St. John Rigby (or Rigbye) c.1570 – 1600.

Born into a family of minor gentry at Harrock Hall Wrightington, near Wigan, circa 1570. His father outwardly conformed to the Church of England, probably to avoid losing his estate, but John was brought up in the Catholic faith of his ancestors, and his family, like many people in this part of Lancashire, had Catholic sympathies. Incidentally, his father was reconciled to the Catholic Church in his old age. His mother was almost certainly a secret Catholic.
St. John is one of the Forty Canonised Martyrs of England and Wales. The canonisation took place in Rome on 27th October 1970. The Mass of Canonisation was presided over by the then pope, His Holiness, Paul VI. This means that he is a Saint of the Universal Church. St. Joseph’s, Wrightington is his official shrine.
At about the age of 25 John became steward (House and Estate Manager) of Sawston Hall in Cambridgeshire, his employer being Sir Edmund Huddleston.
Fr. John Gerard, a Jesuit priest who secretly served the Huddleston family seems to have reconciled John Rigby to the Catholic Church at the age of 27 or 28.
John Rigby did not attend the service of the Church of England and therefore was a ‘recusant’, a word that was used to refer to those who refused, on the basis of conscience, to conform to the protestant faith.
In 1600 John Rigby went to the Court Sessions in Newgate to answer a summons on behalf of his employer’s daughter, Mistress Fortescue, because she too would not attend the services of the Church of England. While there, he was questioned about his own faith by an unscrupulous man who bore him a grudge, possibly jealousy at his position, and in the subsequent questioning he had the courage to state that he was a Catholic.
The circumstances of his trial are complex, because of the technical nature of the questioning.
A curious sequence of events are recorded in the account of the trial. Although shackles were placed around his wrists and riveted closed, on three separate occasions they mysteriously fell from his wrists and onto the floor. After this, his jailer was so spooked, he refused to try to put them back on again. The court allowed him to remain unshackled, but ignored the possible theological and spiritual meaning of this strange event.
However, it is clear that he was charged, condemned and executed solely for his Catholic faith.
After being detained in prison for months, eventually, he was hung, drawn and quartered in Southwark on 21st June, 1600. We are told that he was so animated by an unearthly strength that as his heart was torn from his body, he tried to defend his life by wrestling it back from his torturers, until he succumbed to exhaustion and his inevitable death, as he was beheaded.
© Rev. Andrew Unsworth, 2018.