In 1575 a Jubilee year was declared, and tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over Europe flooded into Rome to gaze upon the renewed city and to imbibe the spirit of post-Tridentine Catholicism. But what about the persecuted faithful of England who lived in a country best described by Shakespeare’s Hamlet : “Denmark’s a prison.” (see Clare Asquith’s Shadowplay : The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare) To help alleviate their sufferings, the Universal Pastor of Christ’s Catholic Church prescribed this remedy :
Gregorius Episcopus Servus servorum Dei, and as followeth.
Gregory, Pope, the Thirteenth of that name, to all Christian people that these present letters shall behold, greeting and Apostolical benediction.
Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who hath vouchsafed to redeem us, by the shedding of His most precious Blood, out of the hands of our adversary, seeking whom he may devour, hath been willing to deliver unto us, although unworthy, His place and power of binding and loosing, that we might the more abundantly, for the preservation of our Lord’s flock, especially in this acceptable time of remission and year of Jubilee, show forth Apostolical cogitations and affections. Hereupon, forasmuch as we understand that English people, faithful and Catholic Christians, as well in England as out of England, dispersed in divers countries, cannot come to Rome to enjoy the fruits of this year of Jubilee ; some because they are not permitted to come out of the realm, and some in that they have lost their goods, and are banished persons for the Catholic faith, not able to bear the charge and travail of so long a journey, or otherwise having some just impediments : We therefore, as the duty and office of an Universal Pastor requireth, and of fatherly love towards all Christian people, desirous to provide for the health of their souls, do grant unto all the aforesaid Catholics of England, as well men as women, being truly penitent and confessed, who shall fifteen times religiously visit four churches, if there be so many, or if not, three, two, or one only church, where there are no more, and shall devoutly pray unto God, and perform all other things contained in our letter of indiction of this year of Jubilee; And to them also that be in England, wherein in no church, nor in any other place whatsoever, as we are informed, it is permitted that God after a Catholic manner be publicly honoured, being there detained by any lawful impediment, if they do and work after the prescribed order of a discreet confessor, regard being had to the state, condition, and calling of every person with the time and place, or if a ghostly Father cannot be gotten, then reciting devoutly fifteen times, with true contrition of heart, the Rosary or crown of our Blessed Lady, that they and every one of them have all, yea, plenary indulgence and remission of their sins, as fully as if they personally had visited this sacred city, and that they may also choose for this purpose confessors, Priests Secular or Regular of any Order, who, after the diligent hearing of their confession, may enjoin them wholesome penances, and absolve them from all sin, crime, or fault, how grievous or enormous soever, although reserved even to the See Apostolic, notwithstanding other contradiction whatsoever. And we will also that the same credit be had and given in all places to the copies of these letters printed, being subscribed by the hands of a public notary, and signed with the seal of some person placed in ecclesiastical dignity, which should be had or given unto these presents, if they were exhibited and showed forth.
Given at Rome, at St. Peter’s, under the Fisher’s Ring, the 3rd of March, 1575, in the third year of our government.
Taken from The Troubles of Our Catholic Forefathers Related By Themselves. First Series. Edited by John Morris, Priest of the Society of Jesus. London : Burns and Oates. 1872.