News Archive

Monday 11 May 2020

Blessed John Rochester and Blessed James Walworth

The Martyrdom of Fathers John Rochester and James WalworthWe celebrate today (tomorrow in the Extraordinary Form) two Carthusian Monks were the first martyrs of the Reformation to die in York, on 11 May 1537.

They were monks of the London Charterhouse. Henry VIII was determined to get the  support of the Carthusian monks for the Act of Supremacy which declared that he, rather than the Pope, had authority over the Church in England. The King knew that with the support of Carthusian monks, who enjoyed a high reputation for learning and for holiness, he had a good chance of winning over influential lords.

After the London monks refused to sign, Rochester and Walworth were brought to York for a show trial and execution designed to teach a lesson to the northern lords and commons who had supported the old religion in the Pilgrimage of Grace.

The execution of the English Carthusians shocked the faithful all over Europe. Many paintings – mostly commissioned by Carthusian monasteries – depicted the particularly cruel executions.

The painting above, by Vincenzo Carduccio, depicts the execution of Blessed John Rochester and Blessed James Walworth. It was painted for a Charterhouse near Madrid and now hangs in the Prado. There is a better image here.

Little is known of Dom James Walworth but Dom John Rochester was from a prominent family. The Fathers have been reading a life of Queen Mary in the refectory at lunchtime. Dom John Rochester’s elder brother, Sir Robert Rochester, was the Comptroller of Princess Mary’s household before she came to the throne. He ensured she was always able to have chaplains to say Mass for her during the reign of her Protestant brother and even planned for her escape to the continent should her faith no longer be tolerated in England. He spent some time in the Tower for his loyalty to her.

When the princess ascended the throne as Mary I, she remembered Rochester's faithful service. He was made chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; and he entered the inner circle of the Privy Council. He died during her reign and was buried at the Charterhouse at Sheen which Queen Mary re-founded.

Blessed John Rochester and Blessed James Walworth are represented on the Martyrs' Altar in our church - although Blessed John's statue has been glued above the wrong name!