It is a source of strength and joy to us when we remember that, through Christ, we are united not only to the Father, but to each other, including those we call saints in heaven. We ask them to pray for us, since they are so close to God in holiness and charity, and they show us love by interceding for us. St Benedict, of course, is the patron saint of all Benedictines, but we have two special patron saints of our own here at Ampleforth: St Lawrence (to whom the Abbey Church is dedicated) and St Alban Roe, a monk of this community who became a canonised martyr.
Saint Lawrence, one of the seven deacons of Rome, suffered martyrdom during Emperor Valerian's persecution of the Christians. Lawrence was a deacon of Pope Sixtus II and was overwhelmed with grief when Sixtus was condemned to death in the year 258. As deacon, Lawrence had charge over the possessions of the church. The Prefect of Rome commanded Lawrence to bring in the treasures of the church to be handed over to the Emperor. Lawrence said he would need three days to collect them. He sold them and then he hastened through the city giving the money to the poor, the crippled, the widows, the orphans and other unfortunates. These then followed him to the Prefect’s house, knowing the danger he was in. When the Prefect demanded the treasures of the church, Lawrence waved his hand to the people, “Behold, these are the treasures of the Church.”
Furious, the Prefect prepared a red-hot griddle and bound Lawrence to it. As they were holding him down with iron forks, Lawrence said: "I offer myself up as a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness." With a humour that only the saints possess, he raised his eyes to the judge and said, "See, this side is well roasted; turn me on the other and eat." These words, in Latin, are the magnificat antiphon for vespers on his Feast Day. According to Prudentius, an early Christian writer, Lawrence's death and example led to the end of paganism in the city and inspiring a great devotion in Rome. St. Lawrence's name is in the first Eucharistic Prayer, and his Feast Day is celebrated on August 10. This image, by Fra' Angelico, shows St Lawrence being ordained deacon by Pope Sixtus.
Saint Alban Roe
Fr Alban Roe was baptised Bartholomew sometime in 1583, in Suffolk. He attended Cambridge University, and while there experienced something that caused his conversion to Catholicism.
While visiting in St Albans, he heard that a Catholic recusant had been put in prison there for his beliefs, and chose to visit the prisoner, in order to argue him out of his superstitious ways. It did not work out like that, and the Catholic prisoner instead, persuaded Bartholomew that he needed change.
In February 1608 he took up a place in the English College (a seminary) in Douai, eager to become a priest. He was expelled in 1611, however, for criticising the principal.
It so happened that a Benedictine house was given permission to establish itself at Douai in December of 1608, and it seems likely that young Bartholomew was acquainted with it. At any rate, wishing to avoid further embarrassment in Douai, he joined the noviciate at another English monastery, St Lawrence’s at Dieulouard in 1613. Once ordained he went to England where he worked in secret as a priest.
In 1618 however he was imprisoned for being a priest in England - a ‘crime’ which carried the death penalty. Fortunately, he was released by King James I in a general amnesty in 1623 and banished. He returned to England however, and was re-arrested in 1625 and imprisoned in St Alban’s where his adventure had begun so many years before.
Luckily for him, his friends had him removed to the Fleet prison in London where circumstances were much better. Indeed, like many others, he was allowed out into the streets of London by day so long as he gave his word (Fr. ‘parole’ ) that he would return by nightfall. He used his freedom to minister to many.
While King Charles I governed without parliament, no imprisoned priests were executed. When the Long Parliament convened, however, the hangings began again in earnest (20 between 1641 and 1646 including Fr Alban). On the 21st January 1642, he and Fr Thomas Reynolds, a priest in his 80s, offered their last mass and were led to the gallows. They gave each other absolution.
Just before his death, Alban asked the sheriff if his life would be spared if he renounced his Catholic religion and became an Anglican. The sheriff swore he would be spared if he did. Alban then said to all: “See, then, what the crime is for which I am to die, and whether my religion be not my only treason... I wish I had a thousand lives; then would I sacrifice them all for so worthy a cause.” They were allowed to hang until they were dead before being quartered.