Saint of the Day – 1 December – Blessed John Beche OSB (Died 1539) Benedictine Abbot Martyr, The Last Abbot of St John in Colchester, friend of St John Fisher and St Thomas More, both Martyrs, Born as Thomas Marshall in Colchester, England where he also died on 1 December 1539 by being hanged, drawn and quartered during the persecution of the Church by Henry VIII.
Thomas Marshall, commonly known as John Beche, was a member of the Colchester Beche family, who were a dynasty of renowned pewtersmiths in the town. He was educated at Oxford University (probably Gloucester Hall now Worcester College), where he took his degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1515. He then became the twenty-sixth Abbot of St Werburgh’s, Chester (now Chester Cathedral) and went onto become Abbot of St John the Baptist’s Monastery, Colchester on 10 June 1530.
On 30 March 1534, Abbot Beche took his seat in the House of Lords. In that year, the Act of Supremacy was passed, by which Henry VIII made himself Head of the Church in England and on 7 July, he, the Prior and his community of 14 Monks, signed their agreement to the Act. Many clergymen considered the break with Rome of a temporary nature and that it was possible to distinguish between the King as head of the Church in temporal matters, though not in matters spiritual.
But the Abbot was a strong opponent of the King’s new policy and a friend and admirer of St Thomas More and St John Fisher. Following the execution of three Carthusian Priors, Fisher and More during 1535, his expressions of reverence for them was reported to the authorities. In his homilies, he publicly called them Martyrs of the Catholic Faith and denounced the persecution of the Church.
In November, 1538, Beche denied the legal right of Henry VIII’s royal commission to confiscate his Abbey. He was then committed to the Tower of London on a charge of treason, despite being discharged, he was re-arrested and taken back to Colchester.
The Abbot’s servant said that his master denied that the King could suppress the Abbey because it was above the yearly value of 300 specified in the statute. Other witnesses testified that Beche had said that “God would take vengeance for the tearing down of these houses of religion.”, that Fisher and More “died like holy men and it was great sorrow for their deaths” and he claimed that the King had broken with the Catholic Church because he wanted, against the Commandments of God and of the Church, to marry Anne Boleyn. John initially denied these charges but at his trial in Colchester, in November, 1539, he no longer pleaded against the charges. He was convicted and executed. The execution occurred on the Abbot’s lands, probably at Greenstead. His pectoral cross was rescued by the Mannock family of Gifford Hall, Stoke-by-Nayland, who entrusted it to Buckfast Abbey in Devon, where it still remains. On this Cross is inscribed:
“May the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ bring us out of sorrow and sadness. This Sign of the Cross shall be in the heavens when our Lord shall come to judgement. Behold, O man, the Redeemer suffered for thee. He that will come after Me, let him take up his cross and follow Me.”
Pope Leo XIII decreed the Beatification of Abbot John Beche on 13 May 1895.