For the third year running, Westminster Cathedral has moved the feretory containing the body of St John Southworth from the Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs into the nave of the Cathedral for his Feast Day this Sunday, 27 June.
Visitors to Westminster Cathedral are invited to pray around the relics and also to light candles. After his feast day has been celebrated, a group of soldiers will come to the Cathedral to move the feretory back into the chapel.
John Southworth was beatified in 1929 and canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. His relics were enshrined in the Chapel of St George & the English Martyrs in Westminster Cathedral, in recognition of the work that he did for the Catholic community in the Westminster area. This year marks the 40th anniversary of St John Southworth's canonization.
Born in Lancashire in 1592, St. John Southworth was ordained priest in Douai, France, in 1618. Returning to England, Fr John ministered in Westminster, in the area close to where the Cathedral now stands. During the plague of 1636, he tended the sick with outstanding devotion and courage.
After a series of imprisonments for ministering as a Catholic priest, he was apprehended for the final time and sent to be tried at the Old Bailey in 1654. Although encouraged to do so, he would not deny that he was a Catholic priest. Passing the inevitable sentence of death it is said that Serjant Steel, who read out the sentence, wept bitterly.
On 28 June 1654 Southworth was dragged on a hurdle to Tyburn where he was to be hung, drawn and quartered. Unusually Southworth was allowed to wear his vestments at the place of execution and, the executioner having pity for him, he was allowed to hang to death, rather than having to endure the yet more terrible ordeal of being quartered whilst still alive.
His last recorded words which he spoke from the gallows were, "My faith and obedience to my superiors is all the treason charged against me; nay, I die for Christ's law, which no human law, by whomsoever made, ought to withstand or contradict . . . To follow His holy doctrine and imitate His holy death, I willingly suffer at present; this gallows I look upon as His Cross, which I gladly take to follow my Dear Saviour . . . I plead not for myself . . . but for you poor persecuted Catholics whom I leave behind me."
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