I'm posting this early because 1 December is 'Martyrs' Day,' the Feast of the Martyrs of the Venerable English College, Rome (my alma mater) and a day of several celebrations around the country (normally involving Holy Mass, a huge meal and lots of Italian digestivi). It's a wonderful start to a very festal month, which also includes the Immaculate Conception, my birthday and, of course, the Christmas Octave.
The feast is comparatively recent. From what I can tell, it dates to the rectorship of Mgr (later Cardinal) William Godfrey, who later wrote:
Sherwin, Walpole, Morse, Hart, Buxton, Lewis and all the rest of the gallant company seemed to me to live again in those young men who were my fellow students, or who, in the days when I was Rector, were given to me to be led to the same priesthood and to the same altar and sacrifice. Together we kept the anniversaries of those brave servants of Christ who were men of our own house. We placed flowers and lights before the picture of the Blessed Trinity which the martyrs themselves had venerated. We asked the Holy Father to grant us a special feast of our College martyrs on December 1, the day of Ralph Sherwin’s passion. The special Mass and Office which we submitted were approved, and the feast of the Venerabile Martyrs, celebrated as a Festa nel coro e nel refettorio, broughtI fondly remember the Martyrs' Days I spent in Rome. It was a day off lectures (at least unofficially), and most of our time was spent in the refectory (eating), in the Cardinals Corridor (drinking) and, most importantly, in the chapel (where we celebrated Mass and then, in the early evening, recited Vespers, venerated the relics of the martyrs and chanted a Te Deum in their honour). O felix Roma!
us a peculiar domestic joy beyond all telling… While fingering the pages of our own Liber ruber [College register, sanctified by the blood of the martyrs - hence the name] we did not think that other books of the same kind were being made and that the day would come when the simple words Martyr factus est might be written alongside the names of men with whom we conversed in the halls of the Gregorian University, and whom we saw with books under their arms treading the Roman streets or walking on the Pincio in the evening sunshine. Yet it was so.
I've always had a special devotion to the College's proto-martyr, St Ralph Sherwin (see picture above), who not only studied at the Venerabile but also my old College in Oxford - Exeter College. He was arrested shortly after returning to England and was hanged, drawn and quartered, together with SS Edmund Campion and Alexander Briant, at Tyburn on 1 December 1581. He was aged only 31. Shortly after leaving Oxford I penned a short pamphlet on the saint, which I believe can still be purchased from the Association of Catholic Women, if anyone is interested.
Buona festa to all Old Romans!