|Relics in Cathedral
One day in May 1598 two men were travelling together to York. One was Fr. Peter
Snow, his companion was Ralph Grimston. Very soon both would be venerated as
members of that noble company of English Martyrs who gave their lives for the
Faith during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Peter Snow (right) belonged to a prominent
family in Ripon where his father, Matthew Snow had been Wakeman in 1545.
Some years later Peter Snow was among a group of people accused of refusing to
conform to the established church. He was probably the same Peter Snow who was
admitted to the English College, then in Rheims, France in 1589 and was ordained
priest in 1591. Six weeks later he set off for England and returned to Yorkshire.
Ralph Grimston (left) was a gentleman of good family
from Nidd in the West Riding. He was a staunch
Catholic and it seems that most of his estate was
eventually forfeit to the Crown as a result of his
refusal to conform to the Church of England. He
also spent some time imprisoned in York Castle but
was back in Nidd in 1598. Now he was
accompanying Fr. Peter Snow to York when they
were arrested on their way. Fr. Snow was convicted
of treason as a Seminary priest, and Ralph Grimston
of felony for assisting him. They were martyred in
York on the Knavesmire on 15 June 1598.
Afterwards their severed heads were impaled on
spikes and exposed in the town as a warning to all.
Our story now moves on nearly two hundred and
fifty years. In 1845 two human skulls were
discovered under the stone floor of the ancient
chapel of Hazlewood Castle (left), near Tadcaster. At the
time they were thought to be relics of two other
English martyrs, John Lockwood and Edmund
Catherick and the skulls were placed in a niche near
the altar. In 1909 however, Dom Hildebrand Lane
Fox, who had access to local tradition, stated that
they were the relics of Peter Snow and Ralph
Grimston. This identification was accepted and the
skulls remained in their niche, now fronted
In 1968, after the Carmelites had bought
Hazlewood, the skulls were removed for forensic
examination. They were found to be of male adults,
consistent with types found in the North of England
in the 16th and 17th centuries. Both skulls had been
impaled on a sharp object and the estimated age of the two victims ruled out the earlier attribution to
John Lockwood and Edmund Catherick. It would
however support the tradition that they were the
relics of Peter Snow and Ralph Grimston. The
investigation found that the evidence available led
to the conclusion that the skulls could safely be
regarded as belonging to these two Martyrs.
An ancient tradition requires that relics of martyrs
should be placed within every altar.
It is surely fitting that the Altar of our Cathedral
Church (right) should enshrine venerable relics of
Martyrs not only from our own country but also
from our own county of Yorkshire. These moving
reminders of less happy times still encourage us
with their powerful witness to constancy,
faithfulness and commitment.