Turin - The symbolic fresco of Twelve apostles in church Chiesa di San Dalmazzo by Enrico Reffo (1914).

The English College of Douai, France, founded by Cardinal William Allen on the 29th of September, 1568, played a crucial role in the religious history of England and Wales. This institution was primarily established to offer a refuge for English exiles and provide them an opportunity to continue their Catholic education, which had become nearly impossible in England due to religious strife. Over time, the college evolved into a significant center for training missionary priests, ready to return to England and advocate for Catholicism.

A staggering number of 160 priests trained at Douai faced martyrdom upon their return to England and Wales over the century that followed the college’s inception. This was during a period of intense religious persecution, and these individuals bravely accepted their fate while striving to reestablish Catholicism in their homeland. In recognition of their sacrifices, 80 of these alumni were beatified in 1929.

The college’s impact was profound, with the first martyr, St Cuthbert Mayne, making the ultimate sacrifice in 1577, and the last, Thomas Thwing, meeting a similar fate in 1680. During this time, a diverse group of 158 college members, encompassing priests and laymen, seculars and religious individuals, lost their lives for their faith.

Unfortunately, the college itself faced suppression in 1793, leading to the imprisonment of its members for over a year. Upon their release in November 1794, they briefly returned to Douai before finally making their way back to England. Their new chapter began at Old Hall Green, Ware, with the college dedicating its mission to St Edmund of Canterbury.

The list of the Blessed Martyrs of Douai serves as a poignant reminder of their unwavering faith and courage. Spanning from Cuthbert Mayne in 1577 to Thomas Thwing in 1680, these individuals from various backgrounds and years made the ultimate sacrifice, leaving behind a legacy of faith and resilience that continues to inspire generations to come.

Photo credit: Lawrence OP CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED via Flickr

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