Saint Ambrose Barlow was born at Barlow Hall, the home of his parents in the suburban area of Chorlton-cum-Hardy near the city of Manchester in 1585. Saint Ambrose was born into a well-to-to family being the fourth son of nobleman Sir Alexander Barlow, knight of Barlow Hall, and his wife Mary (Brereton), daughter of Sir Uryan Brereton, knight of Handforth Hall.
Following the suppression of the Roman Catholic Church in England, the Barlow family reluctantly converted to the church of England after Saint Ambrose’s grandfather had died whilst imprisoned for his beliefs the year before, 1584, and after Sir Alexander Barlow had two thirds of his estate confiscated because of his prior refusal to confirm with the new Anglican church rules. Thus on the 30th November 1585, Saint Ambrose was baptised a catholic, Ambrose Edward Barlow at Didsbury parish church but raised as a protestant.
When Saint Ambrose had reached the age of 12 years he was sent to be guided under the stewardship of a relative who would care for him, Sir Uryan Legh, to serve out his apprenticeship as a page. But it was during the completion of his apprenticeship that Saint Ambrose come to realise his true vocation was for the priesthood. Like others in his realisation, Saint Ambrose travelled to the College of Saint Gregory in Douai, France, to study and it was in 1607 that he converted to the Roman Catholic Church. During his time at the College in Douai, Saint Ambrose, on the 20th September 1610, attended the Royal College of Saint Alban in Valladolid, Spain for further knowledge and it was in 1615, at the age of 30 that he returned to Douai where he became a member of the Order of Saint Benedict where his elder brother William Rudesind was a professed monk. It was two years later that Saint Ambrose was ordained a priest in 1617.
After his ordination he returned to England and to Barlow Hall. From there Saint Ambrose met up with Sir Thomas Tyldesley and took up residence at his home, Morleys Hall in Astley. It was while at Morleys Hall that the grandmother of Sir Thomas kindly set up and made available a pension for Saint Ambrose so he could carry out and continue with his duties for the Catholics within their parish. Daily Mass and recitation of the Holy Rosary where secretly carried out.
His mission continued without suspicion mainly due to a cleverly devised time-table Saint Ambrose kept to, where he would travel throughout the parish for four weeks offering Mass and prayers to the Catholic families and then return to his place of residence for five weeks before repeating the cycle again. During this period Saint Ambrose would often visit his cousins, the Downes, at Wardley Hall to secretly offer Mass for any gathered congregation.
As time passed however, Saint Ambrose was arrested a number of times during his four week travel period and it was on the 7th March 1641 when King Charles I signed a proclamation declaring that all Catholic priest being held should be freed, but must leave the country before the 8th April that year, or face being arrested and charged as traitors to the crown and Anglican church, with impending imprisonment or death to follow.
Saint Ambrose’s family, close friends and parishioners begged him to leave the country but he refused and he continued when suggested that he at least go into hiding to avoid the authorities, telling them: “Let them fear that have anything to lose which they are unwilling to part with.” Matters and concerns for Saint Ambrose worsened when, at 56 years of age, he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralysed.
Thus it was on Easter Sunday, on the 25th April 1641, not three weeks after the set deadline for all Catholic priests to leave the country had passed, Saint Ambrose Barlow was to be arrested for the fifth and last time.
Saint Ambrose and his congregation of around 100 people were celebrating Mass at Morleys Hall in Astley, near Manchester when they suddenly found themselves surrounded by some 400 people armed with clubs and swords, a congregation of Anglicans led by the local Anglican Vicar of Leigh. Brave Saint Ambrose humbly surrendered but only if his parishioners were released. The agreement was reached but only for the parishioners to have their names immediately recorded. Saint Ambrose was then taken on horseback, with a man sat behind him to prevent his falling due to the paralysis, and escorted by a band of sixty people to the town of Winwick in Lancashire. There he would be presented before the Justice of the peace. Saint Ambrose would then be transported to Lancaster Castle, a place renowned for ending many Catholic priest missions via execution.
After four months of imprisonment at Lancaster Castle on the 7th September, Saint Ambrose Barlow appeared before the judge, Sir Robert Heath where he strongly defended his actions and continuingly professed his adherence to his Catholic faith. It was the following day, the feast of the Nativity of Mary, September 8th that Sir Robert Heath found the Benedictine Brother guilty and sentenced him to be executed two days later. He was to be taken from Lancaster Castle, drawn along on a hurdle to his place of execution, hanged, drawn and quartered and then boiled in oil. His head was then to be placed upon a pike.
When the sad news of Saint Ambrose Barlow’s death and Martyrdom reached his Benedictine brothers at the Douai Abbey in France a Mass of Thanksgiving and the Te Deum were ordered and sung.
It was on the 15th December 1929 that Pope Pius XI celebrated Father Ambrose’s Beatification at Saint Peter’s Basilica inside the Vatican City and Blessed Ambrose Barlow was canonised by Pope Paul VI on the 25th October 1970 along with 39 others who would become known as the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.
There are many preserved relics of Saint Ambrose Barlow, notably his skull at Wardley Hall, the home of his cousins the Downes family, in a little receptacle on the staircase, and a hand being preserved at Stanbrook Abbey near Worcester.
Saint Ambrose Barlow, please pray for us to have the courage to follow your courageous example.
We pleased to announce that Saint Ambrose Barlow is also included in our ‘Saint of England: Volume One‘ DVD on the Mary’s Dowry Productions Website.
See our full range of items available for Saint Ambrose Barlow.