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John Kemble

(1599—1679) Roman Catholic priest


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(1599–1679), seminary priest and martyr. Born at St Weonards (near Hereford) of a Wiltshire family, Kemble was educated at the English College, Douai, where he was ordained priest in 1625. Soon afterwards he returned home for his apostolate, making his brother's house, Pembridge Castle, the headquarters from which (with Jesuit help) mission centres were set up in Herefordshire and Gwent. His extraordinarily long apostolate of fifty-four years makes him unique among recusant priests of his time. During the reign of Charles I and even the Commonwealth he was comparatively safe and unmolested, when he founded centres at the Llwyn, the Craig, Hilston, and Codanghred. But after the Popish Plot (1678) priests were arrested in different parts of the country and brought to London to be confronted by Titus Oates. At the age of eighty Kemble was arrested, imprisoned at Hereford for three months, and tried for being a seminary priest. He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. But first he was taken to London, strapped to a horse, and offered release if he would reveal details of the non-existent plot. He was then sent back to Hereford prison. On 22 August the under-sheriff came to take him to execution: Kemble asked for time to pray, to smoke a last pipe, and take a last drink; together the two men shared a cup of wine and a pipe. The hangman also venerated the courageous priest and showed his esteem by making sure that he was dead after hanging before carrying out the rest of the sentence.

Kemble's room can still be seen at Pembridge Castle: his altar and missal are at the R. C. Church at Monmouth. A sketch of him drawn from life survives. The Herefordshire expression ‘Kemble pipe’ signifies the last one in a sitting. Kemble was canonized by Paul VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. Feast: 25 October.

From The Oxford Dictionary of Saints in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Christianity.


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