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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

John Houghton (martyr)

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St. John Houghton, by Zurbarán
Saint John Houghton (c. 1486-London, 4 May 1535) was an English Catholic martyr.
Born around 1486, he was (according to one of his fellow Carthusians) educated at Cambridge, but cannot be identified among surviving records. Similarly, no certain records can be found of his ordination.
He joined the London Charterhouse in 1515, progressed to be Sacristan in 1523, and procurator in 1526. In 1531, he became abbot of the Charterhouse of Beauvale in Nottinghamshire. However, in November of that year, he was elected Prior of the London house, to which he returned.
In 1534, he asked that he and his house be exempted from the oaths required under the new Act of Succession, which resulted in both him and his procurator being arrested and taken to the Tower of London. However, by the end of May, they had been persuaded that the oath was consistent with their Catholicism, with the clause "as far as the law of Christ allows" and they returned to the Charterhouse, where (in the presence of a large armed force) the whole community made the required professions.
However, in 1535, the community was called upon to make the new oath as prescribed by the 1534 Act of Supremacy, which recognised Henry as the head of the Church in England. Again, Houghton, this time accompanied by the heads of the other two English Carthusian houses (Robert Lawrence, prior of Beauvale, and Augustine Webster, prior of Axholme), pleaded for an exemption, but were this time arrested by Thomas Cromwell. They were called before a special commission in April 1535, and sentenced to death, along with Richard Reynolds, a monk from Syon Abbey.
Houghton, along with the other two Carthusians, Dr Reynolds, and John Haile, vicar of Isleworth, was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 4 May 1535.[1]
The three priors were taken to Tyburn in their habits and were not previously degraded from the priesthood and religious state as was the custom of the day. From his prison cell in the Tower, Thomas More saw the three Carthusian priors drawn to Tyburn on hurdles and exclaimed to his daughter Meg: "Look, Meg," he said, "these blessed Fathers be now as cheerfully going to their deaths as bridegrooms to their marriage!" John Houghton was the first to be executed. After he was hung, he was taken down alive, and the process of quartering him began. Catholic tradition relates that as Houghton was about to be quartered, as the executioner tore open his chest to remove his heart he prayed, "O Jesu, what wouldst thou do with my heart?" A painting of the Carthusian Protomartyr by Zurbarán depicts him with his heart in his hand and a noose around his neck. In the Chapter House of the Carthusian Priory of Parkminster in England, there is a painting depicting the martyrdom of the three priors. After his death, his body was chopped to pieces and hung in different parts of London. He was canonized on 25 October 1970.