BLESSED JOHN GAVAN S J
A plot, known as the ‘Oates Plot’ or the ‘Popish Plot’ was conceived in the fertile but warped mind of the malevolent Titus Oates. In August 1678, Oates claimed that a plot to murder the King, bring down the Protestant Establishment and re-establish Catholicism in England was being hatched by Catholics. The Jesuits, according to Oates, were the leaders of this imagined plot. In reality, there was no plot against the Crown or Protestantism. The real plot was the one which Oates was building up against the Jesuits. Before Oates and the bunch of criminals who were his co-conspirators were finally exposed many innocent Catholics had suffered and died. Among those who were put to death for their faith were eight Jesuit priests. The horror began for the Jesuits in January 1679 when Fr William Ireland was executed at Tyburn in London. Another victim was 39 year old Fr John Gavan or Green.
John Gavan was born in London in 1640. The young Gavan went to St Omer and, in 1660, he entered the Jesuits. He was ordained in Rome in 1670. Like all priests who returned to minister in England, Fr Gavan was fully cognisant of the dangers under the severe Penal Laws which existed at that time. Nonetheless, Fr Gavan returned to his homeland in 1671 and commenced his work, chiefly in the Staffordshire area, where he laboured untiringly.
At the height of the Oates Plot, the Government offered a £50 reward for the apprehension of any priest. This lead to a vigorous search for and betrayal of priests, Jesuit and otherwise, up and down the country. In the hope of escaping to the Continent, Fr Gavan made his way to London. Unfortunately, that was not to be and he was apprehended on 23rd January 1679. Along with four other Jesuits, Fr John Gavan was brought to trial at the Old Bailey on 13th June 1679.
Fr Gavan was an erudite and articulate priest and he skilfully defended the group. In this instance, the skill and honesty of the Jesuit were no match for the false witnesses, prejudiced Judge and rigged jury. As was expected, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. Fr John Gavan was martyred at Tyburn on 20th June 1679. His mutilated and quartered remains were claimed by friends and buried in St Giles in the Fields.
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