This Saint was Hanged for the Crime of ‘Harboring a Priest’—Her final words were, “I would have harbored a thousand priests.”

St. Anne Line                                                          en.wikipedia.org

By Larry Peterson

Anne Heigham was born in England in 1563 during the early years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Her parents were wealthy Calvinists, and Anne was the eldest daughter of William Heigham, who was the son of Roger Heigham, a protestant reformer who worked for King Henry VIII. When Anne and her brother became teenagers, they converted to Catholicism. Their mom and dad wasted no time in disowning and disinheriting them. Both were sent away to survive on their own.

The Heigham siblings had converted along with a fellow by the name of Roger Line. It was during the time when the Catholic Church in England was undergoing harsh persecution.  Priests were hunted down and quickly executed.  Anyone who helped them, for any reason whatsoever, were also subjected to the death penalty. Many Catholic homemakers assisted priests in hiding by giving them refuge in hidden rooms or camouflaged areas near their homes. They also set up areas where the priests could say Mass in their homes. It was incredibly dangerous work.

Anne and Roger Line fell in love and were married. Roger held the English authorities in contempt and ardently supported Anne’s pro-Catholic zealousness. Anne joined the list of Catholic women who would harbor and care for priests in hiding.

She had a secret room built next to another room where a small altar and the necessities to offer Holy Mass were kept. Confession could be heard in this room and other sacraments administered, such as Baptism and First Holy Communion. It also acted as a prayer room and was a place for priests to hide if the authorities came by.

It was not long after Roger and Anne were married that he and Anne’s brother, William Heigham, were arrested while attending Mass, imprisoned, and fined. Roger was quoted as having said at the time, “If I must desert either the world or God, I will desert the world, for it is good to cling to God.”

Roger was summarily banished from England forever and went to Flanders. Alone in exile he died shortly after arriving. When word of her husband’s death reached Anne, she increased her efforts to help priests in hiding. She also managed a guest house for travelers, did the housekeeping, and handled all the finances. Then she met Father John  Gerard, S.J. He had opened a house of refuge for priests in hiding and asked Anne if she would manage it. She agreed.

Shortly after this, Father John was arrested and sent to the Tower of London. Here he was tortured repeatedly but with the help of some clandestine Catholics, managed to escape. Anne was in poor health, and with Father John imprisoned, her responsibilities grew immensely. Unfortunately for Anne Line, she had become very well known to many people. As a result, she was forced to wear disguises and travel from house to house as secretly as possible.

Things took a sour turn on February 2, 1601;  Candlemas Day (the Purification of Our Lady). An extra-large crowd showed up to attend Holy Mass. Neighbors noticed the large number of people and notified authorities. The constables arrived, searched the house, and found the hidden room with the altar. Father Francis page, the priest who was there to say the Mass, managed to shed his vestments and disappear into the crowd. Anne was immediately arrested.

On February 26, 1601, Anne was taken to the Sessions House on Old Bailey Lane. She was so weak with fever they had to carry her to the trial in a chair. Sir John Popham, the judge, sentenced her to death for the crime of assisting a priest. Two priests, Father Roger Filcock and Father Mark Barkworth, were condemned with her. Their execution was scheduled for the next day.

The next morning Anne Line was hanged. She was first to die, followed by the two priests. Before she was executed, she announced loudly, “I am sentenced to die for harboring a Catholic priest, and so far am I from repenting for having so done, that I wish, with all my soul, that where I have entertained one, I could have entertained a thousand.”

Anne Line was beatified by Pope Pius XI on December 15, 1929. She was canonized a saint by Pope St. Paul VI on October 25, 1970.

St. Anne Line, please pray for us.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2019

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