Monday, April 20

1584: Blessed James Bell and Blessed John Finch

The martyrs' plaque in the Cathedral shows that on 10th April 1584 James Bell and John Finch were executed in Lancaster for their Catholic faith. Canon Billington, by contrast, records that their deaths took place on 20th April, and after him we today recall the event. Billington treats the stories at some length, so our account here will be somewhat abbreviated.

Blessed James Bell
Canon Billington records that he was "a Marian priest who conformed under Elizabeth... though his conscience reproved him... In 1581, being over sixty years of age, he returned to Lancashire and endeavoured to obtain a certain chapel which was without cure of souls... It was in the gift of a gentleman whose wife was a Catholic... 'She put him in mind that he was made priest to say Mass and to minister the sacraments after the Catholic use and manner in the unity of the Catholic Church.' He fell sick soon afterwards, and her words, joined with the reproaches of his own conscience, brought him to repentance and reconciliation." Having been arrested then released he continued his duties for two years before being captured again. He stood trial in Manchester before being sent to Lancaster, where he was executed, as Canon Billington records, "praying expressly for all Catholics and for the conversion of all heretics, and so ended this miserable life most gloriously, committing his soul to Almighty God."

Blessed John Finch
Perhaps surprisingly, this martyr was a convert to Catholicism: "He was brought up as a conformist; but when he was about the age of twenty, a visit to London to seek his fortune led him to mark 'the diversities of opinions in matters of faith and religion, the daily troubles and losses which many men sustained constantly for the ancient and Catholic religion, the continual mutations and changings from Protestancy to Puritanism, and from that again to infinite other sects and heresies,' and so forth. He returned home and resolved to act consistently as a Catholic, particularly in the observance of days of fasting and abstinence. He married, obtained reconciliation to the Catholic Roman Church, went often to confession and received the Blessed Sacrament, and made it his special business 'for many years together to guide and direct Catholic priests to Catholic men's houses'." He was captured, with a priest, by the Earl of Derby, imprisoned in Manchester and after three years sent to the assizes and executed in Lancaster.

Canon Billington adds an interesting footnote: "Two other priests were tried and condemned with the martyrs; they were named Thomas Williamson and Richard Hatton, but their lives were spared because, so it was believed, the judges had been ordered to execute no more than two."