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Saturday, October 1, 2016
Book review: St Eustace White, Elizabethan Priest and Martyr
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St Eustace White, Elizabethan Priest and Martyr, by Mark Vickers. Published by St Michael's Abbey Press. (It can be bought on-line through St Paul's Bookshop in London at: http:www.stpauls.org.uk)

The life expectancy of a priest in England and Wales in the first 160 years following the Reformation sounds little better that of a First World War pilot.

The law made it treason to work here as a priest. The penalty for treason was death by the most harrowing means. Yet hundreds of young English men committed to keeping the faith alive, trained at seminaries overseas, then, aware of the dangers they were facing, sailed back to England in order to carry out their ministry. Much of their history, and the history of the lay communities that supported them, remains unwritten. But hundreds suffered a very cruel fate.

This period of history is brought into sharp focus in this scholarly book by Mark Vickers. He has meticulously pieced together the life and times of one young priest, born in his own home town of Louth in Lincolnshire in 1559.

Eustace White, was a convert to Catholicism. He travelled to Europe to study for the priesthood and was ordained, probably at the English College in Rome, in 1588 - the year of the Armada. He began his ministry in England later that year, just as anti-Catholic feeling was reaching fever pitch. A friendly conversation with a fellow traveller lead to his arrest in Dorset three years later. Eustace put up a very articulate defence in the West Country but had no chance to defend himself in the London court. He was tortured and then hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn in 1691.

The publication of this book - on the eve of the 400th anniversary of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I could not be more timely.

To quote Br Rupert McHardy Cong Orat: "The story is always gripping, yet it is told about someone little different from others, except that he knew what his duty was. He and many like him kept the faith alive so that now in the reign of the second Elizabeth we should be free to worship God according to the faith of our fathers."

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