Pyres of the Faithful…

Following his death, and the death of his successor, King Edward VI, England came under the rule of Queen Mary. Extremely loyal to the Roman church, Mary had hundreds of Protestants, including the Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, burned at the stake for their heresies…

Woodcut showing the execution of John Rogers at Smithfield, London in 1555

The first of nearly three-hundred to burn for their devotion to the Scriptures and the Faith was none other than Tyndale’s friend, John Rogers. Repeatedly he was offered a pardon if he would but recant his position. With steely resolve, he refused. Soon enough his day came. As J. C. Ryle wrote on the matter:  

“On the morning of his martyrdom he was roused hastily in his cell in Newgate, and hardly allowed time to dress himself. He was then led forth to Smithfield on foot, within sight of the Church of Sepulcher, where he had preached, and through the streets of the parish where he had done the work of a pastor. By the wayside stood his wife and ten children (one a baby) whom Bishop Bonner, in his diabolical cruelty, had flatly refused him permission to see in prison. He just saw them — but was hardly allowed to stop, and then walked on calmly to the stake, repeating the 51st Psalm. An immense crowd lined the street, and filled every available spot in Smithfield. Up to that day men could not tell how English Reformers would behave in the face of death, and could hardly believe that some would actually give their bodies to be burned for their religion. But when they saw John Rogers, the first martyr, walking steadily and unflinchingly into a fiery grave, the enthusiasm of the crowd knew no bounds. They rent the air with thunders of applause. Even Noailles, the French Ambassador, wrote home a description of the scene, and said that Rogers went to death “as if he was walking to his wedding!” By God’s great mercy he died with comparative ease. And so the first Marian martyr passed away.”¹

That bloody persecution ignited by the hand of Mary I became known as the Marian Exile, as Protestants fled their homes in England seeking shelter abroad. For her part, a telling moniker was granted to the queen and she is often remembered even today as “Bloody” Mary.

Sympathetic to the plight of English believers, Switzerland became a safe haven for the displaced. There, in Geneva, many influential leaders came together under the protection of theologians John Calvin and John Knox – including Myles Coverdale, John Foxe, and others – to work with the local Church in establishing a Bible which would carry them while in exile.

Their efforts saw the completion of the Geneva Bible in 1560. This Bible possesses several noteworthy historical qualities, including the fact that it was the first Bible to include verses, making study and reference easier. This was also the Bible of the Pilgrims and Puritans; the first Bible to reach America.

The Puritans Embarking for the Colonies
The Puritans Embarking for the Colonies

References:

  1. Ryle, J. C., “Light From Old Time, or Protestant Facts and Men,” Wycliffe House, London, 1898, pg 23

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