St Edmund Campion

In June 1968 the County Council Planning Department produced a booklet entitled ‘ Wellingborough Urban Structure ’ which outlined the proposed growth of the town. In order to ensure that there were adequate Catholic schools and churches in the area, it was agreed that the site of the new primary school in Henshaw Road, to the west of the town and opened in 1965, offered space for an additional school and a church.

The Parish Committee approved the draft plans on 6 th February 1970. It was to be a new concept of a church and school in one building with a hall shared by both. The school hall could be used as another nave to the church, while the parish rooms, used in conjunction with the school hall, would provide greater facilities for social functions. The new church was designated ‘ The Church of the Holy Child ’ and was to be consecrated by Bishop Grant on 2nd June 1972.

Who was St Edmund Campion?

Edmund was a bookseller’s son, born in London in 1540 into a Catholic family. He was educated at Christ’s Hospital and St Paul’s where he carried off all the prizes. At the age of only 15, he won a scholarship to St John’s College Oxford, founded in 1555 as a bastion of Catholic learning. At 20 he was a Fellow of the University and made a strong impression on Queen Elizabeth when she visited the College in 1561. The world was at his feet and in 1568 he allowed himself to be ordained a Deacon in the newly established Church of England in the hope of rapid preferment.

However Catholics were soon forced to choose between their faith or their Queen. In 1571, Pope Pius V excommunicated the Queen, saying she was no longer lawful monarch of England. Elizabeth replied by passing a law which said that anyone who denied her right to be Queen was a traitor. Edmund resolved his own religious doubts and fled to the seminary for exiled Catholics in Douai in northern France and then in 1573 joined the Jesuits in Rome where he was ordained priest in 1578. At the end of 1579, he accepted the dangerous charge to return to his homeland as a missionary priest. Their instructions were not to convert Protestants but to minister and provide the Sacraments for the hard pressed English Catholics who had remained true to their faith.

He landed at Dover in 1580 and toured the country, saying Mass in Catholic houses for local people. When word of his presence in a particular house leaked out to the authorities, he would have to hide in secret compartments that became known as “Priests‘holes“. One of the houses where he was forced to hide after celebrating Mass was Harrowden Hall, and you can still see the place where he hid today. His writings were also very powerful. He published one of them by leaving 400 copies on seats at the church of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford. His reputation spread rapidly and he brought many Catholics back to the faith. The authorities redoubled their efforts to catch him and eventually he was betrayed while saying Mass at a house near Wantage in Oxfordshire.

He was taken to the Tower where the Queen herself tried to get him to abandon his faith and offered him a good position if he would convert to the Church of England. When he refused, he was tortured on the rack. Then 424 years ago, on 1st December 1581, he was drawn on a hurdle to Tyburn (on the site of today’s Marble Arch) with two other priests and there he was hung, cut down while still living and his body cut into four pieces.