The Forty Martyrs
Canonised in 1970
Painting of the 40 martyrs gathered around an altar with gallows and Tower of London in the background

The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales

In 1970, The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales were canonised. They are a group of Catholic, lay and clerics, men and women, executed between 1535 and 1679 for their adherence to what was then the illegal practice of the Catholic faith or for their priesthood.  The group of forty range from Carthusian monks who in 1535 refused to accept Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy, to priests who were caught up in the alleged Popish Plot against Charles II in 1679. Many were sentenced to death at show trials, or no had no trial at all.

In 1960 English and Welsh Catholic bishops were asked to identify a list of forty names, men and women, of varying social status, from all over England and Wales who might be regarded as candidates for canonisation. The forty chosen, as well as providing inspiring examples of saintly lives and martyrdom, also represented the hundreds of other English and Welsh Catholics who had demonstrated bravery, who had suffered imprisonment, persecution, execution or been impoverished by harsh religious fines.

Much of the pioneering work carried out by John Morris in the late 19th century was crucial in providing the necessary evidence of relics and longstanding devotion to these people. The list of names was submitted to Rome in December 1960. Of the Forty, three are women, four are laymen, the remainder are priests, monks, friars or brothers. Their feast day is May 4th, commemorated along with 284 other canonised or beatified martyrs of England, Scotland and Wales. The six Welsh Martyrs – Philip Evans, John Lloyd, John Jones, David Lewis, John Roberts and Richard Gwyn – are commemorated on October 25th.

Here are some of their stories.