Burning the hand that betrays you…

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Thomas Cranmer felt guilty.

Incredibly 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.

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A portrait of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury (1553 – 1555) and trusted advisor to King Henry VIII of England

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.

King Henry VIII of England took advantage of the Reformation sweeping through continental Europe in the sixteenth century. Thomas Cranmer helped build the case for Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn

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.

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A visitor today to University Church in Oxford can still see “Cranmer’s Column” – where part of the column was modified to make way the stage where Thomas Cranmer was to deliver a speech supporting the pope and Roman Catholicism.

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.”

As a symbol of his repentance Thomas Cranmer placed the hand that signed his support of the pope into the fire

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)

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“X” marks the spot in the city of Oxford. This is the site of the executions of Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer – known as the “Oxford Martyrs”
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The “Martyrs Memorial” erected in Oxford nearly three hundred years after the execution of the three Anglican bishops. The inscription at the base reads: “To the Glory of God, and in grateful commemoration of His servants, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Prelates of the Church of England, who near this spot yielded their bodies to be burned, bearing witness to the sacred truths which they had affirmed and maintained against the errors of the Church of Rome, and rejoicing that to them it was given not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake; this monument was erected by public subscription in the year of our Lord God 1841”



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.David speaking 2

Three Blind Mice and the English Reformation

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When Queen Mary ascended the throne of England in 1553 – few people would have known that within five years hundreds of Protestant sympathisers would be burnt at the stake, the queen would become known as “Bloody Mary”, and the nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice” would be written.

Queen Mary’s father – the famous Henry VIII – had England join the Protestant Reformation in the 1530s. The country would then swing between Catholicism and the nascent Protestantism for over a hundred and fifty years – depending on the loyalties of the regent at the time.

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Queen Mary I of England (reigned 1553 – 1558)


Queen Mary’s devotion lay with the church of Rome and her five years in charge would be spent reversing not only the church reforms of her father, but also her half-brother Edward VI who had become king at the age of nine and was dead six years later.

The highest profile executions that Mary ordered were those she organised in the university town of Oxford. Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer were Anglican bishops who were burnt to death outside of Balliol College for their support of England’s Reformation. By the time of her death in 1558 “Bloody Mary” had ordered the executions of almost three hundred men and women for their religious beliefs.

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Board Street in Oxford, England – in front of Balliol College. The “X” marks the spot where the three Protestant bishops Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer were burnt at the stake


So, where does the famous children’s nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice” fit into this story of the Reformation? Well, Queen Mary had not only earned the nickname “Bloody Mary” for her executions but also “The Famer’s Wife” for her marriage to King Phillip of Spain who owned huge tracts of fertile farmland. The three Anglican bishops who were executed in Oxford were said to be spiritually blind for their support of church reform and their criticisms of the Pope. And their deaths were a result of their actions to stop Mary becoming queen when her Protestant half-brother Edward VI died at the age of fifteen.

Who knew they were describing church history when as kids they sang:

“Three blind mice. Three blind mice.

See how they run. See how they run.

They all ran after the farmer’s wife,

Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,

Did you ever see such a sight in your life,

As three blind mice?”

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It is said the popular children’s nursery rhyme from centuries ago -“Three Blind Mice” – was written about the execution of the “Oxford Martyrs” (Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer)
A medieval woodcarving of the execution of Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer in 1555. Their colleague Thomas Cranmer (the Archbishop of Canterbury) was executed on the same spot in the same manner the following year.



(To read more about Thomas Cranmer – one of the “Three Blind Mice” – click here)


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About this blog: Pastor David Riley is a Christian minister residing 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.




When a Monk Married a Nun

They say behind every successful man is…. a surprised mother-in-law (or something like that….). And the mother-in-law of the sixteenth century church reformer Martin Luther would have been quite surprised by the marriage to her daughter Katharina. The reason for Katharina’s mother’s surprise was that her new son-in-law Martin was a monk who had taken a vow of chastity early in his career… and her daughter Katharina was a nun!

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After his marriage to former nun Katharina von Bura, Martin Luther said: “There is no more lovely, friendly, and charming relationship, communion, or company than a good marriage.”


Martin and Katharina first met when Martin helped Katharina and eleven of her fellow nuns escape their monastery in barrels normally used for transporting fish. Two years later (presumably enough time for the smell from the barrels to disappear from Katharina!) they were married in the German town of Wittenberg. The Luthers went on to raise six of their own children, adopt four others, and enjoy over twenty years of a contented home.

In the lead up to their marriage in 1525 some of Martin’s colleagues thought their wedding was a terrible idea. It’s not that they thought Martin and Katharina were ill-suited, but that the marriage might distract from the Reformation.  The reforming of the christian church in Europe had gained significant traction during the eight years since Martin had first knocked a document of his theological discussion points into the local church door. Despite the church’s traditional prohibition of clerical marriage having almost no biblical foundation some within the Reformation movement felt the proposed marriage would be a scandalous diversion.

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The “Luther House” in the German town of Wittenberg where Martin and Katharina raised six of their own children, four adopted children, and often had up to thirty university students boarding with them.


But marry they did – and it may well be one of Martin Luther’s most successful personal decisions. “Katy” (as Martin would call her) immediately began to manage the family’s affairs. She farmed, bred and sold cattle, ran a boarding home for students, and operated a hospital. Mrs. Luther’s business initiatives provided significant income for the family during those turbulent times of the early Reformation. Katharina was an organised, resourceful, and godly woman whose contribution to the Reformation was not simply in supporting her husband but also to the wider community.

They say that behind every successful man is… a successful woman. And Martin Luther’s prayerful decision to marry a nun who escaped her monastery in a fish-barrel was indeed a blessed success.

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This statue of Katharina Luther erected in the town of Wittenberg in 1999 conveys her industriousness and sense of purpose. It is doubtful Martin Luther’s leadership of the Reformation would have had the same impact without the support of this faithful and courageous woman.


Want to read more inspirational stories of faith? Click here to read the incredible story of how a rural monk unexpectedly closed down the violence of the Roman coloseum.


David speaking 2

About this blog: Pastor David Riley is a Christian minister residing 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.