December 1st : St Alexander Briant, SJ

Saint Alexander Briant, SJ

Born : 1556
Died : Dec 1, 1581
Beatified : Dec 9, 1886
Canonised : Oct 25, 1970

by; or by Matthaus Greuter (Greuther); Paul Maupin (Maupain),print,published 1608

Alexander Briant was born in Somerset, England. He studied at Hart Hall, Oxford, where one of his teachers was Robert Persons who later became a Jesuit. As Alexander did not find the new religion of Elizabeth I to his liking, he crossed the Channel in August 1577 to study at the English College in Douai where he was reconciled to the Catholic Church. He studied theology and was ordained a Diocesan priest in 1578.

He returned to England in 1579 and took up his ministry in his native homeland but his apostolate lasted for less than two years before he was arrested by priest-hunters by accident when he was visiting Fr Robert Persons who the priest-hunters were tracking down. The two priests had great esteem for each other and Fr Briant also succeeded in bringing Fr Persons’ father back into the Church.

As Fr Briant refused to divulge any information on Fr Persons, he was transferred to the Tower for interrogation and severe torture on the rack but he did not break under torture. Fr Briant wrote to the English Jesuits about his torture saying that he kept his mind so firmly set on Christ’s Passion that he felt no pain during the torture, only after it was over. He was also determined to enter the Jesuits if he were released from prison but as he doubted that he would be released, he asked to be accepted into the Society which the Jesuits did upon receipt of his letter.

On Nov 21, 1581, the day after Fr Edmund Campion had been tried, Fr Briant and six other priests were tried at Westminster Hall. He entered the Hall holding a small wooden cross that he had made and kept looking at it during the trial. When a Protestant minister standing next to him snatched it from his hands, Fr Briant said: “You can tear it from my hands, but you cannot tear it from my heart. I shall die for him, who first died for me.” He was charged with having taken an oath against the queen’s life while at Rome and at Rheims, though he had never been in Rome or in Rheims when the alleged oath was supposed to have taken place. Nevetheless, he was found guilty of the charge and condemned to die as a traitor.

Fr Briant was dragged through the muddy streets of London to Tyburn together with Fr Campion, SJ and Fr Ralph Sherwin, a diocesan priest. When his turn came, Fr Briant courageously mounted the cart beneath the gallows, made a public profession of his Catholic faith, and expressed joy that God had chosen him to die in the company of the other two martyrs. He was hanged but was cut down while still alive so that he could also suffer disembowelment. He was then beheaded and his body quartered. Fr Briant was only twenty-five years old when he suffered martyrdom for his religion. He was the third Jesuit martyr to die at Tyburn on Dec 1, 1581.