You never know what you might find on the Web! I’d never heard of Blessed William Richardson till I saw his name in Hallam News, from the Catholic South Yorkshire diocese. A remarkably brave man to go prison visiting among Catholics, aware that he might be betrayed at any time. The full article from which this is taken can be found here. Remembering him, we also honour Christians of many allegiances, killed for their beliefs, and pray that we may continue to work to bring all our communities together.
Blessed William Richardson grew up close to where the South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire borders meet.
We know from the Entry Book in the English College in Spain that William was a convert to the Catholic faith and was received into the Church by one of the clergy at Wiesloch, Germany, where at that time he was working. He was called to the priesthood, attended the English College in Spain, studying Philosophy and Theology, and was ordained priest there in 1594 and then returned to England.
Most of William’s life was spent working in London often with the legal profession in the Inns of Court. He visited prisons as an ordinary visitor, to take Mass to Catholics imprisoned for their faith, and he was sentenced to death after being betrayed by a priest catcher. His execution took place on Tyburn Gallows, by the barbaric act of being hung, drawn and quartered on 17 February in 1603. There is no knowledge of his last resting place, but if we can find a King under a car park, we may one day learn of his last resting place.
William’s death was in the reign of Elizabeth 1 and he was the last priest to be murdered at that time. Elizabeth 1 died one week later. Bishop Challoner tells us he accepted his death with such constancy and faith, and praying for the Queen, that impressed his executioners.
A short while after he saw the swimming friars, George Borrow had to sleep at a riverside inn to catch the steamer en route to North Africa. There was not much room at the inn …
“I now laid my carpet bag on the bench as a pillow, and flung myself down. I should have been asleep instantly, but he of the red nightcap now commenced snoring awfully, which brought to my mind that I had not yet commended myself to my friend and Redeemer: I therefore prayed, and then sank to repose. I was awakened more than once during the night by cats, and I believe rats, leaping upon my body. At the last of these interruptions I arose, and looked at my watch; it was half-past three o’clock. I opened the door and looked out; whereupon some fishermen entered clamouring for their morning draught: the old man was soon on his feet serving them. One of the men said to me that, if I was going by the steamer, I had better order my things to the wharf without delay, as he had heard the vessel coming down the river. I dispatched my luggage, and then demanded of the red nightcap what I owed him. He replied “One real.” These were the only two words which I heard proceed from his mouth: he was certainly addicted to silence, and perhaps to philosophy, neither of which are much practised in Andalusia.
From George Borrow, 1843: The Bible in Spain; or, the journeys, adventures, and imprisonments of an Englishman, in an attempt to circulate the Scriptures in the Peninsula. On Kindle or on line.
… At least the friars will have recited Compline together …
“We then walked to the beach, where there were a great number of bathers, all men. Amongst them were some good swimmers; two, in particular, were out at a great distance in the firth of the Guadalquivir, I should say at least a mile; their heads could just be descried with the telescope. I was told that they were friars. I wondered at what period of their lives they had acquired their dexterity at natation. I hoped it was not at a time when, according to their vows, they should have lived for prayer, fasting, and mortification alone. Swimming is a noble exercise, but it certainly does not tend to mortify either the flesh or the spirit.
From George Borrow, 1843: The Bible in Spain; or, the journeys, adventures, and imprisonments of an Englishman, in an attempt to circulate the Scriptures in the Peninsula, available on Kindle or on line.
Borrow did not have a high opinion of friars! Clearly they should not enjoy themselves with an evening swim. To be fair, there were many who opposed his mission to bring Spaniards the Bible in the vernacular – he had Bibles and New Testaments in Spanish and the Gospel of Luke in the local Romany dialect, but without the Council of Trent’s official interpretive notes, which were anathema to Borrow as an evangelical Protestant! Times have changed, thank God, and the Catholic Church and Bible Societies are ready to co-operate in many ways.