Blessed Ralph Ashley, SJ
Born :Date Unknown
Died : April 7, 1606
Beatified : December 15, 1929
Very little is known of Bro Ashley’s date and place of birth as well as his early life. He was the cook at the English College at Rheims, France and later in April 1590, he became the cook and baker at the newly founded English College at Valladolid in Spain. There he entered the Jesuits as a brother but was urged to return to England because of poor health.
He returned to England in March 1598 and for a time was working with Fr Henry Garnet, the superior of the English Jesuits in London. Later he was assigned to assist Fr Edward Oldcorne at Hinlip Hall in Worcestershire where he remained for eight years and was Fr Oldcorne’s companion in martyrdom.
Br Ashley was at Hinlip Hall when Fr Garnet and Bro Nicholas Owen came to seek refuge when the Gunpowder Plot was discovered. During the search of the Hall on January 20, 1606 by the sheriff, Bros Ashley and Owen hid in a priest-hole which unfortunately was without food supplies. Although they were able to withstand for three days, they had to emerge on the fourth day due to starvation and acute thirst. They thought that the sheriff would be satisfied with their capture and give up the search for the two priests but the sheriff was not and continued with their search until the eighth day when they finally found Frs Oldcorne and Garnet in hiding.
The four Jesuits were taken to Worcester and Bros Ashley and Owen were put in the common jail until they were transferred to the Tower of London on February 3 where all four were subjected to severe torture on the rack. At their trial, Fr Oldcorne was found guilty of being a priest and sentenced to a traitor’s death while Bro Ashley was found guilty of assisting him in his treasonable work.
On the morning of April 7, 1606, all four were taken to Red Hill, near Worcester to be executed. After Fr Oldcorne had died, Bro Ashley kissed the feet of the hanging martyr and said: “Happy I am to follow in the steps of my sweet Father.” He was then pushed from the ladder and remained hanging until dead.
Bro Ashley was beatified with Fr Oldcorne on December 15, 1929 by Pope Pius XI as martyrs of England.