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Sunday, October 23, 2016
Politicians' patron saint honoured in 'his' parliament
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¬†Almost 470 years to the day since his death, St Thomas More was honoured in a Mass held at the Palace of Westminster, only yards from where he was tried and sentenced. St Thomas, a former Lord Chancellor and Speaker of the House of Commons, is the patron saint of politicians and he was remembered during a service organised by one of his parliamentary descendants, Lord Alton of Liverpool. He organised the Mass in the crypt at St Mary's Undercroft to celebrate the saint's Feast Day and what made the event more poignant was that one of St Thomas's hats was placed in front of the altar during the service. It was taken to London by a group of pupils from Stonyhurst College, the Jesuit college in Lancashire, and Fr Denis Blackledge SJ, Father Superior and Chaplain at Stonyhurst, led the service. A number of Catholic MPs, including the Right Hon Paul Murphy MP, joined the pupils at the Mass. The hat, a nightcap, is part of the collection of Catholic treasures held at the college and the pupils were proud that they were fortunate enough to accompany it to the capital. The red and gold embroidered linen nightcap would have been worn inside the house, usually in the evening, to keep the head warm and a female family member probably made it for St Thomas. It was described as 'the cap he wore to the last'. Fr Thomas More SJ, the last surviving male descendant of the saint, presented it to the College in 1755 when it was at St Omers, in northern France. Fr More was the last provincial of the old society before the Suppression. Fr Denis said: "It was a great privilege to be celebrating Mass in the Palace of Westminster at the invitation of Lord Alton. It was particularly poignant as it was the Feast Day of St Thomas More." The Stonyhurst pupils were visiting the capital as part of their A-level politics course. They enjoyed a tour of the Palace of Westminster, listened to Prime Minister's Questions, had lunch on the Palace of Westminster terrace, visited the Millbank TV studios and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, had tea at Portcullis House and went inside the security barrier and walked up Downing Street. One of the pupils, Richard Howarth, aged 17, from Hurst Green, said: "It was an unforgettable day which was made even more special by being involved in a Mass to celebrate the life of St Thomas More with a relic of his laid in front of the altar." Thomas More entered parliament in 1504 and shortly afterwards fell out of favour with King Henry VII when he opposed the monarch's tax raising. After the king's death in 1509, however, he returned to public life and rose to prominence under the reign of Henry VIII. He became a member of the Privy Council in 1518 and was knighted in 1521. He was made Speaker of the House of Commons in 1523 and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1525. As Speaker, More helped establish the parliamentary privilege of free speech and he took a stand against the king when he refused to endorse his plan to divorce Katherine of Aragůn. Despite this he still held the king's favour and, after the fall of Thomas Wolsey in 1529, became Lord Chancellor, the first layman to hold the post. However, his fall came quickly. He resigned in 1532, citing ill health, but the reason was probably his disapproval of Henry's stance toward the church. He refused to attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn in June 1533, not something to enamour himself to the king. Less than a year later More refused to swear to the Act of Succession and the Oath of Supremacy, and was committed to the Tower of London in April 1534. He was tried in Westminster Hall, was found guilty of treason and was beheaded in The Tower on July 6, 1535. His final words on the scaffold were: "The King's good servant, but God's First." More has been revered for centuries as a hero of conscience who refused to compromise his personal beliefs. He was beatified in 1886 and canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1936. He was recognised as a saint by the Anglican Church in 1980 and Pope John Paul II named him the patron saint of politicians and statesmen in 2000 following requests from politicians from many countries.
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