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Cuthbert Mayne

(c. 1543—1577) Roman Catholic priest and martyr


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(c.1543–77),

seminary priest and martyr. Born at Youlston (N. Devon) and educated as a member of the Church of England at Barnstaple Grammar School, he was given the living of Huntshaw parish at the age of seventeen through an uncle's influence and was later ordained in the Anglican church. He took a degree in arts at Oxford, being a member of St Alban's Hall (later Merton College). Here he was influenced by Edmund Campion and after some indecision was received into the R.C. Church and joined the English College, Douai, in 1573. He was ordained priest in 1575 and became a Bachelor of Theology in 1576. The same year he returned to Cornwall and joined the household of Francis Tregian disguised as a steward, but actually engaged in ministry to the recusants of the neighbourhood. His short apostolate ended on 8 June 1577 when Richard Grenville and 100 armed men arrested him and most of Tregian's household at Golden Manor. A waxen agnus-dei was found on his person and he was imprisoned at Launceston castle.

His trial attracted special attention because (1) he was the first seminary priest to be tried; (2) the evidence presented was circumstantial only; and (3) one of the justices, unsatisfied, sent a report of the proceedings to the Privy Council. Whereas the bench of judges had been divided, Grenville had browbeaten the jury to bring in a verdict of guilty. The Council, however, ordered the execution to be carried out ‘as a terror to the papists’. This took place at Launceston after he refused to acknowledge the queen's ecclesiastical supremacy on 30 November. Mayne's skull survives at the Carmelite monastery of Lanherne (Cornwall); a contemporary portrait is in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. He was canonized by Paul VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. Feast: 25 October.

W. Allen, A Briefe Historie of the Glorious Martyrdom of Twelve Reverend Priests (1582; 1908);B. Camm, Lives of the English Martyrs, ii (1914), 204–21;R. A. McElroy, Blessed Cuthbert Mayne (1929);H. Whelan, Snow on the Hedges: a Life of Cuthbert Mayne (1984).

Subjects: Christianity.


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