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CHAPTER VII.

BLESSED JOHN HOUGHTON.

SOMEWHERE in the county of Essex, about the year 1487, was born, of honest and respectable parents, a child of predilection, destined to lead a very holy life, and subsequently to lay it down in defence of the Christian faith. This favoured child was Blessed John Houghton, the first of the English Carthusian martyrs.

While still a boy he was sent to the University of Cambridge, where he studied both Civil and Canon Law, and took the degree of Bachelor of Laws. He was about twenty years old when he returned home, and his parents made arrangements for a suitable marriage for him. He, however, had already formed the desire of being a priest, and, fearful of opposition, he quitted his home without bidding his parents farewell.

A certain devout ecclesiastic received the fugitive into his house, and aided him in his preparation for Holy Orders. After his ordination, he returned to his father's house, and begged pardon for his

seemingly undutiful behaviour. He was readily forgiven, and invited to live in the bosom of his family. Accepting this invitation he remained at home for four years, piously performing the sacred functions of his priesthood, and edifying all who knew him by the holiness of his life.

At length the pious John Houghton conceived a desire for greater perfection than was practicable in the midst of the family circle. To use Chauncy's quaint expression, "he desired like the morning stag to ascend the heights." He therefore resolved to embrace the religious state; and, after due reflection with fervent prayer, he made choice of the Carthusian Order. He accordingly presented himself at the London Charterhouse, and, after a somewhat protracted postulancy,' received at the hands of Prior Tynbygh the habit of the Order.

It is fitting to describe the Carthusian habit, now that its reception by the chief of all the English Carthusians is under consideration. The external part of the habit consists of a robe of undyed wool descending at least as low as the ankles; a white leathern girdle round the waist; the monk's sword, a large rosary, hanging from the girdle on the left side; and finally the great cowl which conceals almost all the rest. A hood to cover the head forms part of the cowl, and there are bands on either side below the arms. This dress is by no

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NOVITIATE OF BLESSED JOHN HOUGHTON. 81

means imposing, except, perhaps, on account of its whiteness, rendering it a fitting reminder for the wearer of the spotless purity of soul which should adorn those who are separated from the rest of mankind in order to perform the functions of angels, singing God's praises by day and by night before the tabernacle of the Blessed Sacrament.

The cowl which John Houghton received at his "clothing" was smaller than that just mentioned and without bands, from his girdle there hung no rosary, and in choir he was completely enveloped in a black mantle; for during his first year in the Charterhouse he had to wear the costume of a novice, and to satisfy the community with regard to his fitness for the various duties of Carthusian life.

It was about the year 1516 when Prior Tynbygh placed upon his fervent novice the great cowl of the professed religious, and heard him pronounce the solemn vows which bound him irrevocably to the Order and the Order to him. Dom John Houghton was then twenty-nine years old.

For several years after his profession John Houghton dwelt peacefully in his cell, free from all exterior employment, and busied with the three exercises of the contemplative life, prayer, study, and manual labour. But little is known regarding these first years of his Carthusian career; indeed, little could be known, for singularity and ostentation

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would be very bad signs, and certainly not to be found in one who was destined to receive the honours of beatification and, it is confidently hoped, canonization. Yet a few words of Chauncy's give us a glimpse of Dom John's hidden life in the

cloister of the London Charterhouse.

"There he spent twenty years of religious life in great austerity, in perfect humility, with admirable patience, in entire self-abnegation. He was a most exact observer of the rules regarding solitude and silence, striving always to hide himself, and concealing most carefully any extraordinary graces with which he was favoured. He dreaded nothing more than to become known, and was ever desirous of being forgotten or deemed unworthy of special esteem."

"Nevertheless," continues our historian, "a city seated on a mountain cannot be hid, nor can a window shutter be so tightly closed that the light within will not somewhere be visible to those who are without." After more than seven years spent as a simple monk, obedience compelled Dom Houghton to accept the office of Sacristan. Of all possible charges this was the least distasteful to him, for he considered it a great honour to be always occupied with what regards the sacred ministry of the altar. This office, moreover, while less distracting than any other, afforded him many an opportunity of rendering little services to his brethren, and of

BLESSED JOHN HOUGHTON AS SACRISTAN. 83

humbling himself before them. He had also the duty and privilege of reciting all the Canonical Hours and even the Office of Our Lady in the Church, thus satisfying his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.

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On one occasion this devotion to the Holy Sacrament of the altar led him to overcome natural repugnance as well as the fear of contagion, and to consume a sacred particle which a monk who was sick of the plague had rejected. Neither," says Chauncy, "did he fear death, for he received the Author of life, nor sickness, for he received Him who healeth all our infirmities, nor did he any longer feel repugnance, for he tasted in spirit that the Lord is sweet."

Five years as Sacristan, with the seven years of solitude which preceded them, completed, so to speak, John Houghton's Carthusian education. The remainder of his life was to be spent in employments which presuppose a foundation of solid virtue. It was, indeed, during these last eight years that his good qualities and virtues displayed themselves most brilliantly. This, however, was rather the practical application and development of what he had acquired in the cell than the acquisition of anything new. The hour, then, had come for John Houghton's virtues to shed abroad their lustre, not only within the precincts of the Charterhouse, but also in the great city into which, since his reception

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