Feast of Sts Thomas Moore & John Fisher


St. John Fisher was born in Beverly, Yorkshire, in 1459, and educated at Cambridge, from which he received his Master of Arts degree in 1491. He occupied the vicarage of Northallerton, 1491-1494; then he became proctor of Cambridge University. In 1497, he was appointed confessor to Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, and became closely associated in her endowments to Cambridge; he created scholarships, introduced Greek and Hebrew into the curriculum, and brought in the world-famous Erasmus as professor of Divinity and Greek. In 1504, he became Bishop of Rochester and Chancellor of Cambridge, in which capacity he also tutored Prince Henry who was to become Henry VIII. St. John was dedicated to the welfare of his diocese and his university. From 1527, this humble servant of God actively opposed the King’s divorce proceedings against Catherine, his wife in the sight of God, and steadfastly resisted the encroachment of Henry on the Church. Unlike the other Bishops of the realm, St. John refused to take the oath of succession which acknowledged the issue of Henry and Anne as the legitimate heir to the throne, and he was imprisoned in the tower in April 1534. The next year he was made a Cardinal by Paul III and Henry retaliated by having him beheaded within a month. A half hour before his execution, this dedicated scholar and churchman opened his New Testament for the last time and his eyes fell on the following words from St. John’s Gospel: “Eternal life is this: to know You, the only true God, and Him Whom You have sent, Jesus Christ. I have given You glory on earth by finishing the work You gave me to do. Do You now, Father, give me glory at Your side”. Closing the book, he observed: “There is enough learning in that to last me the rest of my life.” His feast day is June 22.

Thomas More           

For his refusing to swear to the Act of Supremacy, Sir Thomas was brought to trial in Westminster Hall on July 1, 1535 two weeks after Cardinal Fisher had been condemned. He defended himself perfectly, and demonstrated his command of the common law. He had spoken to no one, not even his family, about the Act of Supremacy; therefore, in law, he was not guilty of denying any title claimed by Henry. An intimidated jury, subjected to the perjury of Richard Rich, convicted More of treason.

            His emaciated body like that of Saint John shocked the crowd at the scaffold. They had suffered utter destitution during their fifteen months in the Tower. From early manhood, they had disciplined their bodies through fasting and the wearing of a hairshirt; these penitential acts and the lifelong habit of prayer strengthened them against the rigours of the Tower. Saint Thomas was denied visits from his family. Visits from his daughter Margaret were allowed only after she had agreed to attempt him to convince him to accept the Act of Supremacy, as she and all his family had done. Several members of his family later recanted and suffered severely for their adherence to the faith of the Church.

            For years after their execution, no biography was allowed to be published in England. At Saint Thomas’ execution, however, there was an observer in the crowd at the scaffold of whose minute and verbal accuracy we have abundant proof. He sent a newsletter to Paris, and in a few days, Saint Thomas’ words from the scaffold rang through Europe.

            “He spoke little before his execution. Only he asked that bystanders to pray for him in this world, and he would pray for them elsewhere. He then begged them earnestly to pray for the King, that it might please God to give him good counsel, protesting that he dies the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

The Paris newsletter was published in French and Latin, both agreeing that “and God’s first” was the actual conjunction: (“et de Dieu premièrement” “ac imprimis Dei”). In his biography of More, William Roper, More’s son-in-law, recorded that More asked those present “to pray for him, and to bear witness with him that he should now there suffer death, in and for the faith of the Holy Catholic Church.”

            Sir Thomas was beheaded on Tower Hill shortly after 9 a.m., July 6, 1535. His head was stuck on a pole and placed on Tower Bridge. What remains of it rests today in the Roper family vault in St. Nicholas’ Chapel in Saint Dunstan’s Anglican Church, Canterbury. Saint John’s head had been thrown into the Thames to make room for it. The headless bodies of all decapitated traitors were buried under the floor of the Church of Saint Peter ad Vincula in the Tower. Saint Thomas’ remains lie with those of Saint John and others in the crypt of Saint Peter ad Vincula today. Meg’s devotion to her father prompted her to bribe a guard to let More’s head fall into her lap as she passed under London Bridge. She kept it with her all her life.

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