By Dr Lucy Underwood.
In July 1581, in Oxfordshire, a government agent infiltrated a Catholic Mass said illegally by a Jesuit priest, Edmund Campion. According to George Elyot, the Jesuit preached a long sermon:
the effect of his text being, as I remember, That Christe wept over Ierusalem &c., And so applied the same to this our Countrie of England, for that the Pope his authoritie and doctrine did not so floorishe heere as the saide Campion desired…(1)
This vignette – coming via the hostile observer who then arrested the preacher – offers a rare glimpse of Catholic preaching in Elizabethan England, a phenomenon about which we know little more than its existence. And it tells us that the Catholic missionary’s central metaphor involved Jerusalem. What roads does this point to for exploring how Jerusalem was imagined in the Reformation era? How Jerusalem – which has been appropriated as a symbol by so many competing groups – might be used to express the interlacing of religious and national identity, when both were conflicted and could be seen as mutually exclusive? Campion imagined Jerusalem as England, appropriating to his own country the identity of the biblical Holy City. But the implications of this casting are ambivalent. Campion’s text – the designated gospel reading for that day – was Luke 19:41-47:
And when he drew near, seeing the city, he wept over it, saying:  If thou also hadst known, and that in this thy day, the things that are to thy peace; but now they are hidden from thy eyes.  For the days shall come upon thee, and thy enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and straiten thee on every side,  And beat thee flat to the ground, and thy children who are in thee: and they shall not leave in thee a stone upon a stone: because thou hast not known the time of thy visitation.  And entering into the temple, he began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought. Saying to them: It is written: My house is the house of prayer. But you have made it a den of thieves.  And he was teaching daily in the temple. And the chief priests and the scribes and the rulers of the people sought to destroy him:  And they found not what to do to him: for all the people were very attentive to hear him.
England is imagined as ‘faithless Israel’, rejecting the Messiah. Early modern Christian appropriations of Israel/Jerusalem tend to carry as much (or more) warning, even threat, as they do aspiration or endorsement: integral to their view of Jerusalem and the Jewish people was that their city was destroyed by the Romans in consequence of their rejection of Christ, which echoed their frequent rejections of earlier prophets. Imagining Jerusalem network member Beatrice Groves is exploring early modern depictions of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, and how they could function as warning: you too may be destroyed if you don’t live up to your role as God’s people. The Catholic Campion’s use of Luke 19 demonstrates that Protestants had no monopoly on this kind of imagery.
We have no information on the content of Campion’s sermon, beyond the comparison of Jerusalem’s rejection of Christ with England’s rejection of ‘the pope his authority and doctrine’, i.e. Catholicism. But there are various possibilities: the pope himself, perhaps, is imagined as Christ’s representative, mourning England’s self-destructive apostasy. Or perhaps the missionary priests – Campion and his colleagues – are linked to Christ, creating an opportunity to compare the executions of missionaries in England with the death of Christ.
How much ‘warning’ might Campion have invoked? Threat was not far away. The papacy had condemned Queen Elizabeth’s Protestant regime as illegitimate; religious wars were being fought in the Netherlands; European Catholic powers were beginning seriously to consider attack on England. The idea that England’s failure to return to Catholicism might put her in danger of destruction was no mere literary flourish. Campion probably did not refer specifically to the political context at Lyford on 11 July 1581; Elyot would have told us if he had. But, then, he hardly needed to.
Yet, from a Catholic point of view, the predictions of Luke 19 had already been fulfilled: England’s Catholic shrines had been destroyed, and English Catholics had been reduced to subjection. Was Campion preaching a retrospective repentance? Protestant persecution should be understood as the result of Catholic England’s inadequate holiness.
Campion’s invocation of this particular Jerusalem text also invokes a rhetoric of patriotism, at the same time as it castigates England. If Christ weeping for Jerusalem represents Catholic missionaries, their imagination of England as a ‘faithless Jerusalem’ becomes a sort of tragic patriotism, an attitude found in other Catholic texts dealing with England’s apostasy.
Elyot doesn’t tell us how Campion expounded any or all of these themes. But this vignette opens up many possibilities, which may be pursued through other texts, of how Jerusalem could be imaginatively appropriated and deployed to express the ambivalent interplay between religious and national identity.
(1) George Ellyot, A very true report of the apprehension and taking of that Arche Papist Edmond Campion the Pope his right hand, with three other lewd Iesuite priests, and divers other Laie people, most seditious persons of like sort (London, 1581), sig.B3