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Blessed John Beche

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( Alias THOMAS MARSHALL).

English Benedictine abbot and martyr ; date of birth unknown; d. at Colchester, England, l December, 1539. Educated at Oxford (probably at Gloucester Hall now Worcester College ) he took his degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1515, and within the next fifteen years ruled the Abbey of St. Werburgh, Chester, his name appearing as twenty-sixth on the roll of abbots of that foundation. He was elected Abbot of St. John's, Colchester, 10 June, 1530, and, with sixteen of his monks, took Henry VIII's Oath of Supremacy, 7 July, 1534. The year 1535 brought the martyrdoms of the three Carthusian priors (4 May), of Bl. John Fisher (22 June), and of St. Thomas More (6 July), all five for the Divine right of the Roman Church to universal supremacy in spirituals. Beche was so deeply affected by these examples that his unguarded expressions of reverence and veneration for the martyrs, reported by spies, drew down upon him the resentment of the schismatical king. In November, 1538, the Abbot of St. John's further exasperated Henry and his ministers by denying the legal right of a royal commission to confiscate his abbey. Within a year of this he was committed to the Tower on a charge of treason, was discharged from custody, and rearrested some time before the 1st of November, 1539. Witnesses were found to testify how the abbot had said that God would "take vengeance for the putting down of these houses of religion", that Fisher and More "died like good men and it was pity of their deaths", and that the reason for the king's revolt from Catholic unity was the king's desire to marry Anne Boleyn. In his own examination the abbot yielded to human weakness and tried to explain away his former assertions of Catholic truth. In spite of these lapses he eventually received the crown of martyrdom. Tried at Colchester, by a special commission, in November, 1539, he no longer pleaded against the charge of contumacy to the newly established order of things. He was convicted and executed. An anonymous contemporary partisan of Henry's schism, quoted by Dom Bede Camm in "Engl. Martyrs ", I, 400, says of Abbot Beche and others who died at that time for the same offences, "It is not to be as these trusty traitors have so valiantly jeopardized a joint for the Bishop of Rome's sake. . .his Holiness will look upon their pains as upon Thomas Becket's, seeing it is for like matter". The decree of Pope Leo XIII by which Abbot John Beche received beatification bears date 13 May, 1895.


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