Saint Edmund Campion, born in London to Catholic parents who later converted to Protestantism, was raised as a Catholic. At fifteen, he received a scholarship to St. John’s College, Oxford, and became a fellow at seventeen. His exceptional intellect caught the attention of notable figures, including the Earl of Leicester, Robert Cecil, and Queen Elizabeth. He pledged allegiance to Elizabeth as the head of the Church in England and was ordained an Anglican deacon in 1564.
However, Campion soon began questioning Protestantism. In 1569, his studies in Ireland led him back to Catholicism. Facing persecution after Pope Pius V’s excommunication of Elizabeth, Campion fled to Douai, France, where he joined the Jesuits, underwent theological training, and was ordained in Prague in 1578.
Campion and Father Robert Persons were the first Jesuits assigned to the English mission in 1580. In England, Campion’s distribution of his work “Decem Rationes” at Oxford and the accidental publication of his “Brag” (a defense prepared for his potential capture) made him a key target in an intensive English manhunt. He was eventually betrayed and imprisoned in the Tower of London.
While in the Tower, Queen Elizabeth interrogated him, offering wealth and high positions in exchange for renouncing his Catholic faith, which he refused. Despite being imprisoned and tortured, Campion participated in public debates, impressing many with his demeanor and arguments, despite the lack of preparation and ill health.
Charged with conspiracy to incite sedition and depose the Queen, a charge primarily based on his priesthood, Campion was sentenced to death. He famously retorted that his condemnation implied condemning England’s historical religious figures. After spending his final days in prayer, Campion was executed at Tyburn on December 3, 1581, at the age of 41.
Canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI, Saint Edmund Campion is celebrated as one of the forty English and Welsh Martyrs, with his feast day on December 1.
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