Anglican Catholic Church

Blessing of New Icon in Canterbury

On Easter Day The Rt Revd Rommie M Starks blessed a new Icon in St Augustines Church, Canterbury, written in honour of Blessed Elizabeth Barton, the Holy Maid of Kent(1506-1534).

Fr Damien Mead writes ...

Little is known of the Holy Maid's early life, although she appears to have come from a poor background, as she was working as a servant when her visions first began in 1525. During that year she suffered from a severe unknown illness. At the Chapel of Our Lady, Court at Street, near Aldington in Kent she was healed of her illness upon witnessing a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary who instructed her to light a taper (candle) at her Shrine in the Chapel (the Chapel still exists although in a poor ruined state). Thereafter Blessed Elizabeth's visions of the Blessed Virgin either predicted future events or more frequently took the form of pleas for people to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church, to go to Mass, make Confessions and, in particular, she urged people to pray to The Virgin Mary and undertake pilgrimages.

Shortly after she had begun receiving visions, she entered St. Sepulchre's Convent in Canterbury (the area is now known as Nunnery Fields) and became a Benedictine nun. She rapidly became popular among both rich and poor alike. Barton held a private meeting in 1528 with Thomas Cardinal Wolsey, the most powerful man in England after the King, and shortly thereafter met with the King himself on two occasions.

Unfortunately for Blessed Elizabeth, the existing order changed when Henry VIII, in order to obtain an annulment from Catherine of Aragon, decided to break with Rome. Barton was strongly opposed to the Henrician Reformation. During her trances the Holy Maid urged Henry VIII to give up his plan to divorce Katherine of Aragon, and prophesied that if he did so he "should no longer be king of this realm...and should die a villain's death." In 1532 Henry passed through Canterbury, and it is reported that she forced herself into his presence and tried once again to ask him to give up his marriage to Anne Boleyn.

However, Henry's marriage to Anne was celebrated in January of 1533, followed in May by annulment of the marriage to Catherine. Blessed Elizabeth's statements were seen as increasingly inflammatory and treasonable. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (who performed Henry's annulment) had Blessed Elizabeth arrested and interrogated, at which point she confessed that she had feigned her trances and invented the religious visions, however this Confession appears to have been fabricated by the authorities.

At the conclusion of the trial it became clear that there was insufficient evidence to convict either Blessed Elizabeth or her companions, Dom Edward Bocking, a Benedictine monk from Christchurch Priory, Canterbury, and the Holy Maid's Confessor, Dom John Dering a learned Benedictine Monk who had written a book about the Maids revelations, Father Henry Gold, former Vicar of Ospringe and who had been Secretary to the late William Warham, previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Father Richard Risby, Guardian of the Franciscan Friars in Canterbury, and Father Hugh Rich one of his Franciscan Brethren.

In January, 1534, Henry VIII gave his Royal Assent to a bill of attainder (that is an Act of Parliament) that condemned the Holy Maid and the others to death. The Maid and the other prisoners were publicly hanged at Tyburn Gallows, Westminster, on the 21st of April, 1534, in the presence of an enormous crowd. Blessed Elizabeth's head was displayed on London Bridge - the usual practice for traitors.

Although never formally recognized by the Church as a Saint and with references to her in the history books blackened by the reformers, she remains nevertheless, a Holy Maid of Kent.

Father Damien commissioned the Icon, pictured below, from Marice Sariola, a finish born iconographer who now lives in Australia (her website is www.iconsbymarice.com.au).