Archbishop Bernard Longley blessed a plaque in honour of Blessed George Napier, in the Castle Complex, Oxford, on the 400th anniversaery of his Martyrdom, during a Latin Mass Society Pilgrimage on Saturday 23 October.
The Archbishop of Birmingham led a procession of more than 100 pilgrims from the Tower of St Martin’s, Carfax though the hurly-burly of the Saturday afternoon shoppers to the spot near where the Oxford-born priest was hanged on the Castle Gallows for treason in 1610.
The sound of the chant of the Litany of the Saints sung in Latin captured the attention of some of townspeople and tourists along the way on a beautiful sunny but crisp October day as the early autumn leaves turned to a golden brown.
At the Castle, Archbishop Bernard Longley blessed the plaque, erected under the auspices of the Oxford Preservation Trust, and said the prayers. The Te Deum was sung before the pilgrims departed from the Castle complex at the end of a short but poignant and memorable ceremony.
Blessed George Napier was born in Holywell Manor, Oxford in October 1550 and studied at Corpus Christi College. He was ordained at the English College, Douai Abbey in France and was sent to the English mission in 1603.
Father Napier was arrested at Kirtlington, four miles from Woodstock, early in the morning of 19 July 1610, when he had on him a pyx containing two consecrated Hosts. He was executed in Oxford on 9 November 1610. He was beatified in 1929 by Pope Pius XI.
Earlier, Archbishop Bernard Longley sat in choir during a Traditional Solemn High Mass, of the Martyrs of Oxford University, arranged by the Latin Mass Society in the Chapel of Blackfriars in St Giles.
During his homily Archbishop Longley said: “Today we gather as pilgrims to celebrate the Mass of the Martyrs of Oxford University and to commemorate the 400th Anniversary of the martyrdom of Blessed George Napier. As pilgrims we are part of a long tradition of Christians setting out from home on a journey of faith to some place particularly associated with the life of our Lord – of those most closely associated with him as Christian witnesses.
“The life of a pilgrim is touched and transformed through the experience of pilgrimage and of the ways that are linked with the life and witness of the saints we honour. For us this pilgrimage is characterised by the fidelity to the Church and teaching of Christ demonstrated by Blessed George Napier and his companion martyrs – and by the courage of the Holy Spirit at work within them and strengthening them in the final act of love and of witness in this city.”
The Archbishop of Birmingham emphasised: “The lives of our martyrs were taken from them because they adhered to their faith in Christ within the Catholic Church. Their witness is echoed for me whenever we sing the beautiful words of Blessed John Henry Newman: ‘And I hold in veneration, For the love of him alone, Holy Church as his creation, And her teaching as his own.’
Archbishop Bernard Longley concluded: “One month ago an apostolic witness came to strengthen our faith. We continue to benefit from the impact of Pope Benedict’s visit to this diocese. Paradoxically in the time of Blessed George Napier and his companions the role of faith as the foundation of civil society was hardly questioned, yet the liberty to practice faith was narrowly defined.
“Today the Holy Father has reminded us of the importance of faith in strengthening civil society and of the opposition we can encounter. He said: ‘There are some who now seek to exclude religious belief from public discourse, to privatise it or even to paint it as a threat to equality and liberty. Your religion is in fact a guarantee of authentic liberty and respect, leading us to look upon every person as a brother or sister.’”
Singing during the Mass was provided by the Schola Abelis. The schola is named after another Oxford martyr, a Magdalen man who was Queen Katharine of Aragon’s chaplain and music teacher, who died for the faith in London in 1540.
Among the pilgrims who came from near and far for the blessing of the plaque was Clare Smith, Deputy Head of Blessed George Napier School in Banbury. She said: “Every year at the school we celebrate the feast day of Blessed George Napier.