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A response on the Lewes Bonfire Night

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A response on the Lewes Bonfire Night

Post by Tony Bennett on 06.11.12 13:49

First, from the website of the Sussex History Society (neither a Protestant nor a Christian organisation), a truthful account of the horrific persecution of the 17 Lewes martyrs:



Since 1858, the Lewes bonfire societies have annually remembered an horrific martyrdom during the period 1555–1557, known as the Marian Persecutions.

In the reign of Edward VI, Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII, came under pressure to abandon her unshakeable Catholic views, but when she came to the throne in 1553, in the process of then re-enforcing them, she had no fewer than 288 Protestants burned for their 'heretical' views – 17 of these martyrs were burned in Lewes.

Mary’s persecution of the Protestants started in earnest in 1555, earning her the dubious name of 'Bloody Mary'. Hundreds of Protestants were pursued and forced to languish in appalling conditions in jail while waiting examination or execution. No thought was even given for pregnant women, many of whom gave birth in squalid conditions with both mothers and babies dying in the company of odious criminals.

There were eminent Christians in their number too: the Archbishop of Canterbury, [Thomas Cranmer - T.B.] several Bishops, dozens of clergymen and scholars – none were spared.

Toward the end of October 1554, a Bible-reading [the Roman Catholic Church at the time forbade the reading of Bibles - T.B.] was taking place in the home in Black Lion St (now site of the Black Lion Pub) of one Dirick Carver, a brewer from Brighthelmstone (now Brighton) with John Launder, Thomas Iveson and William Veisey.

Under the command of Sir Edward Gage, the High Sheriff of Sussex, the four men were arrested at prayer. It was a short matter of time before they were brought before the court of Bonner, the Bishop of London in Newgate, London.

They were kept there until 8 June 1855. After forced confessions were signed, their fate was sealed. On 22 July 1555, Dirick Carver, was taken by his Catholic persecutors, to Lewes town centre to be burned outside of the Old Star Inn, where the Town Hall currently stands. His Bible was taken from him and thrown into a barrel on the pyre.

The crowd called to him, pleading God to strengthen his resolve and his faith. He knelt down and prayed, but was then forced to climb into the barrel too. Carver took his Bible and threw it into the surrounding crowd. His final words were: “Lord have mercy upon me, for unto thee I commend my spirit and my soul doth rejoice in thee!” His Bible was preserved and is on display in Lewes Museum today. Clear evidence of his blood splattered on the pages of Judges, Zephaniah and Ruth is a graphic reminder of his physical ordeal.

On 6 June 1556, four more Protestants were taken to their flaming deaths in Lewes. Thomas Harland, John Oswold, Thomas Avington and Thomas Reed had all spent a great deal of time in prison, and still rejected the Mass and refused to go to a church where the language was one they would not understand [Latin - T.B.].

Despite these deaths, Bonner, the Bishop of London was not convinced that the heretics were being persuaded back to the Roman faith. So he arranged the largest bonfire of humans the town or indeed the country had seen. The ten hapless Protestants were: Richard Woodman, George Stevens, Alexander Hosman, William Mainard, Thomasina Wood, Margery Morris, James Morris, Denis Burges, Ann Ashdon and Mary Groves.

Such was the conviction of the Protestants’ faith, that they could endure imprisonment, deprivation, torment and burning but they would not recant their deeply held opinions of the fundamental incorrectness of the Roman Catholic faith.

The central belief of their Protestant faith was the belief that Jesus Christ was the head of the church, and it was inconceivable that the Roman Catholic Church should put the Pope at the head of Christian faith. They stood firm with their principles and endured horrific persecutions, and it was only when Mary Tudor’s reign came to an end in 1558 that they were able to return to open worship.

The memory of the Lewes 17 is still celebrated with annual torchlight processions through Lewes which attract up to 80,000 people. Many bonfire societies in the area carry 17 flaming crosses every 5 November.

In 1901 a memorial to them was erected on the hill above the Culfail tunnel.



Now in reply to postings on this thread:

NINA: Next year I may be there myself.

Let me know, and maybe I'll join you

AQUILA: I don't share your view on anti-catholic 'parades' guised as reminders of the struggle for freedom of speech.

The bonfire societies retain an anti-Catholic element, true, but as one of the marshals said last night, at about 8pm: "Right, we're going to have a two minutes silence now to remember the 17 Lewes martyrs, after all, that's what tonight is all about".

I stumbled upon an Orange march in Scotland the last time I was there and found it frankly horrible and unnecessary to bring peace and tolerance in our society (I am Protestant).

I fully agree that many Orange parades are much more about tribalism than the Christian faith or Protestanism these days - and after these parades, excessive drinking is all too common

Bad things happen in all churches. The C of E aren't exactly angelic!

I think the Roman Catholic Church's abuses against humanity are of a wholly different order of magnitude, when compared with other denominations. Historically: the persecution of the Albigenses, the Waldensians, the Cathars, the Lollards, the Hussites, the Protestants - and running alongside that, the barbaric Catholic Inquisition. Forbidding priests to marry (unlike any other denomination) has greatly contributed to the appalling and industrial scale of priestly child abuse across the globe in recent decades. Much more could be said about the Roman Catholic Church. Weren't Drs Gerald and Kate McCann frequently described as 'devout Catholics'?

I hope you have a lovely time with your mum.

Well, on this visit, I was able to spend over an hour in the room of my mother's new best friend at the home, a lady who, like my mother, was from Austria, and married an Englishman. The three of us had a good chat (mostly in German). Both are now widows; both married Englishmen and were very much helped to learn English by listening religiously to 'Mrs Dale's Diary' on the BBC Home Service (now Radio 4) in the late 1940s and 1950s.

Mum's new friend shared with me some short essays she composed recently for the care home newsletter. My mother's father was born in Vienna and my mother's new friend moved there when she was three, so they have a lot to talk about.

Both endured severe problems with the Russians, after they entered Austria in 1945. My mother was imprisoned, and all her canoeing medals (save one), won on the River Sava in what is now Croatia, were stolen by the Russians and melted down for gold or silver. My mother's friend lived in what became the Russian zone of occupation in Vienna. The Russians stripped everything, even removing all the lead and copper piping from commercial and domestic buildings.

In one of her essays, my mother's friend recalls her first day in England, as a newly married woman. Her new father-in-law brought her a cup of tea in bed. She thought she had entered paradise - apart from the milk in the tea...which was an unpleasant surprise at the time, but she's now got used to it and prefers it.

It is such a relief, in what has been a very difficult and stressful year, to see my mother as happy as she can be under the circumstances, in a very good care home. She used to make the most wonderful 'bonfire toffee' for every 5th November - sadly, not any more.

WOOFER: Don’t forget the horrors imposed on the Catholics by James 1st – it’s not one sided - fundamentalism was extreme in those days.

It must always be remembered that at this time the Papacy was very much a political power, with land and enormous wealth. They were doing all they could to crush the newly Protestant - and free - England. In 1588 they paid for and sent the Spanish Armada; 17 years later, in an attempted terrorist atrocity, they tried to blow up Parliament, and kill the King and his ministers.

As the above account of the Lewes martyrs makes clear, the 288 Protestants were burnt to cinders because of their beliefs. The Catholics, however, were put to death not because of their beliefs but because they continued to actively support a political entity which sought to regain power over England: the Papacy. The Catholics were tried, found guilty and duly executed, for acts which were designated 'treason'.

JEAN: [Fundamentalism] still is in some places...some communities don't seem to have moved on from the Middle Ages.

[size=182]I think the dictionary definition of fundamentalism is something like: 'Those who adhere to the fundamentals of their faith'. So far as the Christian faith, for example, is concerned, someone like William Wilberforce, the successful anti-slavery campaigner, was someone who adhered faithfully to the 'fundamentals' of the faith. So was William Booth, the temperance campaigner. No-one today could surely label these men 'extremists'. Could they? [/size]

MIRAFLORES: Fundamentalism is still extreme.

WOOFER: OK, I should have said ‘extremely widespread’.

At least these days our whole population isn’t forced to follow and obey the religious dictates of whatever royal happens to be in power. We have been able to speak freely without being burnt at the stake -

And the main reason for that was the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688, which ended once and for all Roman Catholic domination. England became free - free to speak, free to exchange ideas, free from 'political correctness'. Most of our current rights and freedoms derive from the subsequent Declaration and Bill of Rights 1689 (on which the U.S. Constitution was also based, along with Magna Carta). The Industrial Revolution followed.

...saying that, there is a definite slide backwards these days.

As for firework night, I wish they'd ban it - my poor dog doesn't stop shaking.

I have considerable sympathy for that. There are, I think, legal restrictions on the dates and times fireworks may be set off.

JEAN: Yes, you're right Woofer, we are free to believe or not believe as we want.

It hasn't been nearly as awful with fireworks this year, in my area anyway. Normally it's practically constant since September but it's only in the last week that there has been a lot.

PETERMAC: Always provided what you say is politically correct, of course. I have found it remarkable how quickly 'thought police' pop up even on fora like this one. They are clearly constantly monitoring anything said, for example, about Hillsborough, or the people who took part in the riots, or the standards of behaviour and the reasons for those standards of the lower classes, for any hint of Thought Crime in general.

And the modern history of English law of Libel, as developed by Justice Eady and Carter-Ruck, has moved what used to be a form of protection of the individual into what is now very clearly official closing down of the Freedom of Speech which we all thought we once had.

Yes, the powerful and wealthy want to shut us up and deny our knowing what they are up to.

The 2012 Lewes Bonfire night? A 'cracking' event, as usual, literally as well as metaphorically. Thousands poured in on trains and buses. As we left Lewes just after nine, lots more were still pouring in for the 21 separate bonfires and firework displays which follow the main parades, and continue until 1am.

Lewes is set amongst the Sussex Downs.

It was a night when 'The hills were alive...'

...with the sound of fireworks and firecrackers...


The amazing symbiosis between bees and flowers:  

Tony Bennett

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Re: A response on the Lewes Bonfire Night

Post by Woofer on 06.11.12 15:06

Hey Tony - thanks for the history lesson - I`m not as well read as you and your replies are interesting. I didn`t know, for instance, that the Spanish Armada was under orders from the Pope (never took history at school!). Don`t know about Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators - I always thought it was a plot of revenge for James 1st`s actions.

I`ve never had the motivation to count up which religion has performed the most atrocities but accept what you`re saying. To me, there are only 2 divides in society and those are `good` and `evil`and the sooner we do away with all the other divisions the better - oh, we can keep the `male/female` division (but it seems that`s the main one that`s getting blurred).

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