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Museum of Oxford Digital Exhibitions

Killed for his conscience or for treason?

Photo credit: Todd Atticus; Permission from Fathers of the Oxford Oratory granted

This wall-painting, or mural, in the Oxford Oratory Church of St Aloysius Gonzaga on Woodstock Road depicts one of the most famous of Oxford’s martyrs and a Catholic saint, Edmund Campion.

When Elizabeth I visited Oxford in 1566, Edmund Campion, a Fellow of St John’s College, welcomed her on the University’s behalf. Soon afterwards, however, he left England and became a member of a Catholic religious Order, the Jesuits. In 1580, he returned with two other Jesuits on a secret and dangerous mission to minister to the beleaguered Catholics. By this time Elizabeth had been excommunicated by the Pope, who also called for her deposition; her enemies at home and abroad pinned their hopes on her imprisoned Catholic cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots. In Catholic houses, Campion preached and celebrated the Mass. In Oxford he had copies of his pamphlet ‘Ten Reasons’ [Rationes Decem] explaining why he could not be a Protestant, provocatively placed in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. Both these actions were illegal in a Protestant State.

Following his capture, Campion was tortured, condemned for treason, and then in December 1581 executed. This mural tells the story of his life from his time in Oxford to his death in London. Here he is depicted standing before Queen Elizabeth in 1566, writing in Rome, travelling back to England, and then being hung, drawn, and quartered. Campion was made a saint by the Catholic Church in 1970. He was one of some 300 Elizabethan Catholics who died on account of their faith.