Some time ago, the parish was left a bequest to develop a shrine dedicated to the fifteen Lancaster Martyrs. Few towns in the world can boast of so many martyrs, and yet we make so little of them. In the first half of the twentieth century, several thousand of the faithful would gather on the martyrs field above the Cathedral to remember those that died in the sixteenth and seventeenth for their love of the Church: priests like Fr Edmund Arrowsmith or Fr Thomas Whittaker, but also simple folk, weavers and yeomen, who hid priests and refused to disavow the faith, and about whom we know precious little else. It’s great to see some good old Lancashire names amongst the martyrs: Wrennall, Thwing, Bamber, Hurst, Nutter, and the like. These are our martyrs, martyrs of the Catholic Church, and they intercede for us, and we can pray to them to ask them for help in our efforts to witness to Christ in our times.
The icon of the Lancaster Martyrs is being written by Martin Earle who assisted in the fresco of the Transfiguration at the University of Lancaster Catholic Chaplaincy (see above). Hopefully it will be with completed by the middle of the Summer, but we thought you would like to see the process by which it is coming into being.
At the centre of the tryptych (3-part panel) is an image of the Holy Family: the patron of our parish, St Joseph, with Mary and Jesus. On either side of the tryptych are the martyrs. The priests are identified by their religious garb or the vestments that they wear; they are all holding a different symbol of the 7 sacraments: Fr Bell has a scallop shell around his neck to remind us of baptism (often scallop shells are used to pour water on those that are being baptised), Fr Whitaker is holding the chalice (which is kept at Claughton on Brock parish), representing the Mass, Fr Thules is holding a bottle of oil for Confirmation and for the Last Rites, Fr Bamber is wearing a purple stole for Confession, Fr Arrowsmith is bearing two rings on a cushion, representing marriage, and the fact that he was handed over to his pursuivants by a couple who were not honouring the bond, and Fr Thwing is resting his hand on the shoulder of Fr Nutter with the maniple on his arm, representing Holy Orders.
In time, the finished icon will have red Lancashire roses around the bottom, reminding us of the blood of the martyrs and also the thorns that pierced Jesus in his passion, and there will be representations of local wildlife: curlews, oyster catchers and peewits, all familiar birds to our coastal town, linking the martyrs to us today.
The photos below detail the progress made so far (end of May 2019). Watch this space for further developments…