SNOW ON THE HEDGES:
The Life of St Cuthbert Mayne
by Helen Whelan
(Fowler Wright, 207pp, $14.95, ISBN: 978-0-85244-025-1. Available from Freedom Publishing)
This nicely crafted book was originally published postumously in 1984. The author, Helen Whelan, was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, in 1899, and died in 1981 in Cornwall.
Helen Whelan left her unpublished manuscript with the Carmelite Monastery in Branksome, Dorset, with the advice to do as they thought best regarding publication.
The nuns felt that the meticulously researched piece of writing should be available to a wider audience.
Helen Whelan lived her early life in the north of England and earned her living as a Music Mistress in a number of secondary schools. After World War II, she moved to Yeovil and became as an Inspector of Schools for the subject of Music.
In this role, she travelled all over the West Country and as a private hobby began researching the lives of the Cornish gentry during the Elizabethan era, especially the Recusants (those Catholics who refused to attend Anglican services), and the first English seminary priests from Douai in northern France who came to minister to the isolated Catholics in the 1570s.
Cuthbert Mayne was among the first to arrive in 1576. He had only a year of fruitful ministry while thinly disguised as a steward in the household of the Tregian-Arundel family, one of the leading Catholic clans in Cornwall.
Father Mayne was denounced to the authorities in 1577 and tried, condemned and executed at Launceston the same year.
Helen Whelan provides some fascinating pieces of information in the biography. For example, Father Mayne was, in fact, a pawn in the long-running feud between the (Protestant) Grenville family and the Catholic Arundell-Tregian connection.
Then, there was the whole issue of his trial for treason in distant Cornwall when the case should have been held in London. Indeed, Father Cuthbert was summoned to appear before the King's Bench, seven months after his execution!
For those with an interest in the Church's persecution and survival in Elizabethan England Helen Whelan's book is a must read.