Small fragment of skull on a blue flower-shaped sequin which is attached to a gold piece of cloth.

Skull relic of Cuthbert Mayne

Cuthbert Mayne was a Cornishman, born around 1543. He was brought up in the Anglican church and took orders as a rector. While studying at Oxford University he came into contact with Edmund Campion and his circle of friends. Convinced by their discussions on the validity of the Catholic church he gave up his Anglican parish and travelled to Douai in France in 1573 to study to be a Catholic priest. He was the first of the new wave of post-Tridentine continental educated priests, arriving in England in April 1576. He took up a post in the household of Francis Tregion of Golden Manor in Cornwall, posing as a steward, while ministering to local Catholics. On June 8th 1577 he was arrested in a government raid, and was found to be wearing an agnus dei around his neck. This was a small wax oval disk with an image of the lamb of God embossed upon it. These were made in Rome and blessed by the Pope- they were specifically singled out as illegal under the laws of Elizabeth I, as they implied loyalty to the papacy, a foreign power.

Mayne argued that the proof against him was slight, but the judge, Roger Manwood, replied saying  ‘where plain proofs were wanting, strong presumption ought to take place.’  Mayne was found guilty and condemned to death by hanging, drawing and quartering. Francis Tregion was imprisoned for 28 years. Mayne was executed in the main square at Launceston on November 29th 1577.

Ink sketch of a skull viewed from the top with a hole in the centre

John Morris' sketch of Cuthbert Mayne's skull

Cuthbert Mayne’s skull, with its pierced cranium, drawn here by John Morris, demonstrates that the head had been stuck on a pike after execution. The skull was rescued shortly afterwards and smuggled to the Continent. In 1794 a convent of English Carmelites based in the Low Countries took refuge at Lanherne in Cornwall after they had been expelled during the French Revolution. One of their greatest treasures was Cuthbert Mayne’s skull. The small fragment seen earlier was given to John Morris in 1872 during his epic work to collect and record the relics of Catholic martyrs.