JESUITICA: Tennis, music and martyrdom
What Jesuits call the Catalogus is published round this time every year, giving the name and ministry of every Jesuit in the Province. Three hundred years ago that would have been complicated, because, under the reign of terror that followed the Titus Oates plot, many Jesuits needed alibis. Moreover their main ministry, celebrating Mass and the sacraments, was deemed an act of treason, punishable by being hanged, drawn and quartered. A document that listed the alibis and occupations of the Jesuits would have been gold for the priest-hunters. There were spies and bounty-hunters in abundance. Yet the savagery of the laws was sometimes tempered by local gentleness; this, and the light-hearted heroism of some martyrs, like St Philip Evans, make an astonishing story.Welshman Philip Evans SJ was only 34 when he was caught, sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, and remanded in custody. As two months passed, prison conditions grew more relaxed. One afternoon Philip was enjoying a game of tennis when the gaoler appeared: “Back to your cell, sir. You are to be hanged tomorrow.” “What haste is there? said Philip. Let me first play out my game.” Next morning when they came to fetch Philip, they found him happily playing on his harp – he was a brilliant harpist. The chains on his legs were so tight that it took over an hour of agony to remove them. Finally he was taken to the place of execution, Gallows Field, outside Cardiff. When he mounted the gallows Philip said, “This is the best pulpit a man can have to preach in, therefore, I cannot forbear to tell you again that I die for God and religion’s sake.” He was canonised in 1970.