The Durham Martyrs of 1594
In the year 1594 four men in the country of Durham gave their lives for the Church, and they were beatified with other English martyrs in 1929. The first, on February 4, was a layman, Blessed John Speed (alias Spence), who was hanged in the city of Durham for "being aiding and assisting to priests, who he used to serve in guiding and conducting from one Catholic house to another. He died with constancy, despising the proffers that were made to him to bring him to conform" (Challoner).
Blessed John Boste was born at Dufton in Westmorland about the year 1544 and educated at Queen's College, Oxford, of which he became fellow. He was received into the Church in 1576 and four years later went to Rheims, where he was ordained priest in the following year and returned to England. He laboured with such energy and success in the North that he became one of the most sought-after of priests, whether by his friends of his enemies. He was betrayed by one Francis Ecclesfield. To forward his purpose by inspiring confidence in Mr Boste, this Ecclesfield had sacrilegiously received the sacraments from his hands; he then informed Sir William Bowes, and the priest was taken in his hiding-place at Waterhouse, the residence of Mr. William Claxton, near Durham.
He was taken up to London, where he was so terribly racked in the Tower to induce him to betray his friends that he was permanently crippled. He was sent back to Durham for trial at the July assizes. With him was arraigned Blessed George Swallowell, a converted Protestant minister; he was wavering in his resolution, but the sight of Mr. Boste's "resolute, bold, joyful and pleasant" bearing encouraged him to stand firm and make in open court a declaration of his faith, whereupon the priest equally publicly absolved him. The man suffered a few days later at Darlington. Mr. Boste was condemned for his priesthood, and on July 24, 1594, was put to death at Dryburn, outside Durham. An eye-witness (the Ven. Christopher Robinson, afterwards martyred) states that he recited the Angelus as he mounted the ladder, and that he was cut down so soon ("after a space of a Paternoster") that he revived while being carried for dismemberment, which was begun while he was yet living. Another witness states that he prayed, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus forgive thee!" for his executioner even as his heart was being torn from his body.
Two days after the passion of John Boste there was hanged, drawn, and quartered for his priesthood at Gateshead Blessed John Ingram, who had been condemned at Durham at the same time as Boste and Swallowell. He was born at Stoke Edith, in Herefordshire, and educated at New College, Oxford. After his conversion he went to the English College at Rheims and afterwards to Rome, where he was ordained in 1589 and three years later was sent on the Scottish mission. At the end of 1593 he was arrested on Tyneside and sent to London, where he was tortured under the eye of Topcliffe but, in his own words, "I take God to witness that I have neither named house, man, woman, or child, in time of or before my torments".
See Challoner's MMP., pp. 197, 202-208, and 597-600. Cf. also the many references to these martyrs which occur in the Catholic Record Society Publications, vol. v. Bd. John Ingram was an expert in Latin verse and many of his "Epigrams" are there printed (pp. 270-285), together with two letters to his fellow prisoners.
Butler's Lives of The Saints, Herbert J. Thurston, S.J. and Donald Attwater
Nihil Obstat: PATRICIVS MORRIS, S.T.D., L.S.S., CENSOR DEPVTATVS.
Imprimatur: E. MORROGH BERNARD, VICARIVS GENERALIS
WESTMONASTERII: DIE XXIII FEBRVARII MCMLIII