On my latest return trip from Kenya, I had a layover in the U.K., and this time I wanted to see Oxford. The history, the heritage-it was all so fascinating. I don’t know about you, but I find it deeply moving to follow the footpaths where heroes have walked before me. Such was the case in Oxford.
Oxford is a university town-it’s individual colleges peppered throughout its streets and alleys-and it is ancient. The oldest colleges date back to the 1200’s, and the “new” college is already hundreds of years old.
Of course, Oxford is home to C.S. Lewis and Tolkein, and I just had to stop by their old haunt-The Eagle and Child-to soak in the literary legacy. I had to visit Christ Church Cathedral, where a young John Wesley served as a deacon. But the most impactful piece of history, without a doubt, was the monument to the Oxford martyrs.
Three men of the clergy-Ridley, Latimer, and Thomas Cranmer-were leading England into its own Reformation. It was the mid 1500’s, and William Tyndale had recently been martyred for translating the Scriptures into English. Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in addition to spearheading reform within the Church of England, had also actively endorsed Tyndale’s translation work in its most recent form-The Matthew’s Bible. He was leading the charge to bring correction to the church and to make the Scriptures accessible to the common man in their own language.
When Mary, Queen of Scots came to power, she overthrew the reforms that had been made within the church, and executed Ridley and Latimer immediately. Cranmer, on the other hand, was imprisoned for many months, as she sought to make a public example of him. Thomas Cranmer was finally burned at the stake in 1556. There is a marker today on Broad Street where he was killed by church authorities.
I stood over this cross for some time, trying to wrap my mind around the event. It was a solemn moment, even as bicycles pedaled past, and the clinking of silverware from the adjacent cafe could be heard.
The thought that I couldn’t shake was that “the blood of the innocents” was crying up from the ground. And so, with head bowed over that marker, I prayed to forgive the sin of murder on that spot, and to release the land from any curses that accompanied that bloodshed some 460 years ago.
Tyndale is a hero of mine. And Cranmer-despite his shortcomings and questionable decisions-is a hero of mine too. He took some big risks on behalf of the kingdom of Heaven, and he paid for it with his life.
His reforms were eventually upheld by Queen Elizabeth when she came to power. And he leaves behind a greater legacy today than a marker on Broad Street and a monument with his likeness. Well done Mr. Cranmer.