Relics in the 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 with glass.
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.
The Late Rev Mgr John Dunne, Diocese of Leeds