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John Roberts

(c. 1576—1610) Benedictine monk


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(c.1576–1610), Benedictine monk, priest and martyr. Born at Trawsynydd (Merioneth, now Gwynedd), Roberts was educated at St John's College, Oxford, and at the Inns of Court (London). He joined the R.C. Church at Notre Dame, Paris, in 1598 and entered the English College, Valladolid, the same year. But he and five other students really wanted to be monks and joined the Benedictine monastery of St Martin in the same town. This seemed like abandoning all prospect of apostolic activity in England, but in 1602 Pope Clement VIII authorized the Valladolid Benedictines to initiate just such a project. Roberts and one companion at once returned to England, in disguise. He so distinguished himself for his work in plague-stricken London that a contemporary commented: ‘Among all the religious who have worked in that island this man may be almost reckoned the chief, both as regards labour and fruitfulness of preaching.’ Within seven years he was arrested four times, banished twice, and escaped from prison once. When in exile he helped to found the Benedictine monastery of St Gregory, Douai (now Downside). In 1610 he returned to England and was arrested in early December at Holborn while saying Mass. Soon afterwards he was brought for trial before George Abbot, bishop of London, and Edward Coke, the Chief Justice. When accused of being a ‘seducer of the people’, he answered: ‘If I am, then our ancestors were deceived by St Augustine, the apostle of the English, who was sent here by the pope of Rome, St Gregory the Great…I am sent here by the same Apostolic See that sent him before me.’ Roberts was found guilty and condemned to death. On the night before his execution a Spanish lady, Donna Luisa de Carvajal, provided a fine feast in Newgate prison for twenty Catholic prisoners, at which she presided and John Roberts was the guest of honour. He was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn on 10 December 1610. He was canonized by Paul VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. Some autograph letters survive in the Public Record Office (London), as does one of his fingers at Downside Abbey. Feast: 25 October.

From The Oxford Dictionary of Saints in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Christianity.


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