“The wondrous miracle of Garnet’s straw.”
As Garnet’s body was being dismembered on the block, his head was flung into a basket which had been lined with straw to soak up the blood. It landed with such force that some of the straw was thrown out and one piece containing an empty ear of wheat fell into the hands of a young man standing nearby. Being a Catholic, he kept the straw as a relic of Garnet’s martyrdom, especially since on one of the husks was a drop of Garnet’s blood. He carried it away safely and delivered it unto a Catholic gentlewoman of his acquaintance who kept it in a reliquary with great devotion.
After three or four days, a devout Catholic gentleman coming thither. She showed him the bloody straw which he was also glad to see and revere. But beholding the same more curiously than the others had done, he saw a perfect face as if it had been painted upon one of the husks of the empty ear and showed the same unto the company. They all did plainly behold and with no small wonder. Father Richard Blount, whom Garnet had appointed to take his place until another Superior could be named, said in a letter dated Nov. 8,1606:
They spy in the ear of the straw a perfect face of a man dead his eyes nose beard and neck so lively representing Mr. Garnet as not only in my eyes but in the eyes of others which knew him it doth lively represent him. This hath been seen by Catholics and Protestants of the best sort and divers others who much admire it…This you may boldly report for besides ourselves a thousand others are witness of it. It cannot be a thing natural or artificial. The sprinkling of blood hath made so plain a face so well proportioned so lively shadowed as no art in such a manner is able to counterfeit the like.
The Privy council heard about the corn and needed, of course, to see it. But it was in a safe place when they did visit it, in the hands of the Spanish Ambassador Don Pedro de Cuniga. Many of the council were quite worried that they may be undone. The famous straw ended up at the Jesuit college of Liege but disappeared after the suppression of the Society in 1773. Countless painters and artists were called to replicate the artwork but none were able to.
Father Gerard was to leave England, being helped by the just released Anne Vaux. However, he could not get a group of prominent Catholics to smuggle him on board ship except after Garnet was executed. The minds the group’s minds. Father Gerard was given Spanish clothes so as to blend in and crossed over to France. He never returned to England.
Anne Vaux was released in August 1606. She continued a life dedicated to her religion and was last heard of in 1635 running a convent school in Derbyshire.
Thus endith a short summary of these important and nearly forgotten events of nearly 400 years ago. It is no wonder that such a time so rich in real life drama and with such well written records and well crafted statements should have also produced Shakespeare. While two lengthy poetic tracts were produced there is as yet no play or film. Surely these events deserve attention from the writers of our time.
So too the concepts and problems of the rule of law and society need to be carefully examined. We, 400 years later, are still surrounded with terror and with organized violence and threats to our political order by those who draw their lives and very existence from its tolerance. Perhaps a further reflection upon this history will be refreshing for those of us who see the problems of our day to be ours alone, when in fact they are part of a much wider human condition.
A few new tales to tell around the bonfire of these very brave men and of the times and of all men, a worthy celebration. Take the time to tell their tale!
Conrad Jay Bladey This account is based upon that found in Intended Treason by Paul Durst, WH Allen, London 1970.