Sunday 11 July 2010

St. Oliver Plunkett - Traditional Feast

When Pope Benedict XV beatified Archbishop Oliver Plunkett ninety years ago on 22nd May, 1920, the struggle for Irish Independence was at its height. He suffered a martyrs death at Tyburn, London, condemned by unjust judges upon perjured evidence, the victim of the anti-Catholic Titus Oates Plot, on 11th July, 1681.

The mission of St. Oliver to Ireland took place in the shadow of the fall of the Catholic Confederacy a generation before, which was largely due to divisions among the Catholics between the Gaelic Irish and Anglo-Irish. St. Oliver's Anglo-Irish background was at once of great assistance and a hinderance to his mission. The fall of the Confederacy was followed by the murderous and anti-Catholic rampage of Cromwell and his forces throughout Ireland during the years 1649-'53. The reign of Charles II promised much but gave little in the way of relief for Catholics.

St. Oliver was appointed to the See of Armagh on 9th July, 1669, and was consecrated at Ghent on 30th November the same year. He landed in Ireland on 7th March the following year. In 1678, the so-called 'Popish Plot' conspiracy broke out under the pervert, renegade and defrocked perjurer Oates.

Dr. Plunkett had to undergo two trials. Even an English Protestant jury would not convict him - on the first occasion. At the second trial, however, the result was not in doubt. Lord Chief Justice Pemberton, who Lord Brougham in his Lives of the Chief Justices of England branded as betraying the cause of justice and bringing disgrace on the English Bar, replied to the protests of Dr. Plunkett thus: "Look you Mr Plunkett, do not waste your time by talking about these things as it leaves less time for your defence,” adding “the bottom of your treason, which is treason of the highest order, was the setting up of your false religion and there is nothing more displeasing to God than it.” The jury returned within fifteen minutes with a guilty verdict. Archbishop Plunkett replied: “Deo Gratias.”

In March of that year, King Charles II granted to William Penn territory that would later become Pennsylvania. Blessed Innocent XI, who would later support William of Orange's usurpation of the English Throne, was Pope. Also in 1681, John Dryden published the first part of Absalom and Achitophel. In that poem, he described Oates thus: "Sunk were his eyes, his voice was harsh and loud, Sure signs he neither choleric was nor proud: His long chin proved his wit, his saint-like grace, A church vermilion and a Moses' face."

It was on 11th July, 1681, that Archbishop Plunkett was led to the scaffold at Tyburn "for promoting the Roman faith," and died the last of 264 martyrs for the Faith to have spilled their blood in England since 1534.

A mere four years later, the Catholic convert James II ascended the English Throne but was to be ousted by his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange in 1688 at the birth of a Catholic heir, the future James III. The last of the martyrs may have fallen but the persecution of Catholics was to continue.

In a letter of 15th December, 1673, Archbishop Plunkett wrote: "I count myself fortunate now and again to obtain a little barley bread, and the house where Bishop Brenan [of Waterford] and I are is made of straw and is roofed in such a way that from the bed we can see the stars and at the head of the bed every small shower of rain refreshes us; but we would rather die of hunger and cold than abandon our flocks."

The traditional hymn to St. Oliver Plunkett runs as follows:

Come glorious Martyr, rise,
Into the golden skies,
Beyond the sun!
Wide, wide your portals fling,
Ye martyr hosts, O sing,
To greet his entering,
"Well hast thou done."

Never reproach he made,
Like to his Lord betrayed,
By his own kind.
Sharing his Master's blame,
Gladly he bore the shame,
While the false charge they frame,
"Guilty," they find.

As coach of state he hails,
Hurdle of shame, and trails,
All the rough way,
Through London streets he goes,
Heedless of lesser woes,
Tyburn holds greater throes,
Ready that day.

Blood-stained the path he trod,
Leading him on to God,
Counting no cost.
"Now for my Faith I die,"
Said he in glad reply;
"Oh, for my God I sigh,
All fear is lost."

"Lord in thy hands," he prays,
"My soul forever stays,
Strengthen thou me.
Welcome, O rope and knife"
All those who made this strife,
I now forgive, my life,
Offer to thee."

Hail then, great Martyr, hail!
In death thou didst prevail!
Winning renown!
Blow the full trumpets, blow!
Wider yon portals throw!
Martyr, triumphant go,
Where waits thy crown!

St. Oliver Plunkett, pray for us!


Patricius said...

Thank you for this excellent accountof St Oliver. Off topic perhaps but can anyone explain why the Pope supported the usurper William of Orange?

Doc Hannon said...

William of Orange was Stadtholder of the Netherlands and was the long-term enemy of Louis XIV of France. Bl. Innocent XI's reign was beset with various conflicts with Louis over Church property (the régale and Avignon), Church discipline (Gallicanism), Church doctrine (Jansenism and Quietism), and a number of other issues, such as the harboring of criminals 'on the run' by the French Ambassador in Rome.

Basically, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

At the same time, the post-Restoration Stuarts were deeply endebted (in several senses) to Louis and James II's particular brand of Catholic zeal was not favoured by Rome.

Bl. Innocent certainly gave William 150,000 scudi in 1676 but this was more likely to aid him against Louis' attacks upon the Low Countries than to aid the so-called 'Glorious Revolution' but it was too good a bit of 'continuity' to pass up!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Food for thought. I see that a recent banner of King Billie included the face of Pope Innocent but it had to be scrapped when this was discovered!

JTS said...

Des, is there a video you could post of the tune of the hymn? Thanks! Jim

Deise Girl said...

Beautiful hymn. Very nice to be reminded of those who died for the faith. We hear very little about Oliver Plunkett today.

Donnelly's Hollow said...

The sufferings of the martyrs is a powerful source of grace. We need that grace now more than ever.

Random Thinker said...

Another good post. The Martyrs are very important figures. We should be more aware of their sacrifice.

Anonymous said...

I am related to st.Oliver Plunkett apparently.I can see a family resemblance between him and my Father and Grandfather.

Anonymous said...

do you have a tune for that hymn?

Shandon Belle said...

Well done Des! Up the Dubs and better luck next year! ;-)