Friday, May 05, 2006

Blessed John Kemble

Was pleasantly surprised to find out that a wonderful lady at our parish has a martyr in her family tree-on her mother's side. Blessed John Kemble was the 'grand old man' of the English and Welsh martyrs, being 80 years old when he was martyred. He was a priest from the seminary at Douay. Some 4 years after celebrating his 50th Jubilee as a priest, he refused the urgings of his friends to flee England when the persecution instensified, saying: "According to the course of nature I have but a few years to live; it will be an advantage to suffer for my religion and therefore I will not abscond."

Fr. Kemble was arrested and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. On the day of his execution, he asked to finish his prayers. Then he requested one last smoke on his pipe before leaving for the execution site. This request was granted by the sheriff who joined him in a smoke and "produced some wine as well." This incident was the origin of the Herefordshire custom of calling the last pipe in a sitting the "Kemble pipe". The hangman was an old friend of Fr. Kemble and was loathe to carry out the sentence, but Fr. Kemble encouraged him, telling him that by carrying out his duty he would "do me a greater kindness than discourtesy." He was martyred on August 22, 1679. (Note: this account was based on the information in Clement Tigar's Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.)

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