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Seattle Catholic
A Journal of Catholic News and Views
7 Sep 2004

Icon of St. Edmund Campion

by T. Renee Kozinski

Icon of St. Edmund Campion

[click to enlarge]

English Martyr, 1 December 1581

St. Edmund Campion is probably the most well-known of the English Martyrs; but his fame does not stand out alone; rather it draws attention to the many other Catholic martyrs of those years at Tyburn. The blood of the torn bodies of these lovers of Our Lord soaked the English soil upon which the darkness of heresy was growing. The dead tree of Tyburn, paralleling the dead wood of the cross at Calvary, became a tree of life for England; it is a true daughter of the Cross.

England is now a secular, neo-pagan land. The dead kings and queens who lie in Westminster, especially the mortal remains of Elizabeth I and Mary Tudor in their twin chapels, would never have imagined what would have become of their once fervently religious nation. Perhaps St. Thomas More would not be so surprised, and neither would St. Edmund Campion. Both brilliant scholars, they would have been far-seeing enough to know that the advent of "Cranmer's Lord's Table" signaled, not the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but a deeper and greater downfall for the life of England. Where there is no Sacrifice, there is no life; but there is still hope because of the martyrs of Tyburn.

In the middle of a traffic island, near Hyde Park and the Marble Arch, today's Catholic stands, forlornly staring at a small plaque set unceremoniously in the cement: "The Site of Tyburn Tree" is all it says, with a small cross — the only, and perhaps best, indication of what Tyburn Tree was to England. With cars whizzing by on all sides, it is truly an island in the middle of a world self-shorn of its true purpose: to love and serve the Lord, to become Little Christs. Yet this is what the martyrs of Tyburn Tree did; they gave their hearts, quite literally, and their blood (probably most of the blood in their bodies) rained quietly down into the dirt below the gallows as the darkness of death slowly clouded their eyes. The shouting, the cursing, the cries and the many Catholic eyes that glimmered in both rapture and grief faded, and the shabby curtain on this world tore in two.

They gave everything, except what they could not give, and that was returned to God. But I can't believe that St. Edmund and the other martyrs have forgotten their earthly patria. The evidence of this is the existence of a convent dedicated to them, and its dedication to being a light in England. More evidence is the miraculous conversions of the likes of Cardinal Newman, Chesterton, Tolkien (through his mother's conversion), and many others, famous and anonymous alike, who joyously faced opposition and ostracization, persecution and ridicule, all for the love of Our Lord.

The Icon

The general artistic theme of the work is inspired by the amazing and prayerful work of the monks who created the Book of Kells. The intricacies and apparently labyrinthine designs belie a wondrously ordered web of connections. Picturing the faithful monks of early Catholic Ireland, painstakingly painting the knots and various illuminations of faith, is to understand the work of prayer, especially intercessory prayer. Celtic design is, to me, symbolic of the prayer of a martyred saint for his earthly patria.

In the center, St. Edmund Campion is pictured with the tools of martyrdom, the noose and the blade. He was drawn by hurdle through the dirty streets of London. At Tyburn, he was hung until partially dead, then brought down and sliced open. His beating heart was torn from his body, and his entrails drawn out. He died. His body was then chopped into pieces, and scattered to different places all over the city. One could say his blood watered all of that sad city. The martyr directly after him, St. Ralph Sherwin, kissed St. Edmund's blood still on the hands of the executioner and then went to his own torture.

The play on darkness and light behind and in front of St. Edmund are symbolic of his being a light in the darkness which was oppressed Catholic England at that time. St. Edmund is surrounded by the planks of Tyburn tree. Upon the planks are the words in Latin: "Jesu, Jesu, be to me a Jesus"; "Jesus, convert England"; and "Mary, pray for our country." Some of these sentiments are taken from quotes of the different Tyburn martyrs.

Out from the ends of the beams come rings, dressed in the purple of kingship (Christ our King), and the red of blood (martyrdom). The topmost ring surrounds the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The martyrs had their hearts ripped from their bodies, and the "best blood," that is, the blood of the heart, was given to the glory of God. Providentially, the nuns of the Tyburn Convent are the "Adorers of the Sacred Heart." The quote, "Hearken to those who would spend the best blood in their bodies for your salvation" is taken from Campion's Brag (see below), the speech so derisively named by his enemies; the speech which was given to the Queen's Council, the members of which condemned him at the farcical trial.

The second ring on the lower left surrounds a painting of Montmartre, crowned by the magnificent Sacre Coeur, or Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris, France. Here is another strange twist of Providence. Montmartre was the place where St. Ignatius and his small band of followers took their first vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Montmartre is the birthplace of the Jesuits, of which St. Edmund was a golden flower. Montmartre was also the birthplace of The Benedictine Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Montmartre, or the nuns of Tyburn Convent. Also, during St. Edmund's time, many of the young English Catholic men who wished to give their lives to succor the suffering Catholics in England found themselves succor, education, and holy orders in France. In the sky behind Montmartre are more of the words from Campion's Brag, pertaining to those young men and to the Adorers of the Sacred Heart (some of their posterity). The ring around this picture portrays two grey wolves, rampant, and a fleur de lis. The fleur de lis is for France, and the wolves rampant (in heraldic terms) is from the family crest of Loyola, in honor of Loyola's glorious fruit, St. Ignatius.

The third and last ring is of sadness, hope, and conflict. Pictured within the confines of the ring is Tyburn Tree. There are the nooses and the garland of red roses. In some accounts, it is described that the martyr's tree would be adorned as for a wedding feast, a celebration of the martyr's impending meeting with the Bridegroom of Souls. The English people watch and wait in expectation, while the sky is black, symbolic of the darkness of heresy and injustice covering the land. St. Edmund's coat of arms is as the sun in the sky. The coat of arms is a sun with the IHS, the name of Jesus as witnessed to by the martyrs as the only hope for England to escape the darkness. The lion in the ring surrounding the picture is the great lion of England, part of the heraldry of English kings for centuries. During the time of Elizabeth, the royal coat of arms had a lion and a dragon, instead of the more familiar unicorn of later days. The dragon probably referred to the Welsh dragon, as Henry VI was related to the Lancasters from the Welsh side of the family. The dragons in this icon, facing inward upon themselves and tied in knots, are symbolic of heresy, as dragons are traditionally deceitful and bloodthirsty (the great dragon in the early Saxon Beowulf comes to mind). The lion, symbolic of real, Catholic England, Isle of Saints, and the Lion of Judah (Christ) is extending his claws, rampant, ready to strike down the dragons.

But he is only one—they have two. Will he win? Again, in our Christian faith we know that God gives strength to the lonely, the humble, the bruised, and to the victim; but for a time, He allows the enemy to seem to have the upper hand. Who now would have hope for a Catholic England? But we are a people of hope, and so the blue cinque-foils represent loyalty and truth; and the flower symbolizes hope. The wheat sheaves symbolize that the harvest of one's hopes has been secured. The gold of the wheat is for generosity. All of these relate to the gifts given us by the Martyrs of Tyburn Tree.

The icon of St. Edmund Campion is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to the Tyburn Convent (the Benedictine Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Montmartre) and its foundress, Mother Mary of St. Peter, in the hope of the conversion of England back to her Catholic roots, and to the restoration of the Jesuits.

St. Edmund Campion, pray for us!


Campion's "Brag"

To the Right Honourable, the Lords of Her Majesty's Privy Council:

Whereas I have come out of Germany and Bohemia, being sent by my superiors, and adventured myself into this noble realm, my dear country, for the glory of God and benefit of souls, I thought it like enough that, in this busy, watchful, and suspicious world, I should either sooner or later be intercepted and stopped of my course.

Wherefore, providing for all events, and uncertain what may become of me, when God shall haply deliver my body into durance, I supposed it needful to put this in writing in a readiness, desiring your good lordships to give it your reading, for to know my cause. This doing, I trust I shall ease you of some labour. For that which otherwise you must have sought for by practice of wit, I do now lay into your hands by plain confession. And to the intent that the whole matter may be conceived in order, and so the better both understood and remembered, I make thereof these nine points or articles, directly, truly and resolutely opening my full enterprise and purpose.

i. I confess that I am (albeit unworthy) a priest of the Catholic Church, and through the great mercy of God vowed now these eight years into the religion [religious order] of the Society of Jesus. Hereby I have taken upon me a special kind of warfare under the banner of obedience, and also resigned all my interest or possibility of wealth, honour, pleasure, and other worldly felicity.

ii. At the voice of our General, which is to me a warrant from heaven and oracle of Christ, I took my voyage from Prague to Rome (where our General Father is always resident) and from Rome to England, as I might and would have done joyously into any part of Christendom or Heatheness, had I been thereto assigned.

iii. My charge is, of free cost to preach the Gospel, to minister the Sacraments, to instruct the simple, to reform sinners, to confute errors-in brief, to cry alarm spiritual against foul vice and proud ignorance, wherewith many of my dear countrymen are abused.

iv. I never had mind, and am strictly forbidden by our Father that sent me, to deal in any respect with matter of state or policy of this realm, as things which appertain not to my vocation, and from which I gladly restrain and sequester my thoughts.

v. I do ask, to the glory of God, with all humility, and under your correction, three sorts of indifferent and quiet audiences: the first, before your Honours, wherein I will discourse of religion, so far as it toucheth the common weal and your nobilities: the second, whereof I make more account, before the Doctors and Masters and chosen men of both universities, wherein I undertake to avow the faith of our Catholic Church by proofs innumerable-Scriptures, councils, Fathers, history, natural and moral reasons: the third, before the lawyers, spiritual and temporal, wherein I will justify the said faith by the common wisdom of the laws standing yet in force and practice.

vi. I would be loath to speak anything that might sound of any insolent brag or challenge, especially being now as a dead man to this world and willing to put my head under every man's foot, and to kiss the ground they tread upon. Yet I have such courage in avouching the majesty of Jesus my King, and such affiance in his gracious favour, and such assurance in my quarrel, and my evidence so impregnable, and because I know perfectly that no one Protestant, nor all the Protestants living, nor any sect of our adversaries (howsoever they face men down in pulpits, and overrule us in their kingdom of grammarians and unlearned ears) can maintain their doctrine in disputation. I am to sue most humbly and instantly for combat with all and every of them, and the most principal that may be found: protesting that in this trial the better furnished they come, the better welcome they shall be.

vii. And because it hath pleased God to enrich the Queen my Sovereign Lady with notable gifts of nature, learning, and princely education, I do verily trust that if her Highness would vouchsafe her royal person and good attention to such a conference as, in the second part of my fifth article I have motioned, or to a few sermons, which in her or your hearing I am to utter such manifest and fair light by good method and plain dealing may be cast upon these controversies, that possibly her zeal of truth and love of her people shall incline her noble Grace to disfavour some proceedings hurtful to the realm, and procure towards us oppressed more equity.

viii. Moreover I doubt not but you, her Highness' Council, being of such wisdom and discreet in cases most important, when you shall have heard these questions of religion opened faithfully, which many times by our adversaries are huddled up and confounded, will see upon what substantial grounds our Catholic Faith is builded, how feeble that side is which by sway of the time prevaileth against us, and so at last for your own souls, and for many thousand souls that depend upon your government, will discountenance error when it is bewrayed [revealed], and hearken to those who would spend the best blood in their bodies for your salvation. Many innocent hands are lifted up to heaven for you daily by those English students, whose posterity shall never die, which beyond seas, gathering virtue and sufficient knowledge for the purpose, are determined never to give you over, but either to win you heaven, or to die upon your pikes. And touching our Society, be it known to you that we have made a league-all the Jesuits in the world, whose succession and multitude must overreach all the practice of England-cheerfully to carry the cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments, or consumed with your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God; it cannot be withstood. So the faith was planted: So it must be restored.

ix. If these my offers be refused, and my endeavours can take no place, and I, having run thousands of miles to do you good, shall be rewarded with rigour. I have no more to say but to recommend your case and mine to Almighty God, the Searcher of Hearts, who send us his grace, and see us at accord before the day of payment, to the end we may at last be friends in heaven, when all injuries shall be forgotten.

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