Chorley martyr among those to be celebrated by 20,000 Catholics

Catholic Rally at Deepdale, Preston. July 1, 1961
Catholic Rally at Deepdale, Preston. July 1, 1961
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‘Take this in token that I freely forgive thee and others that have been accessory to my death.’

Those were the final words of a Christian martyr from Chorley who was hanged after confessing his Catholicism in 1600.

Saint John Rigby was born circa 1570 at Harrock Hall, Eccleston.

In 1600, he was working for Sir Edmund Huddleston, whose daughter Mrs Fortescue was summoned to the Old Bailey for recusancy (failure to attend Anglican services).

Because she was ill, Rigby appeared for her and was compelled to confess his Catholicism.

The following day he signed a confession admitting he had not attended Anglican services due to his allegiance to the Catholic church.

Twice he was given the chance to recant, but twice refused. He gave the executioner a piece of gold, saying: “Take this in token that I freely forgive thee and others that have been accessory to my death.”

Rigby was executed by hanging at St Thomas Waterings on June 21, 1600.

The 40 Martyrs of England and Wales was a group of Catholic men and women who were executed for treason and related offences between 1535 and 1679.

Many were sentenced to death at show trials, or with no trial at all.

This religious repression existed in part because faithful Roman Catholics were encouraged to rebel against the English Crown by the Vatican.

They are considered by the Catholic Church to be Christian martyrs.

It was 54 years ago this week that more than 20,000 Catholics held a rally in Preston to recognise those martyrs persecuted in the 1600s.

With three huge processions walking from St Joseph’s, St Ignatious and St Gregory’s, the thousands made their way with banners and bands to the home of Preston North End, all supporting a campaign for the canonisation of the 40 martyrs of England and Wales.

The names of the seven martyrs from Lancashire, an area once described as ‘obstinate and contemptuous’ when efforts were being made to kill the faith, were honoured at the start of proceedings.

Emerging from the tunnel to the hymn ‘Martyrs of England,’ teachers and members of local Catholic societies performed a solemn pageant around the ground dressed in caps and doublet cloaks, each individual representing one of the 40 martyrs, before reaching the alter located in the terraces of the famous Town End.

Two more processions followed, with representatives of the Catholic church from across the North West making their way past the hundreds of Scouts, Guides, Cubs and Brownies that lined the track.

From the alter, upon which stood a 15th century chalice beside relics from some of the martyrs, Father James Walsh delivered a sermon to the thousands in attendance, offering that the martyrs “must be filled with wonder and admiration that, after 400 years, thousands of people can gather in this way to honour the faith.”

Nine years later canonisation was achieved when Pope Paul VI granted permission for the 40 names to be recognised as saints, with a ceremony taking place in Rome on October 25, 1970.