On Sunday 24th August 2014 over one hundred pilgrims, including Archbishop George Stack, gathered at the Anglican parish church of Welsh Newton in Monmouthshire for the annual pilgrimage to the grave of St. John Kemble. Led by Fr. Nick James, parish priest of Monmouth, the pilgrims walked in procession reciting the rosary before gathering around the grave itself for prayers and the singing of the hymn to St. John Kemble.
The pilgrimage was blessed with glorious weather and the atmosphere was solemn and dignified for this Martyr of the Church.
Martyr for the faith
John Kemble was born in 1599 in St Weonards, Herefordshire. He lived during the troubled times of the English Reformation.
On 23rd February 1625, he was ordained priest at Douai College, France, and returned to England on 4th June 1625 as a missionary in Monmouthshire and Herefordshire. In 1678 Titus Oates perjured himself when he spoke of a Catholic conspiracy to assassinate King Charles II, causing anti-Catholic hysteria in England and Scotland. In what was to become known as the Popish Plot, it was considered treason to be a Catholic priest in these lands and anyone found guilty of the charge was executed by being hung, drawn and quartered.
John Kemble was arrested, having refused to go into hiding. He was 80 years old at the time and was such a gentle soul that it is rumoured that he had an effect on those who would persecute him. Consoling his distraught hangman, the priest is said to have whispered:
“Honest Anthony, my friend Anthony, be not afraid; do thy office. I forgive thee with all my heart. Thou wilt do me a greater kindness than discourtesy”.
Kemble was spared the full gruesome nature of the execution by being hung until dead and then drawn and quartered.
The annual pilgrimage to his grave takes place each year on the last Sunday of August, the Sunday closest to the feast of one of the last martyrs of England and Wales. His feast day is held on 22nd August.