A Shrine at Little Crosby Photographs of the forgotten shrines of England fill a large book, but a greater stain than this blots the national honour; the forgetting of those who offered to their country a passion comecrated in their blood.
The English Martyrs, resolved to win us or die upon our pikes, are less than a name to the majority of Englishmen. The chapel of the English Martyrs at Little Crosby, near Liverpool, has been designed to pay this debt of memory that God may be glorified in His servants, and the oblivion into which their heroism has fallen challenged by that ancient battle-gage of the Church, the blood of her martyrs.
Eight martyrs, Lanesshire men for the most part, as befits a Lancashire parish, are painted in fresco round the walls of the
chapel. Some are paying court to our Lady and the Holy Child; others are grouped at the altar as if participating in the sacrifice which they shed their blood to maintain; and in a predella under the main figures are scenes wherein they confess Christ in their lives or deaths.
Roger Wrenn°, the weaver, re-mounts the gallows gaily, the first rope broken, to the astonishment of the Sheriff and the officers; Robert Arrowsmith, educated in a Protestant school, teaches his playmates the Little Office of Our Lady, which they sing in the Dominie's very ears; Richard Langhorne, steadfast in the following of his Master, is silent at the perjuries of Titus Ocues; John Rigby, at the scaffold's foot, cleaves the conscience of a Protestant friend with his noble confession of virginity.
Round the altar stand St. John Fisher, triumphant in the sacred purple which he never lived to wear on earth; St. Thomas More, the King's good servant but God's first; Lawrence Johnson, a Lancashire priest born but a stone's throw away; and Richard Herst, farmer and shelterer of homeless priests, who stands spade in hand shyly in this glittering company.
The altar-piece itself, the older form of the Pieta, the key-signature of the whole
shows prayer perfected in sacrifice. The Body of the Crucified, ever united to the Divinity of the Word and thus adorable, stands in the tomb, Our Lady turns as if to show the onlooker the pledge of her title to be the Queen of Martyrs; and St. John, fixed in contemplation of the Wounds, writes almost mechanically his Gospel. These frescoes have already in a small way helped to stir devotion to the English Martyrs. Men come in on their way from work, women snatching a moment from the home, children coming home from school run in; and often, as he worked, the painter caught the murmur of the prayer: "Jesus convert England: Jesus have mercy on this country." We have not quite forgotten.