Briant, Alexander, St.

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English Jesuit martyr; b. Somerset, c. 1561; d. Tyburn, Dec. 1, 1581. While an undergraduate at Hart Hall, Oxford, in 1574, Briant was reconciled to Catholicism. He left Oxford for studies at Douai, arriving there on Aug. 11, 1577. He was ordained on March 29, 1578, and returned to England on March 3, 1579. In his native Somerset, he reconciled many to the Church, including Robert persons' father. This drew Father Persons and Briant together and indirectly led to his own arrest in April by pursuivants looking for Persons. He was imprisoned first in the Counter and then in the Tower, and endured intense torture rather than disclose Persons' whereabouts. Starvation, detention in an unlit dungeon, the scavenger's daughter, the thumbscrew, and needles under the nails were of no avail. One of his torturers declared that "this is an evident miracle, but it is a miracle of undauntable pertinacity in this Papist priest; I would not on any account anyone were here present who was not well and solidly grounded in our faith." He was handed over to Thomas Norton (d. 1584), the notorious rackmaster, and racked mercilessly. Although Norton boasted that he had made him "a foot longer than God made him," Briant never spoke except in prayer. Even Elizabethan England was shocked. In 1583, two years after his death, the government felt it was necessary to reply in a pamphlet (ascribed to Lord Burghley) that "a horrible matter is also made of the starving Alexander Briant; how he should eat clay out of the walls.Whatsoever Briant suffered in want of food, he suffered the same willfully and of extreme impudent obstinacy." Briant had written from prison to the Jesuits in England, begging admission to their society; although his formal entry was not possible, he was counted as a member. On November 21, with six other priests, he was tried at Westminster Hall. Carrying aloft a rough cross he had made, he entered the court room. Charged with a fictitious plot and found guilty, Edmund campion, Ralph sherwin, and Alexander Briant were drawn to Tyburn on Dec. 1,1581. Briant was the last to die. He was beatified by Leo XIII on Dec. 29, 1886 and canonized on Oct. 25, 1970.

Feast: Dec. 1; Oct. 25; May 4.

See Also: england, scotland and wales, martyrs of.

Bibliography: a. butler, The Lives of Saints, ed. h. thurston and d. attwater, 4 v., (New York, 1956). b. camm, ed., Lives of the English Martyrs Declared Blessed by Pope Leo XIII in 1886 and 1895 (London 1905). h. foley, ed., Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus, 7 v. (London 1877-82). r. challoner, Memoirs of Missionary Priests, ed. j. h. pollen (rev. ed. London 1924). j. gillow, A Literary and Biographical History or Bibliographical Dictionary of the English Catholics from 1534 to the Present Time, 5 v. (London-New York 18851902; reprinted New York 1961). p. de rosa, Blessed Alexander Briant (Postulation pamphlet; London 1961).

[g. fitzherbert]