Thomas Cranmer felt guilty.
From his prison cell the former Archbishop of Canterbury had just watched two of his colleagues (Latimer and Ridley) burn at the stake. Queen Mary of England had decided to make examples of these three important clergymen as she endeavoured to return England to Roman Catholicism.
These three men were key Protestant protagonists in the sweeping sixteenth century church reforms put in place by Queen Mary’s father – King Henry VIII.
And the new Queen – who would become known as “Bloody Mary” – had vowed to eradicate the influence of the ‘Lutherism’ with the death of all those who followed the biblical teachings of the Reformation.
Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were executed in 1555 by fire in the public square just outside Balliol College in Oxford – but Thomas Cranmer was allowed to live. The reason for Cranmer’s stay-of-execution was he had renounced all the Protestant beliefs of his two colleagues, was said to have fully re-accepted Roman Catholic theology including papal supremacy, and stated there was no possibility of salvation outside the Catholic Church.
Five months after the death of his two colleagues Thomas Cranmer stood in the University Church of Oxford to publicly declare once again his allegiance to Rome. Cranmer had been asked to submit a transcript of his speech to Queen Mary for approval before he spoke – but as he stood on the stage specially constructed for the event something changed.
As Thomas Cranmer began delivering his speech he unexpectedly deviated from the authorised script. Cranmer shocked everyone by once again declaring his support for the Reformation. He declared he expected to burned at the stake just like Latimer and Ridley had been, and that since his own hand had signed documents supporting the Pope then that hand would be burnt first.
Before the authorities could stop Cranmer’s speech he yelled out “And as for the Pope, I refuse him, as Christ’s enemy, and Antichrist with all his false doctrine.”
Cranmer was pulled down from the stage and taken to the exact same spot where he’d watched Latimer and Ridley burned. Eyewitnesses have described how, as the fire burned around the former Archbishop, Thomas Cranmer placed his right hand into the flames and declared “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit… I see the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”
Today, this place of execution of the “Oxford Martyrs” is marked with an ‘X’ in the middle of a road. Pedestrians and cyclists pass by without giving it a glance. But those of a more reflective nature pause for a moment and ask themselves whether they have the same courageous faith required to stand for their Saviour even in the face of death.
“Be faithful, even unto death” Jesus says to us in Revelation 2:10, “and I will give you the crown of life.”
(Did you know the children’s nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice” is about the execution of Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer? Read about it here)
About this blog: Pastor David Riley is a minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and lives on the Gold Coast in Australia. This article is from his “Reverential Ramblings” series – which you can subscribe to by clicking “follow” on this website.
Want to read more inspirational stories of faith from this series? Click here to read of one man’s sacrifice on the Kwai River in Burma.