English Mission and Arrest

Statue of Saint Ralph Sherwin in chains.

Statue of Saint Ralph  in chains from English Martyrs Parish, Derby

On 23rd April 1579 Ralph took the missionary oath uttering his famous words:

“Today rather than tomorrow.”

In 1580 after a final year of preparation that saw Ralph develop into an outstanding preacher he left Rome for England alongside Edwin Rushton, Luke Kirby, Thomas Briscoe, John Paschall, Robert Parsons and Edmund Campion – all good friend. As they travelled across Europe Ralph had many an occasion to put his preaching talents to good use speaking in Turin, Geneva, Rheims and Rouen alongside no doubt many smaller towns and villages of which we have no record.

The journey was perilous and made more so by the English establishment who had a record of the company heading towards their shores. Ralph is described as:

“About 30 years of age, tall of stature and slender, his face lean with hair and beard a flaxen colour.”

At Rouen, before sailing for England, Ralph went to say goodbye to his uncle, Father John Woodward. It was the 1st August some five months after they had set out from Rome. Details of Ralph’s arrival in England are not recorded. We know that John Paschall landed safely on the Hampshire coast under cover of night. Government spies watched the coastline to seize priests returning from the continent and with the company known to the authorities it must have been a tense and fraught journey into England. The group had separated and were all to make their way to London separately. Ralph reached a house of safety, John Paschall was not so lucky and was captured soon after landing.

Father Sherwin took to the mission fields traveling in secret, staying in homes friendly to the Catholic faith, preaching and celebrating Mass for those who remained true to the ancient faith of England. Two days before his capture Ralph stayed at a safe house owned by Father Persons on the bank of the Thames at Bridewell. Here Ralph warned Father Persons of the closing net of the government and spoke happily about his expectation of martyrdom. Rather Persons wisely fled for safety but Ralph remained to keep an engagement for that day. It was 4th November and he was to preach and celebrate Mass at the home of an old friend from Exeter College, Nicholas Roscarrock.

He was arrested by a gang of constables on a search for another priest and was taken to the Marsalsea jail where he continued to preach the faith among the other prisoners and his jailers.

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