22.06.

1535: Beheading of Cardinal St. John Fisher

1535: Beheading of Cardinal St. John Fisher
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons

Story Highlights

  • Historical event:
  • 22 June 1535
  • English King Henry VIII had a problem with Bishop St. John Fisher, as the latter consistently upheld the Catholic Church's doctrine. St. John Fisher’s head was cut off and impaled on a stake. The saint’s head was put on display on London Bridge, but was thrown into the Thames after two weeks.

On this day in 1535, Cardinal St. John Fisher was beheaded in London.

He was a Catholic Bishop of Rochester in England and was executed during the reign of King Henry VIII, who wanted to proclaim himself the head of the Church of England.

Catholics who did not recognize Henry’s divorce from his first wife, so he could marry Anne Boleyn, and those who remained loyal to the Pope in terms of church primates, were mostly persecuted and even executed as martyrs.

St. John Fisher was born in 1469 in the area of Yorkshire. He was a contemporary of Niccolò Machiavelli and Erasmus of Rotterdam, while Albrecht Dürer and Nicolaus Copernicus also belonged to his generation. It was a time of famous humanists and Renaissance artists.

Interestingly enough, St. John Fisher communicated with Europe’s educated humanists. It was he who allegedly encouraged Erasmus to visit Cambridge.

In 1504, St. John Fisher became Bishop of Rochester, which is located near the place where the Thames flows into the sea. This was the second-oldest diocese in England after Canterbury, and St. John Fisher remained at its helm for 30 years, until his death.

St. John Fisher was particularly passionate concerning Cambridge University, whose chancellor he became that same year (1504) when he became a bishop. He was appointed chancellor of the University of Cambridge until his death 30 years later.

King Henry VIII had a problem with Bishop St. John Fisher, as the latter consistently upheld the Catholic Church’s doctrine. The Bishop was arrested and then a statement was obtained from him, claiming that Henry cannot be the Supreme Head of the Church of England.

St. John Fisher was sentenced to death, which was to be carried out in the most horrible way – gutting and quartering. While St. John was in prison, the Pope declared him a cardinal of the Holy Roman Church in the hope that it would force the king to pardon him. However, it seems that it made Henry VIII even angrier.

The king has ordered St. John Fisher to be beheaded as quickly as possible, before the feast of St. John the Baptist on 24 June of that year.

Specifically, there was a possibility that people would find a parallel between St. John the Baptist, who was beheaded in the time of Herod Antipas, and his namesake St. John Fisher, even more so as they both opposed the inappropriate marriages of rulers.

St. John Fisher was indeed on this day led to the scaffold. Apparently, he behaved very bravely and with dignity, which impressed those present. He was decapitated, and his body was then stripped and left on the scaffold till evening.

The head was later impaled on a stake, and the naked body dumped in a grave. The saint’s head was put on display on London Bridge, but was thrown into the Thames after two weeks and was replaced with the severed head of Sir Thomas More (executed on 6 July).

Pope Leo XIII declared John Fisher Blessed of the Catholic Church, and Fischer was declared a saint by Pope Pius XI in 1935. Together with St. John Fisher, St. Thomas More, who was also executed for opposing Henry VIII (whose chancellor he once was) was also canonized.

It is interesting that even the Anglican Church placed St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More on its list of saints and martyrs.

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