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Any visitor to Westminster Cathedral in London today will almost always discover the glass coffin containing the body of English Martyr Saint John Southworth in the chapel of Saint George and the English Martyrs.
Saint John Southworth was a Catholic priest in 17th century England and the only Martyr to be executed for the Catholic Faith and his Catholic priesthood during the rule of Oliver Cromwell.
Saint John came from a good Catholic family in Lancashire who chose to pay hefty fines to the government rather than give up the persecuted Catholic Faith. He was called to the sacred priesthood so travelled secretly abroad. Saint John Southworth was ordained a Catholic priest at the English College in Douai and entered England as an illegal Catholic missionary priest, determined to take the outlawed Sacraments and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to the persecuted English people.
The City of Westminster in London was the missionary ground chosen by Our Lord for his faithful friend and servant Father John Southworth to minister to the countless persecuted and suffering souls of 17th Century anti-Catholic England.
Captured, arrested and banished, Saint John promptly returned back into the country and continued his zealous missionary work. He was arrested again and imprisoned with Saint Edmund Arrowsmith, a fellow missionary priest and martyr and was able to hear Saint Edmund’s confession and give him absolution from the window of his cell as Saint Edmund was led away to be executed for his Catholic priesthood.
Banished again, Saint John Southworth was swiftly back in England and continued his work, spending an incredible twenty-five years moving between secret lodgings in and around Westminster, sometimes living in the slums among the destitute.
He especially worked with the plague-victims of London, ignoring the large red crosses placed over people’s houses by the masked plague-doctors and entering the homes of Catholics and Protestants alike. He was a fierce defender of the Catholic Faith and deeply pious, edifying everyone he met.
When the King was executed and Saint John Southworth arrested yet again, he was this time sentenced to death for his Catholic priesthood under the rule of Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector.
At the Tyburn gallows, Saint John Southworth delivered a magnificent speech and joyfully gave his life. His body is now venerated in a Shrine in Westminster Cathedral, London, in the area he had ministered for most of his life. Saint John Southworth was canonised one of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales.
Learn about the inspiring life and missions of Saint John Southworth in this film set during the dangerous Penal Times in England.
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