Card games for prayers – Alban of St. Edmund

Bartholomew Roe was born in 1583, in Suffolk, England.  He was raised as a Protestant and with his brother James converted to Catholicism; both became Benedictine monks.  There are few details of his early life.  He was not a typical monk.  He had an explosive and unpredictable temper. Some of his best qualities were cheerfulness tenacity and pursuit of holiness was unquestionable

Large monasteries were dissolved.  Those houses that remained were small groups or even isolated individuals. Inevitably for monks at this time, this type of community led some to focus on contemplation, becoming withdrawn mystics while others were missionaries. 

Roe’s conversion experience was unusual.  He tried to convert an imprisoned Catholic to Protestantism but was defeated. In 1607, he entered the English College at Douai to study for the priesthood. He didn’t mind irritating people to make sure they noticed. When the Prior had some cupboards removed from near to his bed, Roe declared: “There is more trouble with a few fools than with all the wise; if you pull down, I will build up; if you destroy, I will rebuild.”

He was expelled from the college in 1610 because of his attitude, contempt for the discipline and for his superiors and of his misleading certain youths living in the College and also of the great danger of his still leading others astray, and therefore we adjudge that he must be dismissed from the College.  

Roe did not leave quietly.  He organized a campaign against the authorities. A group of monks saw him as a hero and backed his appeal to the President. Later, this allowed him later to join the English Benedictine Community of St. Lawrence.  He became a founder member of the new English Benedictine Community at St. Edmund in Paris.  This is why he was called Allban of St. Edmund.

He was ordained a priest in 1615.  He then joined the missions and worked in London.  He was arrested and deported shortly after his arrival.

He returned to England in 1618 and was imprisoned until 1623. His release and second exile was organized by the Spanish ambassador, Gondomar. He returned two years later and was incarcerated for 17 years in the Fleet prison. Conditions in the Fleet were relaxed and he was able to minister during the day provided he was back in his cell at night. He was relentless in the conversion of souls.  He didn’t have a church so he went to alehouses to play cards with the customers, which was allowed by his Benedictine order.  The stakes he played for was not money, but short prayers] This behavior scandalized the Puritans, but he was already a prisoner, there was nothing they could do to him. He was also allowed to receive visitors in prison.  This strengthened his resolve through the private prayer he taught.  He taught visitors prayers and converted many people.  converts.

In 1641, he was transferred to the strict Newgate prison. In his 1642 trial, he was found guilty of treason for being a priest.  He initially refused to enter a plea, but the chief witness against him was a fallen Catholic who he had previously helped. Thinking he could win him round again, he pleaded not guilty but objected to being tried by “twelve ignorant jurymen”, who were unconcerned about the shedding of his innocent blood. The judge was intimidated by Roe making a mockery of the proceedings and took him aside for a private conversation. This went poorly.  Roe declared “My Saviour has suffered far more for me than all that, and I am willing to suffer the worst of torments for his sake.” The judge sent him back to prison where he was advised by “some grave and learned priests” to consent to be tried by the court. The jury took about a minute to find him guilty. He then, in mockery, bowed low to the judge and the whole bench for granting him this great favor which he greatly desired.

The judge suspended the sentence and sent him back to prison for a few days. Roe’s fame led to a constant stream of visitors, one of whom smuggled in the necessary items for him to say mass in his cell.

On the morning of January 21, 1642, Roe and his fellow priest Thomas Reynolds were pulled from Newgate Prison to the place of execution. At Tyburn, Roe preached in a jovial fashion to the crowd about the meaning of his death. He was still playing to the crowd, holding up the proceedings by asking the Sheriff whether he could save his life by turning Protestant. The Sheriff agreed. Roe then turned to the crowd declaring “see then what the crime is for which I am to die and whether religion is not my only treason?”

He created quite an impression by his death and when his remains were quartered there was a scramble to dip handkerchiefs into his blood and pick up straws covered in his blood as relics. The speech he made is said to have been sent to Parliament and stored in their archives.

Roe was declared venerable in December 1929 by Pope Pius XI and beatified one week later on 15 December 15. Roe was canonized 40 years later on October 25 1970 by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales with a common feast day of October 25. His feast day is also celebrated on January 21, the day of his martyrdom.