We in the 20th century rarely think of those who endured…eaten by lions; burned at the stake; crushed by heavy stones because of their religious beliefs. After them, great cathedrals were built to honor God and those are often mostly empty today except for a few who come to pray or for the many who come with a tour guide to marvel at the architecture and the stained glass.
What has it cost to give us the religious freedom that we enjoy today? I use the word, “enjoy” because unless we are a Coptic Christian in the Middle East or in some other remote areas of the world, we do not have to worry about being persecuted for our beliefs. We can go into any church, synagogue, or masque and worship. This leads us to wonder if we will indeed be spared from persecutions …since we treat it so lightly.
How often do we read and reflect on the writings of Fox’s Book of Martyrs? Not only Christians men under Nero, but Jews under Titus suffered for their beliefs.
How little do we know about the death of the early Christians and disciples of Jesus? What do we know about men of more recent times who became martyrs for their faith?
- William Tyndale
- Master John Hooper
- Ridley and Latimer
- Thomas Cranmer
- and many others
When my husband and I were in England and Scotland, we visited York. There we visited the little chapel in The Shambles dedicated to the martyr Margaret Clitherow.
Margaret lived in the 16th century when there was great turmoil between Catholics and Protestants. She was married to a man of influence in the community who tolerated Margaret’s strong faith. Having been raised as a Protestant, she converted to Catholicism and was imprisoned many times for hiding the priests who were being persecuted. Unfortunately, it depended on who was on the throne whether persecution and fear for one’s life was a common problem. Queen Mary persecuted the protestants. Queen Elizabeth had Catholics imprisoned and executed.
Margaret was loved by the people of York. She was not only a young mother with a family to look after, but was willing to endure whatever came her way as she reached out to help those in danger of their lives…primarily at this time, the Catholic priests. . It was said that Margaret would slip out of her house at night; go to the gallows..praying for the victims and return to her home. An Act had been passed that to shelter anyone accused of heresy would be considered high treason and punishable by death. Margaret knew her dangers. In March, 1586, her home was raided and she was arrested. Included in her charges was not only her harboring priests, but that she had sent her eldest son out of the country to study with the intention of becoming a priest.
As the wife of an influential man, she had attended many elegant banquets at Guildhall, but now it became her place of trial. The court judge gave her the sentence, ” Margaret Clitherow, …you must return to the lowest part of the prison; stripped naked; laid down your back upon the ground and as much weight laid upon you as you are able to bear…and so continue three days without meat or drink, except a little barley bread and puddle water and the third day be pressed to death; your hands and feet tied to posts, and a sharp stone under your back.”
When visited in prison by a Protestant minister, Margaret said, “I am fully resolved in all things touching my faith which I ground upon Jesus Christ and by Him I steadfastly believe to be saved, which faith I acknowledge to be the same which He left to the Apostles and they to their successors from time to time, and is taught in the Catholic Church and through all Christendom. And by God’s assistance I mean to live and die in the same faith. For if an Angel came from heaven and preach any other doctrine than we have received the Apostle biddeth us not to believe him.”
Margaret sent her hat to her husband (signifying him as head of the house) She sent her stockings and shoes to her daughter, who was twelve. (signifying for her to walk with God)
As the heavy stone weight was placed on her, she called out “Jesus, Jesus have mercy on me.” She then died at age 33. Her road was short…but throughout the ages, the martyrs have paved a long road of faith with tears, blood and love.