Nelson, John, Bl.
NELSON, JOHN, BL.
Jesuit priest and martyr; b. Skelton, Yorkshire, England, c. 1534–35; d. hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn (London), Feb. 3, 1578. Three of the five sons of Sir Nicholas Nelson—John, Martin, and Thomas—became priests. John began his seminary studies at Douai in 1573 at about age 40. He was ordained (June 11, 1576) by Abp. Louis de Berlaymont of Cambrai at Bynche, Hainault. Five months later he departed the Continent with four other newly ordained priests to enter the English mission. He labored in London for about a year before his arrest (Dec. 1, 1577) and commitment to Newgate Prison. During his examination by the High Commissioners a few days later, he adamantly denied the authority of the queen in spiritual matters and described Elizabeth as a heretic and schismatic. He repeated these statements at his trial, Feb. 1, 1578. For this he was found guilty of high treason and condemned to execution. Thereafter he was thrown into the Pit of the Tower of London—an underground dungeon, where he prepared for death.
During his imprisonment at Newgate, he wrote to the French Jesuits seeking admission to the Society. Permission was granted; thus, Nelson is recognized as a Jesuit martyr.
On the gallows he witnessed powerfully to the faith for which he was dying. Praying common prayers in Latin, asking and granting pardon for offenses, and seeking the intercession of the faithful. He said: "I die in the unity of the Catholic Church; and for that unity do now most willingly suffer my blood to be shed; therefore, I beseech God … to make you, and all others that are not such already, true Catholic men, and both to live and die in the unity of our Holy Mother, the Catholic Roman Church." His last words as his disembowelment began: "I forgive the queen and all the authors of my death."
He was beatified by Pope Leo XIII on Dec. 9, 1886.
Feast of the English Martyrs: May 4 (England); Dec. 1 (Jesuits).
See Also: england, scotland, and wales, martyrs of.
Bibliography: b. camm, ed., Lives of the English Martyrs, (New York 1905), II, 223. r. challoner, Memoirs of Missionary Priests, ed. j. h. pollen (rev. ed. London 1924; repr. Farnborough 1969). j. h. pollen, Acts of English Martyrs (London 1891). j. n. tylenda, Jesuit Saints & Martyrs (Chicago 1998), 30–32.
[k. i. rabenstein]