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Saint of the week

The saint who preached until death

Saint John Jones of Wales (July 12) was tried for high treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

By on Thursday, 3 July 2014

St John professed his vows in Pontoise, a commune in the northwestern suburbs of Paris

St John professed his vows in Pontoise, a commune in the northwestern suburbs of Paris

St John Jones – also known as John Buckley, John Griffith or Godfrey Maurice – was a Welsh Franciscan priest and martyr.

He was born in Clynnog Fawr in Caernarfonshire (Gwynedd) into a courageous Catholic family who remained faithful to the Church even at the height of the Protestant Reformation.

When John was a boy he entered a strict Observant Franciscan friary at Greenwich. When it was dissolved in 1559 he moved to Pontoise, where he professed his vows. He later travelled to Rome and stayed at the Aracoeli friary. While in Rome John joined the Roman province of the Reformati, a yet stricter branch of the Friars Minor.

In 1591 he asked to join the English Mission. Despite the evident risk to his life, his superiors agreed and he received a blessing and commendation from Pope Clement VIII.

John arrived in London towards the end of 1592 and laboured in different parts of the country. His brother Franciscans elected him their minister provincial.

In 1596 a spy told the priest-catcher Richard Topcliffe that John had visited two Catholics and celebrated Mass in their home. Although it was later revealed that the two Catholics were in prison at the time the Mass was alleged to have been celebrated, John was arrested, scourged and tortured. He was then imprisoned for two years.

On July 3 1598, John was tried on the charge of “going over the seas in the first year of Her Majesty’s reign [1558] and there being made a priest by the authority from Rome and then returning to England contrary to statute”. He was convicted of high treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

His execution was delayed by an hour because his executioner forgot to bring the rope. He used the spare time to preach to the crowd and answer their questions. He was executed on what is now the Old Kent Road in south-east London. His dismembered body parts were fixed on top of poles on roads leading to Newington and Lambeth.

He was beatified in 1929 by Pope Pius XI and canonised on October 25 1970 by Pope Paul VI.