The Durham Martyrs

During the Religious Persecution of the 16th and 17th Century, 315 of our Catholic ancestors were executed. Of these 26 have links with the area now forming our diocese, and many were executed in our city. Many were priests, who having been ordained abroad, returned to England as a priest, which was considered high treason punishable by being hung, drawn and quartered. Others helped to shelter the priests, a felony punishable by imprisonment, fines, confiscation of property and in many cases, death. It is in memory of these men and their faith that we dedicate our parish.

Blessed Thomas Plumtree – Martyred 4th January 1570
Bl. Thomas Plumtree began studies at Christ Church College, University of Oxford in 1543 and in 1546 was made rector of Stubton, Lincolnshire, during the Catholic ‘Rising of the North’ he resigned his prebend and became preacher to the rebels. In 1569 he celebrated a Mass in Durham Cathedral in which he reconciled conformers to the Catholic Church. When the revolt failed he was arrested and after refusing to denounce his faith he was executed in Durham on the 4th of January 1570. He was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1986.

The Blessed Edmund Duke, Richard Hill, Richard Holiday and John Hogg – Martyred 28th May 1590
Often referred to as the Dryburne Martyrs due to their execution site. They were four missionary priests, trained at the English College in Rheim, although Duke was moved to the English College in Rome following his ordination to minor orders. All were ordained to the priesthood in 1589 before being sent back to England as missionary priests in 1590, however, the fact they stayed together so much of the time aroused suspicion and they were arrested shortly afterwards. Following a trial, they were executed at Dryburne in Durham on the 28th of May 1590 and were beatified in 1887 by Pope Saint John Paul II.

Blessed John Speed – Martyred 4th February 1594
A Catholic layman who was arrested for assisting St. John Boste, escorting him from house to house. Following his arrest he turned down several incentives to conform with the Church of England and was executed on 4th February 1594, he was beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1929.

Saint John Boste – Martyred 24th July 1594
Born c.1544 in Westmorland, St. John Boste studied at Queen’s College, Oxford where he later became a fellow. After converting to Catholicism in 1576, he trained as a priest in Rheims, France and was ordained in 1681. He returned to Northern England as a missionary priest and was betrayed to the authorities near Durham in 1593 and was taken to the Tower of London for interrogation, before being returned to Durham where he was executed at Dryburn on 24th July 1594. In 1970 he was canonised by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. The chapel at our parish secondary school St. Leonard’s is dedicated in his honour.

The Blessed Thomas Palaser, John Norton and John Talbot – Martyred 9th August 1600
Bl. Thomas Palaser was a Catholic priest who having trained in Valladolid and Rheims was ordained in 1596. He was arrested at the Gateshead home of Bl. John Norton while praying, along with Bl. John Talbot and Norton’s wife, while the wife was later released due to pregnancy, Palaser, Norton and Talbot were executed in Durham on 9th August 1600. The group was beatified in 1987 by Pope Saint John Paul II.

In remembering our martyrs who died in the persecutions over 400 years ago, we must also remember all those who still today fear violence, persecution, torture and other violations of their human rights to this day.

Blessed martyrs of our city… orate pro nobis.