Friday, 18 June 2010


The term, "Marian Priests", is applied to those English priests who were ordained in or before the reign of Queen Mary (1553-1558) and who survived into the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Blessed James Bell was born at Warrington, Lancashire about 1520. He studied at Oxford and was ordained a Catholic priest in Mary's reign. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, he gave in to the pressures and threats put upon Catholic priests and conformed to the established Church. Referring to Bell’s defection to the Church of England, a manuscript at Douai states that Bell, "ministered their bare few sacraments about 20 years in diverse places of England".

He returned to Lancashire in 1579. A Catholic lady persuaded him to return to the Church and, in 1581, he was reconciled to the Faith. Eventually, he was allowed to resume priestly functions, and for two years Bell devoted himself unstintingly to the gruelling and dangerous missionary work among his fellow Catholics.

In January 1584, James Bell was apprehended and, admitting to being a Catholic priest, he was arraigned at Manchester Quarter-Sessions held during January. He was then sent for trial at Lancaster Assizes in March. Unsurprisingly, the priest was condemned and when sentence was passed, he said to the Judge: "I beg your Lordship would add to the sentence that my lips and the tops of my fingers may be cut off, for having sworn and subscribed to the articles of heretics contrary both to my conscience and to God's Truth". He spent that night in prayer and on the following day, 10th April, 1584, he was hanged and quartered. The only known Marian Priest to have suffered martyrdom, Fr James Bell was beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1929.


  1. Oh God bless that 'Catholic lady' who brought him back to the Church. Would that I had her name, too!

  2. Hello thewhitelilyblog
    I am afraid I can't help you with that good lady's name. I suppose somewhere in some dusty annals, one might find the lady's name but I have not come across it anywhere. It would be nice to know who she was, I agree. However, we should just be content that, whoever she was, God acted through her and she was open to His prompting. The important thing here is that she 'brought him back'! Thanks for your comment and I hope you will look in often. God bless you.

  3. I always learn something new from your blog! Now, I have a question: When priests are called Marianists today, does that mean that they came from that line that existed in Mary's time or something else?

  4. Hello Elizabeth
    Thank you very much for your interest and kind comment. No, the Marian priests in this post were simply those ordained during the reign of Queen Mary. To my knowledge, Marianist priests of today belong to a congregation of priests, brothers and sisters who are to be found in the United States, Canada and many European countries. I am sorry but I don't know too much about them but perhaps some bloggers could enlighten us further.

    Thanks Elizabeth and may God bless you.

  5. Elizabeth
    I meant to say that if you have a look at the post "Why They Died (Part 1)", you will find more information on the "Marian Priests" of Mary's reign. Thanks again and God bless you.

  6. Thank you for this most interesting post. A related subject is that of the Marian bishops. We are all familiar with the story of how, under Henry VIII, all but one (St John Fisher) of the bishops of England and Wales caved in to the king's demands. What is often forgotten is that when Elizabeth I came to the throne the situation was entirely reversed and all but one bishop rejected the Oath of Supremacy and were consequently deprived of their sees. Some like Nicolas Heath Archbishop of York were imprisoned for a time while others like Richard Pates, Bishop of Worcester, were exiled. Some deprived Catholic clergy died in prison and it is clear that in addition to the relatively obvious heroism of the martyrs whose blood was shed there are perhaps many more stories of patient endurance to be found in the background.

  7. Good Morning Patricius
    Thank you for this very interesting comment. I always hope that lots of people read the comments on every post because sometimes the comments are far better than the post! In the post "Why They Died (Part 1)" I did mention the "exiled bishops" but I didn't elaborate on it. Therefore, your comment is most informative. You are so right - there must be hundreds more stories about which we know nothing. We Catholics have much to be proud of AND BIG SHOES TO FILL! God help us. Thank you again and God bless you.

  8. Patricius
    I have done it again! I know that some Marian Bishops were imprisoned and that some lived out their lives in exile but, in "Why They Died (Part 1)" I mentioned "imprisoned bishops" not "exiled bishops". I just thought I would put that right. God bless you.


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