At 11.00am on Tuesday 21st March, there will be a service at the University Church to mark the Commemoration of Thomas Cranmer, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1532 – 1553. Cranmer had been one of the leaders of the English Reformation, and served as Archbishop under Henry VIII and Edward VI. He devised the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 and 1552. When Henry’s daughter, Mary, a Roman Catholic, came to the throne, Cranmer was deposed. Imprisoned in Bocardo Prison, close to the church of St Michael at the Northgate, Cranmer faced trial for heresy at the University Church in 1555. He was eventually condemned to death and was executed in Broad Street on 21 March 1556.
We still point out the stone carving which was removed from ‘Cranmer’s Pillar’ just by the lectern in the nave at St Mary’s. The carving was removed in order to accommodate the staging on which Cranmer stood. Just behind the pillar stands a memorial, which commemorates the Catholic and Protestant martyrs of the Reformation Period. This memorial is an ever present reminder that in spite of the divisions among Christians in the past, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Christians from many different traditions have faced martyrdom in different parts of the world. Their accusers have made no distinction between Roman Catholic or Anglican, Lutheran or Orthodox. Pope Francis has spoken of ‘the ecumenism of blood’ which challenges us to reflect on our common witness in the world today.
A martyr is quite simply one ‘who bears witness’. During the season of Lent, it is perhaps worthwhile for us to reflect on the character of our witness. How do we manifest a quality of Christlikeness in our dealings with others? How do our lives communicate the grace and the love of God? What might we learn from the example of the martyrs of the past? These are good questions for us to reflect on as we seek to grow in discipleship through study and prayer.