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Saint John of Cologne
and his Companions,
the martyrs of Gorcum
The holy champions of the faith whom the Church honors under the-title of the Martyrs of Gorcum, suffered for the faith in Holland, A.D. 1572. At that time, the whole country was overrun by the Calvinists, who had rebelled alike against the dominion of Spain and the authority of the Church. They succeeded in making themselves masters of the town of Gorcum and caused all the clergy and religious of the place to be cast into prison.
Father John of Cologne, of the Order of Preachers, having obtained permission of his Superiors to minister to the wants of the faithful, thus bereft of all spiritual assistance, was then exercising the functions of parish priest in the neighboring village of Hornar, and was in the habit of visiting Gorcum for the purpose of administering the Sacraments. On one of these occasions, having undertaken the journey in order to baptize an infant, he was seized and imprisoned with the others. Every cruelty which their inhuman enemies could devise was resorted to in order to induce the captives to renounce their faith, especially with regard to the real presence of our Lord in the Holy Eucharist and the Papal supremacy, or to tempt them at least to some act of disobedience to the Church's laws. After keeping them for some time without food, nothing but meat was set before them, the day purposely chosen being Friday. All the prisoners except one preferred running the risk of starvation to disobeying the precept of the Church ; and the one who yielded was not of the number of those nineteen who afterwards obtained the crown of martyrdom.
The soldiers presented a loaded pistol at the mouth of Nicholas Poppel, the second parish priest of Gorcum, bidding him now, if he dared, profess that faith which he had been wont to preach so boldly. The servant of God, nothing daunted, made an open profession of his belief; then, thinking his last moments had come, he cried out with a loud voice : " Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit." His tormentors contented themselves for the present, however, with hanging him up and letting him fall again repeatedly, till he was half-strangled. They inflicted the same cruelty on Nicholas Pick, the Father Guardian of the Franciscans ; and, when the rope broke and he fell apparently lifeless to the ground, they applied lighted candles to his head and face, from the effects of which, when he afterwards revived, he suffered great agony. The soldiers repeatedly beat their victims in the most barbarous manner, not even sparing one of the Friars who was decrepit from extreme old age, and who, at every blow that he received, answered only: "Thanks be to God." They took away nearly all their clothes, leaving them exposed to the cold night-air almost without covering.
After a cruel captivity of about ten days, the prisoners were removed by water to Bril, suffering innumerable insults and hardships during the passage. On their arrival, they were made to walk in procession through the town and round the gallows erected in the market-place. The holy martyrs sang, as they went along, the Litanies, the Salve Regina, the Te Deum, and the Stabat Mater, amidst the mockery and the blasphemies of the spectators. They were then thrown into a dark and loathsome dungeon, where a secular priest and two Fathers of the Premonstratensian Order were joined to their number.
Meantime the relations of the Father Guardian, themselves infected with heretical opinions, were making every effort to obtain his liberation and that of the other prisoners, since, like a good shepherd, he steadily refused to accept his own release, unless his Brethren also might be set free together with him. Life and liberty were accordingly offered to all the prisoners, on the sole condition of renouncing their allegiance to the Pope ; and, when they indignantly rejected the infamous proposal, a hasty order was given for their execution. During the night between the 8th and 9th of July, they were led to a large barn outside the town, making their confessions to one another as they went. In this place they were all hanged, to the number of nineteen, namely, one Dominican, eleven Franciscans, two Premonstratensians (one of whom had previously fallen from the faith, but had made generous reparation for his fall), one Canon Regular of Saint Augustine, and four secular priests. The history of one of these last also presented a signal instance of the mercy of God and of His secret judgments ; for he had led a scandalous life, which he expiated by the heroism of his death ; whereas another parish priest of irreproachable life, who had been arrested with him, failed in courage and perseverance and missed the martyr's crown. Another of the sufferers, an old man of seventy, Godfrey Duneus by name, was half-witted, yet he endured his captivity with extraordinary courage and generosity; and when at the last moment, by reason of his infirmity of mind, he was unconditionally offered his liberty, he refused, exclaiming " I see the heavens open ! I long to be with my brethren." And, the last of that heroic band, he passed to his reward.
After the death of the martyrs, the soldiers cut and mangled their bodies in the most inhuman manner; but, that same night, God was pleased to make known the glory of His servants to some of their friends at Gorcum, who were so far from suspecting what was going on at Bril, that they even entertained well- grounded hopes of the liberation of the prisoners. A pious citizen of Gorcum, by name Matthias Thoran, was in the habit of rising every night to pray for the welfare of the State. As he was practicing his customary devotions at about four o'clock in the morning of the 8th of July, he beheld this blessed troop of martyrs, clad in white garments, with golden crowns upon their heads, and resplendent with glory. When day was come, he told his fellow-citizens the vision which had been granted him. A similar favor was vouchsafed on the same night to another inhabitant of Gorcum ; so that the death of the martyrs was publicly known and spoken of amongst the Catholics of that town long before the arrival of the messenger who brought the tidings from Bril. A beautiful shrub sprang up on the scene of their martyrdom, bearing nineteen fair white blossoms. Many miracles have been granted through the intercession of the Martyrs of Gorcum and the application of their relics, especially in cases of hernia, a malady from which some of them had suffered when on earth. They were beatified by Clement X., A.D. 1674, and solemnly canonized by Pius IX. on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29, A.D. 1867, in the presence of upwards of three hundred Bishops, assembled in the Eternal City to celebrate the eighteenth centenary of the martyrdom of the Princes of the Apostles.
0 God, who crowned with the wreath of immortality the strife of your blessed Martyrs, John and his companions, for the faith, mercifully grant that, fighting here on earth, we may likewise deserve, through their merits and after their example, to be crowned with them in heaven. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
[Short Lives of the Dominican Saints - By a Sister of The Congregation of St. Catherine of Siena (Stone)
Edited, with an introduction by The Very Rev. Father Procter, S.T.L. - Provincial of the English Dominicans
"Christi pia gratia Santos sublimavit, Quos Patris Dominici Ordo propagavit ;
Nos eorum meritis petimus juvari, .Atque suis precibus Deo commendari."
Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. L
Paternoster House, Charing Cross Road