The history of the Augustinian presence in England dates to 1248 when
friars of the Augustinian Tuscan Congregation were invited to Clare in Suffolk.
A little less than a century later the Augustinian Order numbered 800 friars
in England. Though this number decreased considerably in the following two
centuries, not a single friary of the Order remained after March of 1539,
the year of Saint John Stone’s death.
whatsoever is known of John’s early life, education, or activities
in the Order, though it is conjectured that he joined the Augustinians at
Canterbury since this was the place of his death. His story, then, is essentially
that of his martyrdom.
On 3 November 1534 the English Parliament issued the Act of Supremacy,
declaring Henry VIII supreme head of the Church in England. In December
1538, Richard Ingworth, a former Dominican and the official emissary of
Thomas Cromwell, appeared at Canterbury to close the houses of the mendicant
friars there and obtain the written assent of each community’s members
to the above-mentioned Act. The friaries of the Franciscans and Dominicans
were surrendered without difficulty. When, on 14 December, Richard appeared
at the monastery Austin Friars, John alone among his brothers refused to
sign, and spoke in clear terms of his objections to the king’s claims
over the Church. John was immediately separated from his confreres in order
to forestall his influence over them and was urged—eventually with
threats—to alter his position. When he persisted in his refusal he
was brought to London so that Cromwell himself might pressure him to change
his view. He was imprisoned for a year in the tower of London where he remained
adamant. It was while here that John had a religious experience which was
recorded by the Catholic apologist and biographer, Nicholas Harpsfield:
John Stone was invested with the crown of martyrdom at Canterbury. But
before that, having poured forth prayers in prison to God and having fasted
continuously for three days, he heard a voice, though he saw no one, which
addressed him by name and bade him to be of good heart and not to hesitate
to suffer death with constancy for the belief which he had professed. From
this afterwards he gained such eagerness and strength as never to allow
himself by persuasion or terror to be drawn from his purpose. These facts
I learned from a sober and trustworthy man who is still living, to whom
Stone himself revealed them.
In October 1539, John was sent to be tried at Canterbury. The sentence
was handed down on 6 December and within several weeks, probably two days
after Christmas, he was hanged, drawn, and quartered at a place called the
Dungeon, now known as Dane John. Because he was a traitor to the king, his
head and his quartered body were exhibited at the city gates.
John Stone was beatified on 9 December 1886 by Leo XIII and was canonized,
along with thirty-nine other English martyrs of the Reformation, by Paul
VI on 25 October 1970.
The Augustinian Family celebrates his memory on 25 October.