Saturday, July 18, 2015

Scotland’s Protestant Martyrs: Helen Stirk

Among the twenty-odd persons martyred for their beliefs during the decades preceding Scotland’s official embrace of Protestantism (1560), there was only one woman: Helen Stirk.

The only information we have about Helen Stirk’s life comes to us, ironically, from accounts of her death. We know that she was married, that she was the mother of at least one child, and that she was a woman of rather remarkable faith and courage. Beyond that, her life and doings remain shrouded in mystery.

Helen was arrested in Perth on the 25th of January, 1544, along with her husband, James Ronaldson, and three other residents of the town, Robert Lamb, William Anderson, and James Hunter. Perth, like most of Scotland’s east-coast towns, proved to be a hotbed for reforming ideas, largely because its shipping industry guaranteed regular contact with the European continent (and thus continental books and ideas). Sensitive to the inroads Protestantism was making in Perth, several high ranking officials of the Roman Catholic Church visited the town in early 1544 with the express intent of discouraging evangelical opinions. The detainment of Helen and her husband and friends was one outcome of that visit.

The five persons apprehended were collectively charged with meeting to read and study an English Bible together, in direct violation of recent Scottish laws prohibiting the possession and/or reading of vernacular editions of Scripture. Judging by the nature of the additional charges brought against the members of this illegal Bible study, their corporate reading and examination of Scripture had powerfully influenced their convictions about God and the gospel. Keep reading

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