Friday, December 11, 2009

For All the Saints: Blessed Arthur Bell

Posted by Webster 
I love reading the list of saints each day. Most of the names sound so exotic. Today, the roll of honor is: Victoricus, Trason, Severin Ott, Sabinus of Piacenza, Practextatus, Pontian, Pens, Melchior Sánchez, Martin Lumbreras, Lucas the Stylite of Chalcedon, Ludolf van Craeywinckel, Maria Maravillas de Jesús, Johannes Laurens, Hugolinus Magalotti, Gentian, Fuscian, Fidweten, Eutychius the Martyr, Daniel the Stylite, Pope Damasus, Cian, Barsabas of Persia, and—finally, in reverse alphabetical order, a name that doesn't sound at all exotic, in fact it sounds like he could be my cousin—Arthur Bell.

I had to look that one up. No one names a child Practextatus or Pens anymore, but Arthur Bell might be my nextdoor neighbor, even in Beverly, Massachusetts, circa 2009. And the name sounds, what, English? How many English saints are there?

Well, of course, Thomas More, one of my favorites, was English. It turns out that while More, like his friend John Fisher, stands alone in the Church's pantheon, Bell is one in a list of eighty-three Martyrs of England, Scotland, and Wales, all beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1987. Here is his citation from the Catholic Encyclopedia, courtesy of New Advent. (You could spend the whole day following these links!):

(alias FRANCIS) Friar Minor and English martyr, b. at Temple-Broughton near Worcester, 13 January, 1590; d. at London, 11 December, 1643. When Arthur was eight his father died and his mother gave him in charge of her brother Francis Daniel, a man of wealth, learning and piety, who sent him at the age of twenty-four to the English college at St.-Omer; thence he went to Spain to continue and complete his studies. Having been ordained priest, he received the habit of the Franciscan Order at Segovia, 8 August, 1618, and shortly after the completion of his novitiate was called from Spain to labour in the restoration of the English province. He was one of the first members of the Franciscan community at Douai, where he subsequently fulfilled the offices of guardian and professor of Hebrew. In 1632 Bell was sent to Scotland as first provincial of the Franciscan province there; but his efforts to restore the order in Scotland were unsuccessful and in 1637 he returned to England, where he laboured until November, 1643, when he was apprehended as a spy by the parliamentary troops at Stevenage in Hertfordshire and committed to Newgate prison.

The circumstances of his trial show Bell's singular devotedness to the cause of religion and his desire to suffer for the Faith. When condemned to be drawn and quartered it is said that he broke forth into a solemn Te Deum and thanked his judges profusely for the favour they were thus conferring upon him in allowing him to die for Christ. The cause of his beatification was introduced at Rome in 1900. He wrote "The History, Life, and Miracles of Joane of the Cross" (St.-Omer, 1625). He also translated from the Spanish of Andrew a Soto "A brief Instruction how we ought to hear Mass" (Brussels, 1624).

(Pardon the graphic image. That poor martyr is suffering the fate of Blessed Arthur Bell: Having been hanged and drawn, he is now being quartered.)