Stonyhurst relics connect Campion with today

St Edmund Campion SJ (1540-1581)
St Edmund Campion SJ (1540-1581)

Since 1886, Campion Day (1 December) has had special significance for Stonyhurst College in Lancashire.  It was in that year that Edmund Campion SJ was beatified, and since then, his feast has been kept with solemnity and joy, up to the present day. This year, the College marked 130 years since the beatification and the 455th anniversary of Campion's martyrdom with an all-day retreat.

Two items from the College and Jesuit Collections featured as part of the retreat. The small silver crucifix (below left) was made in England, around the late Elizabethan or early Jacobean period; it bears no maker’s mark. To be identified with such a Catholic object as this, at such a period as this, would have been very dangerous. It is a reliquary, taking the form of a crucifix, showing Christ on the front and a Jesuit monogram for Mary on the reverse. A number of unidentified relics are still contained within, which may be of English martyrs such as Edmund Campion or Robert Southwell.  It was probably originally worn by a priest working as an underground missionary in England. The crucifix was worn by the actor playing Edmund Campion in a performance in St Peter’s Church on Campion Day, in order to connect the audience with the 16th century mission.

The silver cross containing unidentified relicsFreedom of conscience and worshipThe rope that bound St Edmund Campion SJ

The rope which tied Edmund Campion to the wicker hurdle which dragged him from the Tower of London to Tyburn on 1 December 1581 was rescued by an unknown Catholic and smuggled out of England to Rome, where it was presented to Robert Persons SJ. Persons was Campion's companion on the mission to England, and escaped to Italy after Campion was captured. The rope (right) clearly meant a great deal to him, as he wore it around his waist until he died in 1610. From that point it has been associated with St Omers College and thereafter with Stonyhurst. The property of the British Jesuit Province, it has played an important symbolic part in Campion Day Masses for many years.

A series of Campion Day Workshops organised by the College Curator, Jan Graffius, examined the significance of the rope. "In itself a humble piece of domestic equipment, the rope can also represent the binding power of states and regimes to repress freedom of conscience and worship, from Ancient Rome through to the modern day," says Mrs Graffius. "But Campion, like his 20th century counterpart, Oscar Romero, withstood the might of the state, not through violence but through love and self-sacrifice. The rope, therefore, is a powerful symbol of the failure of official persecution in the face of the liberating words of the Gospel." Pupils in the workshops were met with lengths of rope and a modern wicker hurdle, which acted as powerful physical reminders of the reality of Campion's execution.

A wide range of resources about St Edmund Campion SJ is available on the website of the Jesuit Institute.