Swithun Wells


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martyr. Born at Bambridge (Hants.) of a wealthy country family, Swithun Wells, a well-educated and travelled man, who was also poet, musician, and sportsman, lived a quiet country life until middle age. At one time he was tutor to the household of the earl of Southampton, later he married and then founded his own school at Monkton Farleigh (Wilts.). In 1582 he came under suspicion for his popish sympathies and gave up his school. He actively supported priests, organizing their often dangerous journeys from one safe and friendly house to another. He and his wife, though impoverished, moved to Gray's Inn Fields in 1586 and made their house a centre of hospitality to recusants. Wells was twice arrested and interrogated, but released for lack of evidence. But in 1591 two priests, Edmund Gennings and Polydore Plasden, were arrested in his house while saying Mass. They were accused of high treason and later executed: Swithun Wells and his wife were both accused of harbouring priests and were also condemned to death. Mrs. Wells, who had given the priests hospitality, was reprieved but spent the remaining ten years of her life in prison; but Swithun Wells, who had been absent when the priests arrived, was executed at Gray's Inn Fields on 10 December. He used his last minutes of life praying for his executioners and expressing his forgiveness. He was canonized by Paul VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. Feast: 25 October.

R. Challoner, Memoirs of Missionary Priests (ed. J. H. Pollen, 1928), pp. 169–85; J. H. Pollen, Acts of English Martyrs (1891), pp. 98–127; Documents relating to the English Martyrs (Catholic Record Society), v. 131–3, 204–8.

Subjects: Christianity.

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