ST. ROBERT SOUTHWELL, S.J.
Robert Southwell was born into a distinguished English family
in 1561 at Norfolk. Like many English Catholics, he was sent
abroad to study in France, first at Douay, later in Paris. Eventually,
this "prudent, pious, meek, and exceedingly winning"
young man answered his vocation and was ordained in the summer
of 1584. Determined to bring the sacraments back to England,
he soon returned to his native country, where he was relentlessly
pursued by the notorious pursuivant (priest-hunter) Richard
Topcliffe. Fr. Southwell was eventually captured on the night
of June 25th, 1592. He was tortured mercilessly, but he refused
to give information about his fellow priests, and he was finally
placed in solitary confinement in the Tower of London. During
this period, he wrote his most famous poem, "The
Burning Babe" (see full text) about a lost soul's Christmas
Day encounter with a stunning apparition of the Christ Child.
On February 19, 1595, the thirty-three-year-old priest was taken
to Tyburn, where he was hung, disemboweled, decapitated, and
quartered "at Her Majesty's pleasure." Recognized
as a saint both in life and death, Robert Southwell was canonized
on October 25, 1970, by Pope Paul VI.
St. Robert, who some contemporary scholars believe was a distant
cousin of his younger contemporary Shakespeare, believed in
the moral and spiritual efficacy of poetry. He believed that
the arts could serve a "higher" purpose, and he strove,
in his own work, to show "how well verse and virtue suit