English Catholic martyrs
in Making and remaking saints in nineteenth-century Britain
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This chapter engages with responses to the beatification in 1886 of a number of English Catholics executed during the Reformation era, as a means of exploring their significance to Catholic culture and to Protestant-Catholic relations. It examines the reporting of the beatifications in the Press, as well as pamphlet publications and architecture, especially the imposing Our Lady and the English Martyrs’ Church in Cambridge. All were used to express, and to create, pride in the martyr ‘heritage’ of the English Catholic Church. This was so important because although the individuals promoting the martyrs’ cause were mainly clerical, scholarly, and often convert Catholics, they sought to embed devotion among a Catholic population that was mostly lay, socially comprehensive, and in large part ethnically Irish. Controversy surrounding the English Catholic martyrs also draws attention to tensions within Catholicism, between Ultramontanism and a self-consciously ‘English’ Catholicism: the martyrs were canonised as exemplars of loyalty to papal authority, yet they enabled English Catholics to celebrate saints of their own ‘native soil’. More broadly speaking, as we shall see, the martyrs were magnets for those concerned with the theological and ecclesiological questions of the late nineteenth century. They enabled Catholics, at least, to reclaim England’s past from dominant Protestant narratives.

Editor: Gareth Atkins

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