Priest and Martyr
The Church in every land has known the witness of martyrs. Today it is the turn of England, one of whose sons, John Stone, accepted death rather than compromise his beliefs. A friar like many others of his day, he stands out from the rest, however, for his extraordinary courage and fidelity to his convictions, all for the sake of the Church's unity and freedom. Here is one man, among many men and women, who honored Jesus' command to "give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God."
Almost everything we know about John Stone regards his imprisonment and death. Presumably he joined the Augustinians at Canterbury, England, where the Order was founded in 1318. In December 1538, a former Dominican, Richard Ingsworth, one of Cromwell’s men, appeared in Canterbury. He closed both the Franciscan and the Dominican houses on December 13th, and the following day appeared at Austin Friars. Each friar had to sign an explicit acknowledgement of Henry VIII as head of the English Church. John refused and made a lengthy attack on Henry’s usurpation of the Church's rights. He was taken prisoner, brought to London to Cromwell, but refused to recant. After a year’s detainment, on October 27, 1539, he was sent to be tried and executed at Canterbury. An eyewitness to his imprisonment testified, “John Stone was invested with the crown of martyrdom at Canterbury. But before that, having poured forth prayers in prison to God and having fasted continuously for three days, he heard a voice, though he saw no one, which addressed him by name and bade him to be of good heart and not to hesitate to suffer death with constancy for the belief which he had professed. From which afterwards he gained such eagerness and strength as never to allow himself by persuasion or terror to be drawn from his purpose.” The date of the execution was probably Saturday, December 27, 1539 amid much publicity. The place of execution was a landmark, called the Dungeon, now renamed Dane John, and from the scaffold John could look down on his former friary. He was hung, but not to death. While still conscious his heart was removed; his head and limbs were severed and parboiled. They were placed over the city gates as a warning to other rebels. John was beatified on December 9, 1886 by Leo XIII. He was canonized by Paul VI with 39 other English martyrs on October 25, 1970.
Though all of us are called to holiness, the paths we take to get there are very different. Many of those proclaimed as saints are noted for their exceptionally virtuous lives. In others, like John, however, many of life’s virtues are hidden and only the heroism of fidelity shines forth, but to such a degree and to such an end, that its validity cannot be misinterpreted. Greater love no one has than to lay down his own life for a Friend!