‘Those Rosary Beads Had Left a Wound in My Soul’

Saint John Ogilvie, whose feast day was March 10, was canonized in 1976 by Pope Paul VI. He was the first Scot canonized in several hundred years. In the middle ages and down to the sixth century there were scores of saints and martyrs from Scotland. Saint Margaret (1045-1093), the Queen (and mother of Saint David), is certainly the most famous of its saints. And the city of Glasgow itself was founded by the apostle of Scotland, Saint Mungo (died 614), co-laborer and friend of Saint Columba. What is most interesting, and I am assuming it is an providential liturgical ‘accident,’ is that the first martyr of Scotland, Saint Constantine (died 576), has a feast day on March 11. Therefore, the first of Scotland’s martyrs, and the last canonized martyr, John Ogilvie, have back to back feast days. According to one source, The Life of Saint Kentigern (alias Mungo), Saint Constantine was the King of Alt Clut (Strathclyde) in Britton (southern Scotland today). It seems that he left the crown to his son and, incognito, became a monk in Ireland under Saint Mungo.

According to the fourteenth century Scotish historian, John of Fordun, Constantine became abbot of a monastery at Govan (near Glasgow).  Later, he went on a mission to preach the Faith to the Picts in Britain. Upon his return to Scotland he was seized by pirates who cut off his arm and left him to bleed to death. He is buried at Govan, where there is still standing a popular shrine dedicated to his memory.

Saint John Ogilvie

Saint John Ogilvie (1579-1615) was a Jesuit martyr who was executed in Glasgow, Scotland, by Anglican Protestants on March 10, 1615. Why? Because he would not renounce the pope by submitting to the outrageous heresy that the king of England was the head of the Church in the British realms. In 1615, the king, James I (of Protestant Bible fame) was the first of England’s Stuart line, who, as James VI of Scotland, received the throne of England upon the death of the persecutor Elizabeth I, the last of the Tudors, she being childless. John Ogilvie, raised Calvinist, converted to the Catholic Faith at the age of seventeen. He entered the Society of Jesus when he was twenty and was ordained in 1610. Father Ogilvie was sent to Scotland to minister, in secret, to the Catholics who were not permitted to practice their religion. He was turned into the authorities by an informer who pretended to be Catholic. During his two months in prison, the heretics tried every means to get him to renounce his Faith and provide the names of other Catholics. Attaching his feet to an iron bar so that he could not move, they exhausted themselves with tortures, pulling out his hair and nails, and jabbing him with stakes so that he could not sleep. When this did not work, they tried bribery, continuing with this even as he was being carted to the scaffold. “[I would] willingly and joyfully pour forth even a hundred lives,” he chided them. “Snatch away that one which I have from me, and make no delay about it, but my religion you will never snatch away from me!” When he was asked by some minister if he feared death, he said: “I fear death as much as you do your dinner.”

Although the judge had tried to pin the crime of treason on him, Ogilvie forced him to assert that it was for his Catholic Faith that he was being killed, rather than for treason, which Protestant history alleges. Just as with Saint Thomas More, the heroic Jesuit protested his allegiance to the King saying that he was the King’s loyal subject but God’s servant first. Again, as it was with Thomas More, the executioner begged the martyr’s forgiveness, which he paternally gave.

There were many brave Catholics who came to the execution site to support the saint with prayers and with shouts. They were fearless. Then something spontaneous happened, as by an inspiration. Just before they tied his hands on the scaffold the saint quickly pulled out his rosary and tossed it to the crowd as a token of farewell. There was a Protestant Baron, a traveler, who happened to be in the crowd and the rosary bounced off his chest. The man tried to reach down for the beads but was beaten to them by the surrounding faithful anxious to get such a relic.

This episode of the Protestant gentleman in the crowd was recounted in the records of the trial of the saint because he, the Baron John ab Eckersdorff, was converted by means of the rosary of our Jesuit martyr. Here is how the event is related, in the words of the Baron, as we have them in Father Daniel Conway’s three part history of Venerable John Ogilvie, published in 1878, in a Glasgow diocesan journal “The Month”:

“His Rosary struck the breast of a young noble
man who was on his travels in these kingdoms.
He was a foreigner and a heretic his name, Baron
John ab Eckersdorff. ” I was on my travels
through England and Scotland as it is the custom
of our nobility being a mere stripling, and not
having the faith. I happened to be in Glasgow the
day Father Ogilvie was led forth to the gallows,
and it is impossible for me to describe his lofty
bearing in meeting death. His farewell to the
Catholics was his casting into their midst, from the
scaffold, his rosary beads just before he met his
fate. That rosary, thrown haphazard, struck me
on the breast in such wise that I could have caught
it in the palm of my hand; but there was such a
rush and crush of the Catholics to get hold of it,
that unless I wished to run the risk of being trodden
down, I had to cast it from me. Religion was the
last thing I was then thinking about : it was not in
my mind at all; yet from that moment I had no
rest. Those rosary beads had left a wound in my
soul; go where I would I had no peace of mind.
Conscience was disturbed, and the thought would
haunt me : why did the martyr s rosary strike me,
and not another? For years I asked myself this
question it followed me about everywhere. At
last conscience won the day. I became a Catholic;
I abandoned Calvinism ; and this happy change I
attribute to the martyr s beads, and to no other
cause those beads which, if I had them now, gold
could not tempt me to part with ; and if gold could
purchase them, I should not spare it.”

Saint John Ogilvie, pray for us!