“Faith of Our Fathers,” a powerful 2013 film telling stories of the Catholic martyrs of the English Reformation, has been recently edited and released for an American audience by Ignatius Press.
“On the one hand in the U.K. we think that U.K.-based films or history might not have a wide appeal,” explained Christian Holden, managing director of Saint Anthony Communications, which produced the film.
“But at the same time,” he told CNA, “the heroism and the witness of these martyrs is so universal – it’s not just an issue that relates to England. That great witness of faith and courage rings true, or has resonance, with anyone, (and) with any Catholic especially.”
For some 150 years, from 1535 to 1679, hundreds of Catholics in England and Wales were martyred for the faith. In the documentary, Fr. Marcus Holden of the Southwark Archdiocese, and Fr. Nicholas Schofield, a historian and priest of the Archdiocese of Westminster, travel throughout England visiting locations associated with these martyrs.
These include monasteries destroyed by Henry VIII; a seminary on the site of St. Thomas More's home; a manor house which is home to a printing press used by St. Edmund Campion; the shrine of Our Lady of Ladyewell; Tyburn, the site in London where many martyrdoms were carried out; and several homes with priest holes and secret altars.
The film also features interviews with Bishop Terence Brain of Salford and Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, who discusses his devotion to St. John Fisher, the only martyr-bishop of the English Reformation.
Originally 114 minutes, “Faith of Our Fathers” was edited to 95 minutes for its U.S. release by Ignatius Press. Holden said that when the San Francisco-based company was sent a review copy “they were very interested in it … but thought there were parts more pertinent to a U.K. audience.”
Holden reflected on one of the martyrs in particular who has stood out in his mind: Bl. Roger Wrenno, from Lancashire.
“He was a layman, and was found guilty of the crime of harboring a priest, and when he was sentenced to be hanged, the rope actually snapped.”
“He fell to the ground, recovered his senses, and was given the opportunity of a reprieve if only he would swear the oath of supremacy. He refused to do so, and they repaired the gallows, fetched a new rope, and he actually ran up the scaffold, which surprised everyone; they asked him, ‘Mr. Wrenno, why are you so eager to die?’ He answered, ‘If you had seen that which I had just seen, you too would be eager to die.’”
“I thought that was just such a profound story,” Holden said, “that this man had some sort of revelation at the time, at the first attempt at hanging, and he had at that point no fear of death; that was quite profound.”
“There are many of the stories … there’s not one that you wouldn’t find inspiring, (with) these brave men and women prepared to make that ultimate sacrifice for their faith.”
Fr. Holden, one of the presenters of the film, described it to CNA on its original release as “a personal search … I was looking to understand something of my own background, what it means to be English and Catholic.”
“It's quite a personal search in some ways … and it's a sort of exploration. We feel that the viewer is traveling with us.” He said that while there were scripts for the film, “we at certain moments speak quite openly of how we feel in places, and our reaction to seeing some of these sights that we'd never been to before.”
He added that the scenes are “very evocative, and the camera comes with us, and the viewer kind of feels that he's on the same journey, as well.”
Holden told CNA, in conclusion, that he is “delighted that Ignatius Press has taken it.”
“I’m passionate that these stories be told, and it’s great that it’s out there in the U.S.”