St Edmund Arrowsmith SJ
Canonised in 1970
Painting of the head and torso of a man wearing dark clothing and hat and white collar, with a dark background

Edmund Arrowsmith SJ

Edmund Arrowsmith was born at Haydock in Lancashire. He came from staunch Catholic families on both his parents sides. Lancashire was well known to be a recusant stronghold in the 16th and 17th centuries, but Catholics still suffered many difficulties - Edmund’s grandfather had died in Salford Gaol for refusing to abandon his faith.

The Arrowsmiths had a number of children, and in 1585 another son was born. Christened Bryan, he was later to adopt the name Edmund at his confirmation. When Bryan was around five his parents were arrested late at night for their persistent refusal to attend the state church. Their children were left outside in the cold until taken in by a kindly neighbour and cared for until the parents were released. The family was impoverished by the repeated fines imposed upon them for adhering to their faith, and Bryan was sent away to be brought up by a neighbour (a secret Catholic priest), working as a servant in return for an education. At the age of 20 he made his way to the seminary at Douai in France, where he took the name of Edmund Campion as his patron. Because of the family’s poverty, the newly renamed Edmund’s studies were funded by the Papal Scholarship bursary, set up by Pope Gregory XIII to support English seminarians in exile.

In 1613 Fr Edmund Arrowsmith returned to Lancashire as a missionary priest. In 1624 he joined the Jesuit order, having undergone training at a clandestine novitiate based in Clerkenwell in London.

He was described by those who knew him as short, undistinguished looking, chatty, humorous, with a ready wit and sound theological knowledge. His health was never great, but he worked long hours ministering to the many Catholics scattered around the Lancashire countryside. He was based in Brindle, travelling widely throughout the county by horse, carrying with him the books, vestments and necessities for saying mass in farmsteads and cottages.

Painting of a man looking up to a shaft of light. His hands are clasped in front of his stomach, there is a rope around his neck and knife in his chest

Edmund Arrowsmith SJ

In the summer of 1628, Edmund Arrowsmith was betrayed by a married Catholic couple, who were disgruntled with his advice over a dispensation for their wedding, which had taken place in a Protestant church. He was pursued on horseback by the local Justice and his staff, but his horse refused to jump a stream, and Arrowsmith was captured. His trial, at Lancaster, was marked by evident animosity on the part of the judge, Henry Yelverton, who persistently interrupted and derided the priest. Arrowsmith refused to answer questions relating to his priesthood as this would incriminate any Catholics who had given him shelter. The inevitable verdict of treason was passed, and Edmund Arrowsmith was shackled and returned to Lancaster Gaol to await execution.

Four small relics on an oval of red cloth. There are handwritten labels in Latin to identify the relics

Relics of Edmund Arrowsmith: bone, undergarment, fabric that wrapped his hand, and skin of the finger

No official executioner could be found to carry out the gruesome sentence, and such was Arrowsmith’s popularity locally that in the end the authorities had to pay forty shillings to an ex-prisoner to perform the task. He was executed , with inevitable clumsiness, on August 28th 1628, with the judge watching from a nearby house, nervous at the size of the crowd which had turned out to watch.

Arrowsmith’s dismembered body was displayed on the walls of Lancaster Castle, and his hand was rescued by an unknown sympathiser. This hand, now preserved in Ashton-in-Makerfield was credited with numerous miraculous cures. The relic seen here includes a piece of linen in which Arrowsmith’s hand was originally wrapped

A brown rectangular trunk with curved lid and metal studs along the edges

Trunk containing vestments, altar cloths, and other items associated with the mass

As we have seen, Edmund Arrowsmith, travelled extensively to carry out his priestly ministrations. As most of his parishioners were not well off, they were not able to provide the necessary vestments and altar plate for saying mass. This wooden trunk covered with ponyskin was discovered in a hiding hole at Samlesbury Hall in Lancashire in the late 19th century. Samlesbury was then the home of the Catholic Southworth family. Fr John Southworth had been imprisoned for a time with Edmund Arrowsmith and the two men were well acquainted.

An open trunk with vestments, a chalice, and rosary visible inside

Contents of the trunk

The trunk contains a variety of homemade vestments and altar cloths, as well as an altar stone, pewter chalice, a rosary ring and prayer bracelet and a mass book. Everything, in short, a priest needed to say mass. The inside of the trunk is covered with early 17th century printed wallpaper, and the fabric of the vestments is dated to the first half of the 17th century. The trunk was designed to be strapped to a horse, taken by priests in the area around to local farmhouses to say mass. It would undoubtedly have been used by John Southworth and is also particularly associated with Edmund Arrowsmith.

An open trunk with vestments, a chalice, and rosary visible inside

Linen bonnet found in the trunk

On top of the vestments was a delicate linen and silk bonnet with wide lappets, probably the property of a well to do farmer’s wife. This is thought to have been used as a decoy, sitting on top of the mass kit,  in case the trunk was opened by the authorities.

Green silk vestments which have been laid out on red cloth

Vestments made from green silk

The vestments are made from a mixture of dress fabrics, patched and pieced together, and a particularly fine green ribbed silk with white brocaded ribbon, seen here, probably also part of a lady’s best dress fabric. This trunk is a unique survival from 17th century Catholic Lancashire, and is now, with its contents, at Stonyhurst College.

A chalice with a rope tied around the stem lying on green material

Pewter chalice and rope girdle found in trunk