SNOW ON THE HEDGES: A Life of Cuthbert Mayne
by Helen Whelan
(Fowler Wright Books, first published 1984, 199pp, $14.95. Available from Freedom Publishing)
St Cuthbert Mayne, the proto-martyr of English Catholic priests ordained in Europe to keep the Catholic faith alive in Protestant England, was executed on 29 November 1577 at Launceston, Cornwall, for treason. Helen Whelan, who has had a lifelong interest in this West Country English martyr, traces his heroic, saintly career.
Born about 1544, St Cuthbert was ordained an Anglican minister before studying at Oxford, where he was converted to Catholicism. He then travelled to the continent, was ordained a priest and returned to Cornwall, where he exercised his priesthood for a number of months in secret under cover of being the steward of Golden Manor in the employment of Francis Tregian, who himself was to be imprisoned for a number of years and exiled for his adherence to Catholicism.
The title of the work comes from the practice of laying linen on hedges to dry, a signal that a priest was about to celebrate a secret Mass.
Despite what Whelan argues was a lack of evidence to secure a conviction, he was found guilty of treasonable offences, including exercising his priesthood as a foreign ordained priest, and was executed in the usual barbaric manner of the time by being hanged, drawn and quartered.
The author maintains the reader's interest by setting each stage of St Cuthbert's life in its historical context. She argues that he was a pawn in Richard Greville's plans to undermine Catholicism in the West Country and further his political career.
Michael E. Daniel is a Melbourne secondary school teacher.