Feast: August 11
According to some historical sources, even the Catholic Church does not know the names of all those who died as martyrs in England during the Protestant Reformation. Of others, only the most basic details are known. Into this latter category surely fits Blessed John Sandys, a Cheshire priest and a martyr of the Diocese of Shrewsbury and the Diocese of Clifton.
Bishop Richard Challoner’s Memoirs of Missionary Priests, one of the best records of the acts of the English and Welsh martyrs of the English mission dedicates only two paragraphs to him. They read as follows:
“John Sandys was born in the Diocese of Chester, was educated at Doway College during its residence at Rhemes (Rheims), where he was made priest, and sent upon the English mission, anno 1584.
“After having for some time diligently applied himself to his missionary functions, he was apprehended, tried, and condemned for being a priest, and was drawn, hanged, bowelled and quartered at Gloucester, August the 11th (some say the 2d), 1586.”
The Catholic Encyclopaedia of 1913 offers a little more detail. It tells us that Blessed John arrived in the French city on 4 June 1583 and was ordained priest in the Holy Cross Chapel of Rheims Cathedral by the Cardinal Archbishop, Louis de Guise, and was sent on the mission 2 October 1584.
It also recounts how during his execution the priest was cut down from the scaffold while he was fully conscious and that he endured a “terrible struggle with the executioner, who had blackened his face to avoid recognition and used a rusty and ragged knife”. His last words, however, were a prayer for his persecutors.
Blessed John Sandys was among the 85 martyrs of England and Wales beatified by Blessed Pope John Paul II on 22 November 1987.