Saint of the Day – 9 May – Blessed Thomas Pickering OSB (c 1621-1679) Martyr, Benedictine Lay Brother. bBorn in c 1621 in Westmorland, England and died by being hanged, drawn and quartered on 9 May 1679 at Tyburn, London, England. He was one of the 107 martyrs Beatified by Pope Pius XI on 15 December 1929 and is, therefore, remembered with them all on 4 May. In character, he was described, as the most charitable and sweet-tempered of men.
Thomas was a member of an old Westmoreland family. He was sent to the Benedictine Monastery of St Gregory at Douai, where he took vows as a lay brother in 1660.
In 1665 he was sent to London, where, as steward or procurator to the little community of Benedictines who served the Queen’s Chapel Royal, Catherine of Braganza, the Catholic wife of King Charles II. Thomas became personally known to the Queen and Charles II and when in 1675, urged by the Parliament, Charles issued a proclamation ordering the Benedictines to leave England within a fixed time, Pickering was allowed to remain, probably on the grounds that he was not a Priest.
In 1678 came the infernal concocted fabricaltion of Titus Oates, claims of a Catholic plot against the King’s life. In consequence, Thomas was accused of conspiring to murder the King. At his trial on 17 December 1678, no evidence of treasonwas produced except Oates’s mere word and Pickering’s Housekeeper, the formidable Ellen Rigby, testified that Oates had only seen Pickering once in his life, when he had been begging for alms at the Benedictine’s London house in the summer of 1678. She also testified that he had a personal grudge against Pickering, who, despite his habitual charity and good temper, told her “never to let that man come in again.” Pickering’s innocence was so obvious, that the Queen publicly announced her belief in him, saying that she could not accept that he was a risk to the royal family: “I should have more fear to be alone in my chamber with a mouse.” But, the jury found him guilty and with two others, William Ireland and John Grove, he was condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered.
The King, who himself had Catholic leanings, was divided between the wish to save the innocent men and fear of the popular clamour, which loudly demanded the death of Oates’s victims and twice, within a month, the three prisoners were ordered for execution and then reprieved.
At length Charles remitted the execution of the other two, hoping that this would satisfy the people and save Pickering from his fate. The contrary took place, however and on 26 April 1679, the House of Commons petitioned for Pickering’s execution. Charles yielded and the long-deferred sentence was carried out on the ninth of May.
A small piece of cloth stained with his blood is preserved among the relics at Downside Abbey.