering the Sacraments. He wrote a pamphlet openly challenging Protestants to debate with him. At a service at St Mary's Church in Oxford, 400 copies were secretly distributed.
Campion was finally arrested in Lyford Grange in Berkshire. He was taken to the Tower of London and tortured, but refused to give up his faith. On 14 November he was indicted with others in Westminster Hall on the fabricated charge of trying to incite a rebellion. In spite of his able defence, the jury found him guilty of treason and he was condemned to death.
When Campion heard the sentence he said: "In condemning us, you condemn all your own ancestors, all the ancient bishops and kings, all that was once the glory of England."
Campion stressed his loyalty to the Queen. His only offence was his religion.
With Alexander Briant and Ralph Sherwin he was hung drawn and quartered at Tyburn on this day in 1581.
It has been said that when he died, the Elizabethan age lost one of its most brilliant thinkers and writers.
Edmund Campion was canonised as one of the 40 martyrs of England and Wales in 1970.