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Peter Wright (martyr)

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Blessed Peter Wright (1603 – 1651), Catholic priest, Jesuit, martyr, was born in Slipton, Northamptonshire, England in 1603.

In older literature he was presumed to be a Protestant, but more recently record of him has been found at Slipton in 1613 as a Recusant, along with his mother, brother and sister.

He spent ten years working in a country solicitor's office at Thrapston in his home area. He then enlisted in the English army in the Low Countries, but deserted after a month, and for two years remained in the house of studies of the Flemish Jesuits at Ghent. In 1629 he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Watten. After studying philosophy and then theology at Liège he was ordained a priest there in 1636 and after a further period at Liège was sent to the Saint-Omer as professor of Moral. He then became chaplain in the years 1638-1644 to Colonel Sir Henry Gage's English regiment in the service of Spain and based near Ghent.

When Gage returned to England in the spring of 1644 to aid the King, Charles I, Wright went with him, first to Oxford and then to the relief of Basing House, the seat of John Paulet, 5th Marquess of Winchester. He administered the sacraments to the dying Gage on January 11, 1645. After this Wright became the marquess's chaplain in his London house, and was seized there by a motley band of pursuivants who burst in on Candlemas day, February 2, 1651.

Committed to Newgate, he was brought to trial before Henry Rolle, Lord Chief Justice, sitting with justices Philip Jermyn and Richard Aske and others, at the Old Bailey 14-16 May. Something of the atmosphere of the times should be clear when it is recalled that Charles I had been put on trial and subsequently been executed on January 30, 1649. The evidence at Wrigjt's trial was provided by the informer Thomas Gage, brother of the late Sir Henry and of two Catholic priests, as well as being himself a renegade Dominican priest. Thomas Gage had met Wright in the years when he was a military chaplain and testified against him, jut had he had already testified to obtain the death of other priests. The whole scene, about which numerous details have survived, was little like a modern court of law and bizarre moments included the Parliamentarian Lord Chief Justice rebuking the half-deranged informer for speaking disrespectfully of his Royalist soldier brother.

Wright was condemned under the statute 27 Eliz., c. 2. for being a Catholic priest in England and sentenced on Saturday May 17 to being hanged, drawn and quartered. His execution at Tyburn, London on a hot Whit Monday, May 19, 1651, took place before over twenty thousand spectators. In the period of the trial and the days after his execution, Wright was if not popular, at least a respected figure in public opinion. The sheriff's officers also seem to have been relatively well disposed to him and he was allowed to hang until he was dead, being thus spared the agonies of being eviscerated alive.

Peter Wright was beatified by Pope Pius XI on December 15, 1929. His feast day is May 19

References

  • This article incorporates text from the entry Ven. Peter Wright in Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, a publication now in the public domain.
  • Richard Challoner, Memoirs of Missionary Priests: A New Edition revised and corrected by John Hungerford Pollen, Burns Oates & Washbourne, London, 1924 [reprint Gregg, Farnborough, 1969], pp. 499–504.
  • Jerome R. Betts, Blessed Peter Wright, S.J. (1603/04-1651): His Life and Times, J.R. Betts, [Raunds], Northampton, 1997, ISBN 1-897589-20-4 (a vivid account, filled with abundant documentation covering the life and death and the period until the present day).

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