Monday, 4 October 2010


Today is the Feast of St Francis of Assisi. To celebrate this important Feast Day, I am posting about a worthy son of St Francis, the courageous Martyr, St John Wall. The photo is of the beautiful plaque which is in the Catholic Church at Harvington Hall. It depicts St John Wall in the guise of a gentleman of the period. At that time, priests worked covertly so it was not a good idea to advertise the fact that you were a priest. John’s Franciscan identity is evoked by the animals and birds which surround him. Of all the portrayals I have seen of St John Wall, I think this is my favourite. (Click on the picture to enlarge it for a better view.)

John Wall was born in Lancashire in 1620 into a pious Catholic family. He was baptised by Edmund Arrowsmith, who would suffer martyrdom in 1628. John was still quite young when his parents sent him to the English College at Douai. In those days of Penal Laws and harsh persecution of Catholics, there was always the risk of Government spies infiltrating the Colleges. For this reason, it became the practice for students to assume an alias in the slim hope of affording a little protection to themselves and to their families at home. At Douai, John adopted the alias of John Marsh.

On 5th November 1641, John enrolled at the English College in Rome where he continued to use the alias of John Marsh. At the English College he met the Welshman, David Lewis, and the two became firm friends. John, it is thought, was one of the students present in the Lateran Basilica on St Stephen’s Day, 26th December, 1642, when the recently ordained Fr David Lewis preached a short homily before Pope Urban VIII. John Wall was ordained on 3rd December 1645. He returned to England in 1648 but in 1651 he was back in Douai where he joined the Franciscan Friars Minor. He was professed the following year and took the name of Joachim of St Anne.

In 1656, Fr Joachim of St Anne, O F M, was sent upon the perilous English Mission. He spent the rest of his life diligently labouring in Worcestershire and neighbouring counties. In England, John used the aliases of Francis Johnson, Francis Webb and Francis Dormore. Harvington Hall, near Kidderminster, Worcestershire, was his base for about 12 years and during this period he was known as Francis Webb.

In late summer of 1678, the fictitious Oates/Popish Plot spewed across the land. Priests were ruthlessly hunted down. With the Government incentive of a reward of £50 for the apprehension of any priest, there was no shortage of informers! John Wall, however, was apprehended by an unfortunate accident. In December 1678, John was seized at Rushock Court near Bromsgrove when the Sheriff’s Deputy was searching for a debtor. John refused to take the Oath of Allegiance and was immediately imprisoned in Worcester Gaol. From prison he wrote; “Imprisonment, in these times especially, when none can send to their friends, nor friends come to them, is the best means to teach us how to put our confidence in God alone in all things ....”

On 25th April 1679, John Wall came before Judge Atkins for trial. He was indicted for high treason for being a priest and remaining in the country. Predictably, the Franciscan was found guilty and sentenced to death. When the verdict was delivered, John replied “Thanks be to God; God save the King; and I beseech God to bless your lordship, and all this honourable bench.” He was returned to prison to await his execution.

At the beginning of May 1679, John was taken to London to be examined by the plotters and perjurers, Titus Oates, William Bedloe, Stephen Dugdale and Myles Prance. Here again he met with his old friend, the Welsh Jesuit, Fr David Lewis. Fr Lewis, 80 year old Fr John Kemble and Fr Roger Hanslip had also been summoned to London and all four were lodged together in Newgate Prison. The four were detained in Newgate for about a month and each examined by Oates and his co-plotters in an attempt to implicate them in the non-existent Popish Plot. No evidence could be found against the priests, they could not be enticed or coerced into lying or apostatising to save their lives so, early in June, they were all sent back to their respective prisons to await their grim fate.

Fr Wall’s time came on 22nd August 1679. The Sheriff offered John the opportunity of dying the following day so that he would not have to endure the humiliation of dying with two common criminals! John gratefully declined, telling him that if it was good enough for Jesus, then it was good enough for him. Thus, John Wall, O F M, was hanged, drawn and quartered at Red Hill, Worcester. The Catholics of the town boldly accompanied his remains to St Oswald’s Churchyard where he was buried.

A fellow Friar, William Leveson, visited Fr Wall during his imprisonment. The English Franciscans at Douai are in possession of a letter written by Fr Leveson. In this letter, dated 25th August 1679, Fr Leveson wrote: “I found, contrary in both his and my expectation, the favour of being with him alone; and the day before his execution, I enjoyed that privilege for the space of four or five hours together; during which time I heard his confession, and communicated him to his great joy and satisfaction. I ventured likewise, through his desire, to be present at his execution, and placed myself boldly next to the Under-Sheriff, near the gallows, where I had the opportunity of giving him the last absolution, just as he was turned off the ladder.”

One week later, on 27th August, Fr John Wall’s classmate and good friend, Fr David Lewis, suffered martyrdom at Usk. On 15th December 1929, the Franciscan and the Jesuit were beatified by Pope Pius XI. Forty-one years later, on 25th October 1970, Pope Paul VI canonised the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. Fr David Lewis S J and Fr John Wall O F M were among the Forty.

On the beautiful feast of St Francis of Assisi, 4th October 2009, I timidly ventured into an unknown country. Blogland! So, today is my First Anniversary as a blogger. How has it been? Well, I am still finding my way around this vast cyber territory but I am no longer timid and I think I have learned a lot. I know that out there in Blogland there are so many, many great people and, to my own wonder and surprise, quite a few of them I regard as dear friends. A year ago I was of the opinion that calling someone you hadn’t actually met a “friend” was a seriously foolish notion. How wrong I was! Here we are, my blog and I, a whole year older and I am so pleased to call you friends. For me, as you know, this has been a year of more “downs” than “ups” and that is where you bloggers have shown real friendship. For that I thank you all. As I begin my second year of blogging to promote our wonderful Welsh Jesuit Martyr, St David Lewis, I look forward to your visits and comments and to visiting all of you. While cherishing the old friends, I welcome the new. Thank you, my friends, and may God bless you all.


  1. Congratulations on your one year Blog Anniversary, Breadgirl! Thanks for the information on St John Wall. I often pray Saint Litanies and I like to learn about new saints so I can add them in :) I already added St. David Lewis a while back! You know about a lot of saints that I've never heard of before.

  2. A blessed and happy anniversary to you, dear Breadgirl! The feast of Saint Francis of Assisi is certainly a fine day upon which to have started writing your very special blog. Surely you have many friends in Heaven, and I would be honored to be called your friend as we make our way now on earth. May Almighty God richly bless you and may Our Lady protect you always.

  3. Congratulations! Thank you very much. I always enjoy reading your blog - usually about martyrs with whom I am less familiar. Today's posting concerns an old friend. I used to regularly pass the site of St John Wall's burial in my youth. A plaque on the wall nearby refers to him as "Venerable" so I suppose it must have been erected even before the beatification of the Forty Martyrs.

  4. Hi Mary333
    Thank you for your kind wishes. The year has passed very quickly and I have enjoyed and still enjoy this blogworld. I am glad you found St John Wall interesting. He was a good Franciscan and certainly a great example to us. Keep looking in because, while St David Lewis is my main focus, I will certainly continue to post about other saints.

    Thanks Mary and God bless you.

  5. Hello Kindred Spirit

    Thanks for your visit and your very kind words.

    I come from a very Franciscan background so I thought the feast day of that wonderful Saint would be a good time to venture into the wonderful world of blogging. I am so pleased that I did because I have met so many nice people,yourself included, whom I now
    call 'friend'.

    God bless you.

  6. Hello Patricius

    It is lovely to hear from you. Thank you for your kindness. I am pleased that I have struck a familiar saint for you today. I have not been to St John Wall's grave. I have seen, at Harvington Hall, several things, including a breviary and vestments, which belonged to him. Maybe one day I will be able to visit the site of his grave.

    God bless you, Patricius.

  7. Dear Breadgirl,

    How fitting it is that today I received the beautiful booklet on the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales! Surely Saint Francis had a hand in this special delivery, and the martyrs must be smiling, too. So though it's your anniversary, I received the gift. Thank you, dear Breadgirl, and may Almighty God richly reward your kindness.

  8. Kindred Spirit

    Thank you for letting me know that your booklet arrived. That was quicker than I thought it would be. I hope you find it interesting and, although it is just a brief account of the Forty Martyrs, perhaps it will kindle an interest in them and you will find a new friend in heaven to intercede for you. You never know!

    I too received a gift - your friendship!

    Thanks and God bless you.

  9. Hi Breadgirl and congratulations on your blog's first birthday! I can see parallels between John Wall's story and our own William Tirry's. My Mum's maiden name is Wall and my cousin and godfather is called John Wall.
    Thank you for your work in making these brave people more widely known. I'm sure you are making many friends in heaven!
    From one of your friends here below ;)

  10. CONGRATULATIONS and thanx for visiting my little corner of Blogland.

    Mary above mentions the Litany of the Saints. I always worry with this prayer in case some Saint or other gets upset that he/she hasn't been mentioned. I think there should be some Saints Collective so you say one prayer and they all get a bit!!!

    God bless you Breadgirl. Thanx for this very informative and well researched Blog.

  11. Congratulations on your anniversary!!! I'm sorry to be late. This too is a wonderfully informative post! I do love history and you feed the hunger so well! Wishing you well and thank you for you visit! Cathy

  12. Thank you Breadgirl. Your Blog is always informative and interesting. Many Congratulations on it's anniversary.
    God Bless You.


  14. Breadgirl,
    I got it! Your package came in the mail! Thank you so much for adding the book about St. David, the pictures, and the card, along with the Forty Martyrs booklet. You are so sweet and I appreciate your thoughtfulness :) One of the pictures of St. David is standing next to Padre Pio and Mother Mary, the other I am giving to my father. I'm looking forward to reading the books!

    I saw Victor's comment above and smiled because I don't like to leave saints out either, so I make up my own saint litanies and pray them on Rosary beads. That way I can keep adding names as I learn about new saints!

  15. Thank you for this wonderful blog, Breadgirl! You are in my daily prayers.

    Pace e bene!

  16. Hello Kee

    It is great to hear from you. Thanks for your visit and kind words. Oh yes, all the martyrs from that period in history have similar stories. They were so brave and so faithful and we surely need their prayers.

    Who knows, you could be descended from St John Wall's family. Wouldn't that be something!!

    God bless you kee.

  17. Hello Victor, GrndmaK and Bob

    Thanks for visiting and for your very nice comments. If I hadn't started blogging a year ago I would never have met you lovely people! What a loss that would have been to me.

    God bless you all.

  18. Hello bryn and Mary333

    That was quick! I am delighted you have receive your booklets and pictures. I hope you find the little books interesting. I am really grateful to you both for your support and for entering the little book giveaway. Keep looking in as I will do another similar one in the new year.

    Thanks for letting me know that you received the booklets and may God bless you both.

  19. Hello Fra Chris

    Thanks for your visit and your comment. I welcome the views of my blogging friends and appreciate their taking time to comment. Thanks too for your prayers. Prayers are the best gift we can give to anybody.

    Thanks Fr Chris and may God bless you always.


Related Posts with Thumbnails