Edmund Campion was a 16th century English Jesuit priest and martyr. He left Anglican Protestantism, studied to be a priest, then courageously returned to England as a priest in spite of the Catholic Faith being outlawed.
What Was Edmund Campion Known For?
Edmund was born in 1540 in London to a Catholic family. His father was a bookseller.
A brilliant young man, he attended St. John’s College, Oxford at just 15 years of age.
Queen Elizabeth herself took note of him and his rising career.
Edmund took the heretical Oath of Supremacy that claimed Elizabeth was the “head of the Church in England” and became an Anglican Protestant deacon in 1564.
But he continued studying, and in Ireland in 1569 he came to realize that Protestantism was a heretical schism from Christ’s Church.
In returning to his Catholic Faith, Edmund Campion gave up a promising career under the Queen’s service. Instead, he fled in exile to Douai, France, since the Queen had been excommunicated by Pope Pius V and so remaining a Catholic in England became increasingly dangerous.
He studied with the Jesuits and was ordained to the priesthood.
He and Fr Robert Persons were then sent back to England to minister to the faithful there. The year was 1580.
Being a priest in England meant torture and execution, and the faithful recusant Catholics in England established a networks of safe houses for priests, including false walls and compartments to fool the Protestant priest-hunters.
St Edmund’s return to England was known, and since he had been a favorite of the Queen, the hunt for him dominated all of Protestant England.
Eventually he was betrayed and captured. He was sent to the Tower of London, where he was given the opportunity to “recant,” apostatize, and if he did so, he would be rewarded.
He refused, and so was tortured multiple times.
After rounds of torture, the English Protestants would drag him before the inquistor panel of Protestant theologians to be debated. Barely able to sit upright from the physical abuse he had received, he nonetheless confounded all their arguments. The audience of these inquisition sessions began to be swayed by Campion’s cogent and sound arguments, and also they witnessed the horribly unjust treatment he was being given.
He was wrongly convicted of treason, and he responded that “In condemning us, you condemn all your own ancestors, all our ancient bishops and kings, all that was once the glory of England, the island of saints, and the most devoted child of the See of Peter.”
Seeing that they could not break him, they executed him by hanging, drawing, and quartering at Tyburn on December 1st, 1581.
St Edmund was beatified on December 29th, 1886 in Rome by Pope Leo XIII. St Edmund Campion was canonized on October 25th, 1970 in Rome by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.
He is the patron of the United Kingdom
For a great historical fiction series on the heroic recusant faithful of England, including St Edmund Campion, I recommend Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson’s books, Come Rack! Come Rope!, and By What Authority.
Benson himself was the son of the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, was ordained as an Anglican priest, before himself converting to the Catholic Faith.
Recommended versions of the books can be found on Cluny Media: https://clunymedia.com/products/come-rack-come-rope
and on TAN Books: https://tanbooks.com/products/books/other/fiction/come-rack-come-rope/