Order of Friars Minor in Great Britain 

Saints and Blessed

 Saints and Blessed of the OFM Custody in Britain

In our long history the Friars Minor of this country have provided the Church with many holy men who served God's Kingdom. 

Below is a brief account of our Friar martyrs whose cult has been approved by the Church.
Among many other accounts, read that written about our martyrs by Fr Nicholas Schofield, a priest of the Archdiocese of Westminster, contemplating the site of the London Greyfriars Monastery near St Paul's Cathedral in 2007: click here to open a pdf.

Blessed Agnellus of Pisa

Dates: 1194? - 1235/6 
Memorial Day: 10th September
Agnellus was probably born around 1194 to a noble Pisan family. He met St. Francis during the latter's preaching tour of Tuscany in 1212. In 1217 Agnellus was sent to found the first friary in Paris, where he later became Custos (responsible for a group of friaries within a province).

At the 1223 General Chapter the friars adopted the plan of establishing themselves in England. Previous experience had taught them that these establishments needed to be well planned and so Agnellus, supported by the Minister Provincial of France, Gregory of Naples, prepared the introduction of the Friars to England with care. He included five Englishmen within the group of 9 friars who, according to the chronicler Thomas of Eccleston, arrived in England on 10th September 1224. 

Leaving a group in Canterbury, the ecclesiastical capital of England, Agnellus went on to found friaries in London and Oxford, the political and intellectual capitals of the country. At Oxford he founded a school at the friary where the brilliant Robert Grosseteste, later Bishop of Lincoln, was the first teacher of the Friars.

His careful planning bore abundant fruit and 23 friaries were founded in the Province by the time of his death. Within 50 years there were 1,500 Friars in the Province of England.
In 1233 Agnellus was an envoy of King Henry III of England to the rebellious Richard Marshall, Earl of Pembroke and in 1234 he was part of a delegation representing the English Bishops at the Roman Curia.

Agnellus died after a short illness at the friary in Oxford on 13th March in either 1235 or 1236. He was buried there before the high altar and, a few years later, his body was found still incorrupt. 

The Oxford friary and church were sadly destroyed during the time of Henry VIII and the site is now only marked by a plaque to Roger Bacon on a wall nearby. It is impossible to verify without an archaeological dig, but many believe that Agnellus is still buried there.

His cult was confirmed by Pope Leo XIII on 30th August 1892 and he is remembered at the altar on 13th March.
Blessed Agnellus of Pisa, first Minister Provincial of the English Province.

Blessed John Duns Scotus

Dates: 1265? - 1308
Memorial Day: 8th November
John was born in Duns in the Scottish Borders, in late 1265 or early 1266. His name signifies that he was John, the Scot from Duns.He was the son of Ninian of Duns. Educated initially in the monastic abbeys of Melrose and Dryburgh, at 13 he began to study at the friary school in Haddington in Berwickshire. His paternal uncle Elias of Duns was elected Custos of Newcastle, which Custody contained all of Scotland, in 1278. At 15, John was admitted to the Order in Dumfries by his uncle, although he was below the canonical age of 18.

Tradition recounts that on Christmas night in 1281, while he was preparing for his religious profession, he had a vision of the Child Jesus appearing in his arms, reflecting and firing his love for Jesus and his Blessed Mother. Having finished his studies, he was ordained a priest at the age of 25, on 17th March 1291 by Oliver Sutton, the Bishop of Lincoln in the Church of St. Andrew in Northampton. He was soon given the faculties to hear confession, which at that time were not given automatically but were reserved to those trusted for their sound doctrine and good advice.

He went on to study in Oxford and then Paris and should have received his promotion as Regent Master in 1303 but was prevented from doing so because he supported Pope Boniface VIII in his conflict with King Philip the Fair of France. John's name is 19th on the list of “non-appellants” who took the Pope's side. He left Paris until the death of Pope Boniface tempered the dispute between the French monarch and the Papacy.

In November 1304 Gonsalvo of Spain, John's former teacher, wrote recommending him to the Friars in Paris. He was received back to studies and on 26th March 1305 became Regent Master of the Franciscan school at the university of Paris. Here he constructed his Christocentric theology in which the incarnation of the Word is presented as the highest of God's works (summum opus Dei), willed from the beginning of creation, rather than as a remedy for sin. His defence of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, is a consequence of this central position of Christ in creation. For Christ to be the perfect mediator of redemption, he must have mediated that redemption perfectly to at least one person. Indeed he did, to his Mother, whom he protected from all stain of sin, even original sin, since it is more perfect to protect from sin altogether than it is to free from sin after it has been contracted. This doctrine he defended in Paris in the first months of 1307.

In July that year he left Paris for Cologne in order to reorganise the Friars' studium there and to combat heresy. His febrile pace of work left him weak and vulnerable to the disease to which he succumbed on 8th November 1308, just 43 years old. Pope John Paul II confirmed the cult of Blessed John Duns Scotus on 20th March 1993. [1]

[1] F. Bracci and A. Pozzebon. Frati Minori Santi e Beati. Rome: Postulazione Generale Ordine dei Frati Minori, 2009. p. 101 – 105.

Blessed John Forest

Dates: 1471 – 1538
Memorial Day: 22nd May
John was born into the noble Forest family, probably in Oxford, in 1471. At seventeen years of age he joined the Observant Friars Minor in Greenwich. He completed his studies at Oxford at the age of 26 and was ordained priest in Greenwich. Cardinal Wolsey gave him the task of preaching in St. Paul's Cross Church and Queen Catherine of Aragon chose him as her chaplain and then confessor. (The Greenwich friary was attached to the Royal Palace of Greenwich). In this role he opposed the divorce that King Henry VIII wanted to obtain from the Queen. In 1532, as Guardian of the Greenwich friary, he spoke to the Friars of the plans the King had to suppress the Order in England and denounced from the pulpit at St. Paul's Cross Henry's plans for a divorce. In 1533 he was imprisoned in Newgate prison and condemned to death. 

In 1534 Henry did indeed suppress the Observant Friars and ordered them dispersed to other friaries. John was released from prison and by 1538 was in confinement in a Conventual Franciscan friary, his death sentence having been neither commuted nor carried out. From this confinement he could correspond with the Queen and he also wrote a tract against Henry entitled: De Auctoritate Ecclesiae et Pontificis Maximi (On the Authority of the Church and the Supreme Pontiff), defending the papal primacy in the Church. He was denounced to the King for this tract and also for refusing to swear the oath of loyalty demanded by Thomas Cromwell. When he refused to admit that his resistance to the King was an error John was burned over a slow fire on 22nd May 1538 in Smithfield Market. He died praying for his enemies.

John Forest was the only Catholic martyr to be burned at the stake, all the others were hanged. His cult was approved by Pope Leo XIII on 9th December 1886. [1]

[1] F. Bracci and A. Pozzebon. Frati Minori Santi e Beati. Rome: Postulazione Generale Ordine dei Frati Minori, 2009. p. 228-229. Cf. Thaddeus. The Life of Blessed John Forest. London: 1888.

Saint John (Godfrey) Jones

Dates: 1530? - 1598
Memorial Day: 12th July
John Jones was born to a Catholic family in Clymag Faur in the county of Carnaervon in Wales around the year 1530. In his youth Queen Mary Tudor accomplished the restoration of the Catholic Church after the brief reign of Edward VI had taken the Church of England into the Calvinist fold. Mary's accession had allowed the English friars who had fled into exile to Flanders and Scotland to return and in April 1555 the friary at Greenwich, in which Mary and Elizabeth had been baptised, was reopened. John joined the friary and took the name Godfrey Maurice, becoming known for his piety. At Mary's untimely death in 1558, however, her half-sister Elizabeth assumed the throne and it was not long before Catholics were once more persecuted in England. John Jones, although still a novice was forced to flee to France. The English Observant Franciscans fled to a friary in Pontoise where John was professed and trained. He was probably ordained a priest at Rheims, where there was another friary of the exiled English Province. 

Towards 1590 John was sent to the friary of Ara Coeli in Rome, the general headquarters of the Order. From there he wished to return to England to take part in the mission to care for faithful Catholics, who risked their livelihoods and often their lives to sustain their missionary priests. The priests themselves were subject to the gruesome death of hanging, drawing and quartering as traitors for the simple fact of exercising their priesthood. John begged an audience with the Pope and Clement VIII embraced him, gave him a solemn blessing and told him: “Go, because I believe you to be a true son of Saint Francis. Pray to God for me and for his holy Church."

In England John Jones exercised an heroic hidden ministry, animating the Catholic faith among recusants [1] and prudently seeking to reconcile those who had submitted to Elizabeth's Church of England. The existence of a missionary priest in England was one of frequent moves, constant vigilance and continued flight from Elizabeth's vigilant secret services, supervised by William Cecil and Francis Walsingham.  

Despite his care, John Jones was caught in late 1595 or early 1596 by Richard Topcliffe, who nurtured a cruel hatred for the Catholic faith and was sanctioned by the Queen to maintain a private torture chamber in his house for the Catholic priests he apprehended. John Jones was accused of being a spy and sent to the notorious Clink prison, from which we derive the expression “being in clink”. There he languished for nigh on two years awaiting trial. In prison Jones continued his ministry and converted many, including Saint John Rigby, who was himself martyred two years after John Jones (on 21st June 1600).

On 3rd July 1598 John Jones was finally brought to trial for having exercised his ministry as a Catholic priest in England. He was sentenced to hanging, drawing and quartering at Saint Thomas Watering, but was meanwhile imprisoned at Marshalsea prison. The Jesuit Henry Garnet recounts in a letter that on 12th July 1598 John was tied to a trellis and dragged to the place of his torment. He was held there for an hour before execution during which time Topcliffe harangued the crowd with his supposed crimes. Garnet recounts that the crowd was touched more by John's prayers than by the calumnies of his torturer and executioner. His remains were hung up on the road between Newington and Lambeth. [2]

With John Wall and 38 other English martyrs, John Jones was beatified by Pope Pius XI on 15th December 1929 and canonised by Pope Paul VI on 25th October 1970.

[1] Catholics who did not submit to Elizabeth's Church were forced to pay a tax and refused the right to hold any office in the land (rather like the Christian dhimmi in lands controlled by Muslims). Because they refused to take communion at Easter in their local parish churches, they were deemed to “recuse themselves” from the church and were thus recorded as “Recusants.” This title became a badge of pride for Catholic families who refused to submit over the centuries. Some Catholics conformed outwardly, so avoiding the tax, while retaining a spiritual resistance. These latter were termed “Church Papists” because although they outwardly conformed to the Church of England, inwardly they still retained their allegiance to and communion with the Church of Rome. Many think that Shakespeare was such a “Church Papist”. Often a Catholic husband would conform so as to avoid the household paying taxes, while his wife would recuse and bring up the children as Catholics.

[2] F. Bracci and A. Pozzebon. Frati Minori Santi e Beati. Rome: Postulazione Generale Ordine dei Frati Minori, 2009. p. 261-2.

St John (Godfrey) Jones depicted (while still Blessed) to the left in a window above the High Altar in the Franciscan church at Chilworth, while St John Wall below (who took the name Joachim of St Anne) is depicted on the right (also while still Blessed).

Saint John (Joachim) Wall

Dates: 1620 – 1679
Memorial Day: 12th July
John Wall was born in 1620, probably at Chingle Hall, near Preston in Lancashire. As a young man he entered the English College in Douai where he was taught by the famous Dr. Kellison. In 1641 he transferred to the English College in Rome, where he was ordained a priest in 1645. After a brief spell as a missionary in England he returned to Douai and asked to enter the Franciscan College of St. Bonaventure which John Gennings had erected there in his restoration of the Franciscan Province of England. In January 1651 he was accepted into the Order and took the name Joachim of St. Anne. Five Friars from that friary had already been martyred.

John Joachim, although only 6 months professed was appointed Guardian of the college and later master of novices. In 1656 he assumed the false name Francis Webb and re-entered England as a missionary in Worcestershire. He remained there for 22 years ministering to the Catholics of the area. In 1678 he went to London to meet the Jesuit Claude de la Colombière, and the two spoke together of their desire for martyrdom. The context of this meeting was the renewed persecution that was unleashed in the wake of the incriminating lies of Titus Oates and his invented Catholic plot against King Charles II.

Returning from this encounter, John was staying with a friend in Rushock Court. There he was mistaken for one of the so-called plotters, Francis Johnson, and arrested. When he refused to swear to the religious supremacy of the King, he was imprisoned for five months of dreadful suffering. At the end of this time, on 25th April 1679, he was condemned to death for high treason, since he was a priest who had been ordained abroad and returned to exercise his ministry in contravention to the Elizabethan anti-Catholic laws. He argued in vain that Charles II's amnesty of 1660 should have covered him, as indeed it should. Instead he was sent to London to be interrogated by Oates, Bedloe, Dugdale and Pranse. He was found innocent of the accusation of complicity in the “Papist Plot” but because of his priestly ordination and ministry, his death sentence was nevertheless confirmed and he was sent back to Worcester, where he was hanged on 22nd August 1679. 

His fellow Friar William Leveson, whose own brother Francis Leveson would himself be martyred at the age of 34 in 1680, looked after John Wall in his last days in prison. He recounted the condemnation and death of the martyr in a letter. John Wall's body was buried in the cemetery of the church of St. Oswald in Worcester, and his head returned to Douai, where it was venerated as a holy relic.

Along with John Jones and 38 other English martyrs John Wall was beatified by Pius XI on 15th December 1929 and canonised by Paul VI on 25th October 1970.

St John (Joachim of St Anne) Wall

Blessed Thomas (John Baptist) Bullaker

Dates: 1604 – 1642
Memorial Day: 12th July
Thomas was born in Midhurst in Sussex in 1604, the son of a Catholic doctor. At 18 he was sent to study with the Jesuits in Saint Omer, Flanders, from where he went on to the English seminary in Valladolid in Spain. He was accepted into the novitiate of the Franciscan Province of the Immaculate Conception in Abrojo and given the name John Baptist. He continued his studies in Valladolid and then went onto Avila and Segovia, where he was ordained in 1628.

He hoped to be sent on a mission in America but was given an obedience to return to his native land. He walked across Spain and France in secular clothes so that he would not be recognised as a priest and took ship in Bordeaux. In early 1631 he landed at Plymouth, but rather than being able to take up his mission, he was immediately arrested, betrayed by the captain of the ship he had taken. He was imprisoned in Exeter but, in a period of relative religious peace, let out on bail. He joined his English Franciscan confreres and was made titular guardian of Oxford, then of Chichester and became the Provincial Secretary. In 1638 persecution began again in earnest and he elected to remain in England, where he served the prisoners and sick in prison and hospital. On Sunday 11th September 1642 he was recognised by the apostate Wadsworth and led to prison and then to trial. After his condemnation he sang a Te Deum in recognition of the great honour he had to give his life for Christ. On 12th October 1642 he was taken from his cell in Newgate prison, tied to a trellis, to be executed at Tyburn. There he spoke to the crowds of the dignity of Christ's priesthood, was absolved by a brother Friar present in the crowd, and then, finally, hanged. [1]

Thomas Bullaker was beatified along with 129 other martyrs of England and Wales on 22nd November 1987 by Pope John Paul II.

[1] Ibid. p. 302-3.

Thomas Bullaker

Blessed Henry (Paul) Heath

Dates: 1600 – 1643
Memorial Day: 12th July
Henry Heath was born to Anglican parents in Peterborough. He undertook university studies in Cambridge where he was noted for his piety and perspicacity in religious matters. After gaining his degree he was appointed University Librarian which gave him the opportunity to read Catholic and Protestant authors on the matters of greatest concern to his faith. His reading of the Church Fathers led him to seek reconciliation with the Catholic Church.

He then moved to London and on to Douai in Flanders. There he met the Friars of the Province of England who had opened St. Bonaventure College and Friary there in 1618. He asked to join them. The founder of the college and Provincial Commissary [1], John Gennings, was understandably wary about accepting him. Henry was a recent convert and the English secret service was apt to use fake converts to gain information on those training for the mission. Henry convinced Gennings of the authenticity of his faith and so was admitted to the novitiate in 1623 or 1624 at the age of 24. He was given the name Paul of St. Magdalen. His penitential life of fasting and extended contemplation gained him the respect of his confreres and he was known for his devotion to the crucified Jesus and his holy Mother. He was ordained a priest and became in turn guardian, novice master, a lecturer in theology known for his Scotism, then Provincial Commissary of Flanders where he promoted the Recollect reform.

When persecution broke out once more in England, after the defeat of Charles I in the English Civil War, he asked to return home to support his suffering brothers and compatriots. At London he was mistaken for a criminal and arrested but when it was discovered that he was a priest he was condemned to death and confined in Newgate prison. There he continued to give consolation to his Catholic compatriots and heard confessions until on 17th April 1643 he was led to Tyburn and hanged. As he was led to the scaffold the prayer heard on his lips was: “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit”. [2]

Henry Heath was beatified along with 129 other martyrs of England and Wales on 22nd November 1987 by Pope John Paul II.

[1] After the Elizabethan dispersion and the closure of Greenwich friary, the Province had no place to rest its head. John Gennings was received into the Province by William Stanney, the last of the Marian Friars, who passed him the seal of the Province and the task of reviving its fortunes. This Gennings did by returning to Douai and recruiting students from the English seminary there. These students had been sent to Ypres to perform their novitiate under the great Flemish Recollect Franciscan reformer Peter Marchant. When these recruits returned to Douai, the College of St. Bonaventure was established and the Province of England was able to recruit and train Friars once more. 

Gennings was named Commissary of the Province, to govern it until such time as it would be strong enough to hold a Chapter once more and elect a Minister Provincial. This was done in 1628 and Gennings was elected Minister Provincial. At this point the Province adopted as its patron, Mary, Immaculately Conceived. From then on it was known as the Immaculate Conception Province of England (Provincia Angliae Immaculatae Conceptionis).

[2] F. Bracci and A. Pozzebon. Frati Minori Santi e Beati. Rome: Postulazione Generale Ordine dei Frati Minori, 2009. p. 303-4.

Henry Heath

Blessed Arthur (Francis) Bell

Dates: 1590 – 1643
Memorial Day: 12th July
Arthur Bell was born at Temple Broughton in Worcestershire on 13th August 1590 and brought up in a Catholic family. After beginning his education at his mother, Dorothy's knee, he was sent for its continuation to his maternal uncle, a gentleman in Suffolk. At the age of 24 he went to Saint Omer to study with the Jesuits who then sent him on to Valladolid in Spain. There he was ordained a priest on 14th April 1618.

He discovered the Franciscans through a friend from Oxford who had joined the Friars. Inspired by his life of penitence and simplicity, Arthur sought entry to the Franciscans and on 9th August 1618 was vested with the Franciscan habit, given the name Francis and sent to the newly erected College of St. Bonaventure in Douai to join his compatriots. There he became Guardian and later a Provincial Definitor. In 1632 he became Minister Provincial and attended the Toledo General Chapter in 1633, where the German and Belgian Provinces, including the newly restored Province of England, passed the strict General Constitutions that would govern them until the late 19th Century.

He returned to England in 1634 and spent nine years working to consolidate the presence of the Friars and sustain the faith of his fellow Catholics. He was captured on 7th November 1643 in Hertford. He was tried before Parliament in a trial that lasted from 22nd November to the 8th December. Condemned, he was imprisoned in Newgate prison from where he was taken for execution at Tyburn just three days later. The serenity with which Arthur faced his death convinced his executioner to renounce his Anglicanism and reconcile to the Catholic Church. [1]

Arthur Bell was beatified along with 129 other martyrs of England and Wales on 22nd November 1987 by Pope John Paul II.

[1] Ibid. p. 304-5.

Arthur Bell

Blessed John (Martin) Woodcock

Dates: 1603 – 1646
Memorial Day: 12th July
John Woodcock was born to a “Church Papist” Anglican father in 1603 at Woodcock Hall in Lancashire. [1] He was sent to Saint Omer to study with the Jesuits there and after finishing his humanities studies he was sent to Rome to complete his theological formation. There he no doubt met the Irish Franciscans who took over at the College of St. Isidore in the same year. He asked to enter the Capuchins but was dismissed from their novitiate after a few months, perhaps because of precarious health. He wandered around Europe aimlessly for three years until he arrived in Douai. There his desire to be a Franciscan was realised when he entered the novitiate of the Friars Minor in 1631. He was given the name Martin of St. Felix and made great progress both in his studies and in sanctity.
He was ordained a priest just four years later in 1635. He went to England on the mission but, after a few years, was forced to return on account of his ill health. His medics sent him to the baths at Spa to recuperate and he there met the Observant General Commissary. [2] He begged permission to return to England where Catholics were suffering renewed persecution in the Puritan-led Commonwealth. The Commissary gave him permission and John set out, landing in Newcastle in 1644. He went to his paternal home, but his father, fearful for the safety of his son, since many would have known that he had spent years abroad and studied for the priesthood, sent him away. The soldiers of the local garrison had, however, already been informed of his arrival and he was arrested immediately and imprisoned in Lancaster Castle, where he lived for two years. He was martyred on 7th August 1646, hanged at Lancaster Castle while he exhorted the crowd to understand why he had been condemned. [3] 

John Woodcock was beatified along with 129 other martyrs of England and Wales on 22nd November 1987 by Pope John Paul II.

[1] The facts of John's life indicate his father was not truly conformed to the Church of England but was instead a “Church Papist”, that is one who conformed outwardly to Anglicanism in order to avoid the heavy taxes for recusancy, but retained his Catholic faith and supported his Catholic wife in raising their children as Catholics. Although this expediency was condemned by Church authorities it was a means by which many Catholic families accommodated themselves to the difficult situation of persecution in their homeland.

[2] The Order was divided administratively into two families, the Ultramontane family that comprised the provinces north of the Alps (ultra-montane means “beyond the mountains” when viewed from Rome) and the Cismontane family that included all the Italian provinces (cis-montane = “this side of the mountains”). When there was a Minister General from the Cismontane family, the Ultramontane family was governed by an Ultramontane General Commissary and it was to the holder of this post that John appealed.

[3] F. Bracci and A. Pozzebon. Frati Minori Santi e Beati. Rome: Postulazione Generale Ordine dei Frati Minori, 2009. p. 304-5.

John Woodcock

Blessed Charles Meehan-Mahoney

Dates: 1639 – 1679
Memorial Day: 12th July
Charles was born in Ireland between 1639 and 1640. It is not known when he joined the Irish Province but, like several other Irish Friars of the time, he completed his formation with the English Friars in their college at Douai. In 1679 he was aboard a ship bound for Ireland which was forced to put into port in Wales. He came ashore at precisely the wrong time, since England and Wales were engulfed in the anti-Catholic hysteria aroused by Titus Oates's invented Papist Plot. Charles searched for a passage to Ireland, but, suspected of being a Catholic and a priest, he was arrested and in June 1678, imprisoned in Denbigh jail. He was tried in Spring 1679 and was condemned to be killed at Ruthin. The sentence was carried out on 12th August. He died saying: “Since God has pleased to give me the grace of martyrdom, blessed be his Holy Name.” [1]

Charles Meehan was beatified along with 129 other martyrs of England and Wales on 22nd November 1987 by Pope John Paul II.

[1] Ibid. p. 305-6.

Imprisoned monks chained and bound to pillar
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