On 20th January, during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, a memorial to seven Jesuit martyrs was unveiled at the Anglican Church of St-Giles-in-the-Fields following a service of Choral Evensong, attended by members of both Anglican and Catholic communities in central London. To mark this ecumenical moment, Bishop Paul McAleenan and Venerable Luke Miller, Archdeacon of London, along with clergy from Farm Street, St Giles and St Patrick’s, Soho, took part in the service.
Writing in The Pelican, the newsletter of St Giles, Rev Alan Carr, the Rector, explained: ‘This January finds us marking once and for all an unfortunate episode in the nation’s, and in London’s, history, now generally known as the Titus Oates Affair.
‘At a time of fevered anti-Catholicism, a disgruntled and malicious Oates sought personal revenge on the Jesuit order by inventing a plot that a number of their priests were planning to murder the king. The charge was taken up by the popular press and London mob and in its wake a number of priests and lay people were convicted of treason and met a brutal death at the hands of the executioner. Like others, I imagine, they made their way west along High Holborn and St Giles High Street to Tyburn, but in the case of seven of them their bodies were brought back again eastwards and laid to rest in St Giles Churchyard. Why they in particular were returned to us I am not sure but returned they were, though today, of course, as with everyone else once buried in the churchyard, it is not possible to say where they lay for certain (perhaps in the northern part of the churchyard, often reserved for suicides, undesirables and those of uncertain origin).
‘Equally mysterious is why so long has passed without some kind of material commemoration of these burials among us at St Giles. Our Protestant identity was more marked in previous generations, to be sure, and this, coupled with today’s climate of greater, mutual toleration (indeed, fraternisation), now allows, in a way that was, perhaps, less possible before, this present project.’
The project, a shared initiative between St Giles, the Jesuit community at Farm Street and St Patrick’s, Soho Square, was the creation of a memorial tablet of Portland stone, carved by Philip Surey, a member of the Art Workers’ Guild. It has been installed on the far west wall of the church above the stairs going up to the northern gallery, immediately to the right when entering the churchyard from the main north door.
The tablet commemorates all ‘who have died from disease or poverty or violence or age’, including the Jesuit martyrs, and who are interred in the churchyard.