St John's logo

A candle lit in England

Si Walker, 29th April 2015

A cross in the roadway

The cross that marks the place where Ridley and Latimer died in Oxford. But who remembers why?

Nicholas Ridley (c1500-1555) was from our neighbouring county of Northumberland, and he lived an incredible life. Whenever we consider living a half-hearted Christian life, we need to remember the name of Nicholas Ridley- especially in the northern counties!

His story has inspired thousands of Christian people to live sacrificially for Jesus and not to live for this temporary world. It is a story that goes alongside many other martyrdom stories; not forgetting that Christians are losing their lives today for the sake of Jesus in places like Nigeria and the Sudan.

I have stood on the spot in Oxford many times, where Ridley died alongside his friend Hugh Latimer and when you stand there in the busy street, it is clear England needs Jesus just as much as ever. The shopping goes on in the street and you think, does anyone have a clue that men died here a few hundred years ago and why?

'when you stand there in the busy street, it is clear England needs Jesus just as much as ever'

This is what one of his contemporaries John Foxe said of him. The language is a bit antiquated in places, but it is good to go back to the source at the time:

"Dr. Ridley was born in Northumberland, was first taught grammar at Newcastle, and afterward removed to Cambridge, where his aptitude in education raised him gradually until he came to be the head of Pembroke College, where he received the title of Doctor of Divinity. Having returned from a trip to Paris, he was appointed chaplain by Henry VIII and bishop of Rochester, and was afterwards translated to the see of London in the time of Edward VI. To his sermons the people resorted, swarming about him like bees, coveting the sweet flowers and wholesome juice of the fruitful doctrine, which he did not only preach, but showed the same by his life, as a glittering lanthorn to the eyes and senses of the blind, in such pure order that his very enemies could not reprove him in any one jot."

'the church swung back and forth between believing the Biblical gospel and clinging onto the Roman Catholic doctrines'

As Foxe goes on to say, things were not easy as a member of the Church of England, because the church swung back and forth between believing the Biblical gospel and clinging onto the Roman Catholic doctrines. For example, the idea that your own works contributed to your own salvation (which is still contrary to what the C of E officially believes in its 39 articles today, even if practice differs widely on the ground.) He lived in an era when- make no mistake- both Protestants and Catholics died for their beliefs. But I think his character speaks for itself:

"His attentive kindness was displayed particularly to old Mrs. Bonner, mother of Dr. Bonner, the cruel bishop of London. Dr. Ridley, when at his manor at Fulham, always invited her to his house, placed her at the head of his table, and treated her like his own mother; he did the same by Bonner's sister and other relatives; but when Dr. Ridley was under persecution, Bonner pursued a conduct diametrically opposite, and would have sacrificed Dr. Ridley's sister and her husband, Mr. George Shipside, had not Providence delivered him by the means of Dr. Heath, bishop of Worcester."

When Edward VI was removed from the throne, 'bloody Mary' as she was known (with good cause) was quick to single out Ridley as a man who needed to be removed from the scene. He was sent to the tower in 1554 until the day of his martyrdom on 16th October 1555.

This is the account of his death, alongside friend and fellow gospel-man Hugh Latimer.

'He then knelt by the stake, and after earnestly praying together, they had a short private conversation...'

"The place of death was on the northside of the town, opposite Baliol College. Dr. Ridley was dressed in a black gown furred, and Mr. Latimer had a long shroud on, hanging down to his feet. Dr. Ridley, as he passed Bocardo, looked up to see Dr. Cranmer, but the latter was then engaged in disputation with a friar. When they came to the stake, Mr. Ridley embraced Latimer fervently, and bid him: "Be of good heart, brother, for God will either assuage the fury of the flame, or else strengthen us to abide it." He then knelt by the stake, and after earnestly praying together, they had a short private conversation.... Dr. Ridley being unclothed to his shirt, the smith placed an iron chain about their waists, and Dr. Ridley bid him fasten it securely; his brother having tied a bag of gunpowder about his neck (to help speed his death), gave some also to Mr. Latimer. Dr. Ridley then requested of Lord Williams, of Fame, to advocate with the queen the cause of some poor men to whom he had, when bishop, granted leases, but which the present bishop refused to confirm. A lighted fagot was now laid at Dr. Ridley's feet, which caused Mr. Latimer to say: "Be of good cheer, Ridley; and play the man. We shall this day, by God's grace, light up such a candle in England, as I trust, will never be put out."

So where are the Ridleys today? Let's not forget their names; and let's be inspired by their lives as things get harder for Christians once again.