Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:39)
If you wander down Broad Street in Oxford (perhaps on your way to Blackwells Bookshop so that you can fill an empty corner of a bookcase) you will see a cross in the road, marked out in pale bricks. Now a busy road, back in the sixteenth century it was waste ground. Nothing special, but if you were walking across it one day in 1555 you would have seen a crowd buzzing with excitement and the sobering sight of two stakes set up with piles of wood at their base.
This Friday marks the 465th anniversary of the Martydom of Nicholas Ridley (bishop of London) and Hugh Latimer (one time bishop of Worcester). They were amongst the many protestants to be executed by the Roman Catholic Queen Mary, and Latimer at least saw his execution as a means of furthering the Protestant cause. As his sentence was passed he said: “'I thank God most heartily that He hath prolonged my life to this end, that I may in this case glorify God by that kind of death”.
A death of this kind is slow, and excruciating. As the two bishops were lashed to their stakes, Latimer turned to Ridley and urged him on, saying: “Be of good comfort, and play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out”.
To this day that ‘candle’ is commemorated by the simple cross in the road, and by the much grander Martyr’s Memorial around the corner. Latimer was right: it has never been put out.