Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tyburn Memorial to over 400 Catholics UK

Council plans new memorial to the Tyburn martyrs
By Simon Caldwell
30 January 2009

A monument in honour of hundreds of Catholics executed for their faith is to be erected in the heart of central London.

Consultations are underway to install a striking memorial on the former site of the Tyburn gallows at the western end of Oxford Street, the capital's busiest shopping street.

Between 1535 and 1679 nearly 400 Catholics were executed on the spot, and 105 of these have been recognised by the Vatican as martyrs, with a number canonised as saints.

Since the Fifties the site of the gallows has been marked simply by a stone roundel in a traffic island at the intersection of Edgware Road and Bayswater Road, near to Marble Arch, bearing the image of a plain black cross and the words: "The site of the Tyburn Tree."

But Westminster City Council has begun looking for ideas for a more fitting memorial.

The council's Public Art Advisory Panel has discussed some of the proposals at a private meeting, including an etching of the shadow of the Tyburn Tree into pavement brickwork.

Another proposal is understood to involve three illuminated pillars to stand above the site once occupied by the three-sided gallows.

Rosemarie MacQueen, strategic director for built environment at Westminster City Council, said funding was needed and hoped the Catholic community would be able to contribute.

"We have been looking at ways to make the memorial to the Tyburn martyrs more substantial and informative in the future provided we can secure funding for the project, as we feel that the hangings which happened there should be clearly marked for anyone who might want to understand the area's history," she told The Catholic Herald.

"We are looking at the possibility of commissioning an artist or designer who could make the plaque an even more fitting and substantial tribute to the men and women who died there from the 1500s onwards for their religious beliefs. If any of your readers would be willing to sponsor such a memorial we would be more than happy to hear from them."

Tyburn became a place of public execution in the 12th century, and, as the "King's gallows", was used in particular for those people convicted of capital offences against the Crown. The first martyrs of the Protestant Reformation - St John Houghton and companions - were executed together for treason there on May 4 1535 after they refused to accept King Henry VIII as the head of the Church in England.

In 1571 Queen Elizabeth I erected the Tyburn Tree, triangular gallows purposely built for multiple executions, with 24 men and women executed there together in one instance.

Catholics to die there included St Edmund Campion, the first English Jesuit martyr, who wrote in his "brag" to Elizabeth's Privy Council, that the Jesuits would never cease to work for the conversion of England "while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn".

The last Catholic Tyburn martyr was St Oliver Plunkett, the Archbishop of Armagh, executed on July 1 1679, the last of 25 innocent victims of the Titus Oates plot.

Most men were hanged, drawn and quartered - a slow death that involved castration and disemboweling before the head was struck off and the body quartered - but Catholic women, such as Mary Ward and Anne Line, were hanged instead.

Public executions continued for common criminals for a further century until they were transferred to the area outside Newgate Prison.

London priest Mgr Anthony Stark, the master of the Guild of Our Lady of Ransom, an organisation which leads annual pilgrimages to the site, said he was delighted that the council was planning to honour the English Catholic martyrs.

He said: "It is the one site in the country where more people died for their Catholic faith than anywhere else. It is very important."

Catholics were executed at other sites in London and in other parts of the country, most notably Lancaster, York and Chester. An unknown number died in prison while refusing to recant their faith.

The Tyburn roundel was taken up by the council last summer when road works were carried out around the traffic island, prompting an outcry from Catholics who feared that its removal was permanent.

Benedictine nuns from the nearby Tyburn Convent later succeeded in persuading the council to put the roundel back. But they were told that the stone would remain on the site only temporarily while plans for a grander memorial were being drawn up. The nuns hope to acquire the roundel for the martyrs' reliquary in the convent's crypt.

No comments: