St. John Stone

Picture by our parishioner, Bill Mc Covick

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R068

Saint John Stone

     St. John Stone belonged to the Canterbury house of the Augustinian Order. Little is known of his early life. In November 1534 parliament ratified the Act of Supremacy which declared the king to be the only supreme head of the Church in England. Henry VIII formally assumed the title on the first day of February 1535.  The Act of Supremacy was quickly followed by the Treason Act, enjoining the penalty of high treason on those who might desire to deprive the king of his title: supreme head of the Church. All clerics were required to sign a document explicitly acknowledging Henry VIII as head of the church in England.  Richard Ingworth, a signer of the document, who had been a Dominican friar, had been made Bishop of Dover.  On Saturday, 14th December 1538 Ingworth visited Canterbury and called on the Augustinian Friary with an order to close it down.  Every friar was forced to sign a formal document agreeing to the Act.  John Stone refused to sign.  In his report to Cromwell Ingworth described his meeting with John: Being in the Austin friars there the 14th day of December, one Friar there very rudely and traitorously used himself before all the company as by a bill here enclosed you shall perceive part. To write half his words and order there it were too long to write. I perceiving his demeanor straight sequestered him so that none spoke with him. I sent for the mayor and ere that he came I examined him before master Spilman and also afterwards before the mayor and master Spilman and at all times he still held and still will die for it that the King may not be head of the Church of England, but it must be a spiritual father appointed by God.

       John Stone was sent to London to languish in the Tower for months. On 27th October 1539 a commission of ‘Oyer et Terminer’ (Hear and Determine) was addressed to the Mayor of Canterbury and four others. So, Friar Stone was sent back to Canterbury to be tried for treason, the penalty being death.  While awaiting trial, Friar Stone was kept in the cell of Canterbury Castle. John’s friend, Nicholas Harpsfield, relates the following details: Having poured forth prayers to God in prison and fasted continuously for three days he heard a voice though he saw no one, which addressed him by name and bade him to be of good heart and not to hesitate to suffer death with constancy for the belief which he had professed. From which afterwards he gained such eagerness and strength as never to allow himself by persuasion or terror to be drawn from his purpose.

     We do not know the exact date of John Stone’s trial in December 1539, but it would appear to have been before Christmas. The presiding judges  made it a very short trial. A jury confronted with an indictment for High Treason had no alternative but to find the defendant guilty. John Stone was taken to Westgate to await his execution. In order to show to the people that he was an exceptional criminal the execution took place on a prominent hill inside the city walls;  and no expense was spared in the preparations so as to ensure maximum publicity.

     Friar John was dragged from Westgate to Dane John Hill. The choice of Dane John meant that, as John  stood on the scaffold, he saw his beloved Augustinian Friary, now barred and empty. He was hanged, drawn and quartered. The Traditional date of his martyrdom is May 12, 1540, but many modern authors suggest that it took place on Saturday, 27th December 1539. St. John Stone was beatified by Pope Leo XIII on 9th December, 1886 and was canonized as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales by Pope Paul VI in 1970.  St. John Stone is a Christian man who chose death rather than go against his conscience and commitment to the Sacred Magisterium of the Church.