22 May 1538 – John Forrest

A friar fried today in 1538 for daring to denounce moves to make the king head of the Church.

A vehement opposer to the English Reformation, Forrest and the other monks in the Franciscan Friars Minor overtly rejected plans to split away from Catholicism. Maybe they saw through Henry VIII’s motive – after all, the king only wanted to be able to divorce. He wanted shot of his current wife so he could bed Anne Boleyn legitimately. But ultimately the devout Catholics rejected the whole idea as ungodly.

You see, the Brits were in the throes of a religious overhaul, spurred on by our friends across the water in Europe. A priest by the name of Luther had inadvertently and unwittingly kicked off a whole, new religious faction in Germany – aptly named Lutheranism – which was to morph into Protestantism as we know it today.

Forrest trumped

However, that meant defecting away from Catholicism, but not if Forrest could help it. Forrest had trained as a theologian at Oxford before moving on to become confessor to none other than Catherine of Aragon – the wife Henry VIII was hell-bent on ditching to marry Boleyn.

Needless to say Forrest absolutely refused to accept Henry as head of all things ecclesiastical. But did he really think he could take on the king and win? Who knows, yet the prospect of death certainly didn’t stop him.

In fact, he was so against what he saw as blasphemous nonsense that his antagonism landed him in front of Thomas Cranmer at Lambeth Palace, where he had to answer to charges of treason. There Forrest was found guilty and sentenced to be burned at the stake.

Ash Forrest

It was some stake they found for him. A special statue was shipped in from Wales – one effigy of Darvell Gatheren, which according to legend would be responsible for setting a forest alight. Somehow, we’re pretty certain when the prophecy first came to light, no-one could have ever imagined the Forrest would be human.

The wooden statue was stuck on the pyre, with Friar Forrest attached for all to see, in the middle of Smithfields, in London.

It took two long hours for Forrest’s fire to burn him to a crisp. And to this day it is said that his remains can be found in one corner of St Bart’s Hospital – which sits opposite the gates of the Friars’ monastery. For his pains, Forrest was canonised in 1886 and today is his feast day.

Also on this day

22 May 1793 – Agnes M’callum

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