Burning the hand that betrays you…

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BURNING THE HAND THAT BETRAYS YOU…..

Thomas Cranmer felt guilty.

Incredibly guilty.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury had just watched from his prison cell two of his colleagues (Latimer and Ridley) burned at the stake. Queen Mary of England had decided to make examples of these three clergymen as she endeavoured to return England to Roman Catholicism. These three men (after whom the nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice” was written) were key Protestant protagonists in the sweeping sixteenth century church reforms of 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 German Martin Luther with the death of all those who followed the biblical teachings of the Reformation.

Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were executed in 1555 by being set on fire in the public square outside of Balliol College in Oxford – but Thomas Cranmer was allowed to live. The reason for Cranmer’s stay-of-execution was he’d renounced all the Protestant beliefs of his two colleagues, fully re-accepted Catholic theology including papal supremacy, and stated there was no possibility of eternal life outside the Catholic Church.

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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 delivered his speech in Oxford he unexpectedly deviated from the authorised script. He shocked everyone by once again declaring his support for the Reformation, and said 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.”

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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.”

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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”

 

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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.

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