The Martyrdom of Saint John Ogilvie
executed at Glasgow Cross on 10th March, 1615
composed himself to write to the king.
It was late in the day, early October.
He called for more light as he began,
aware of his breathing: 'It has plesit God
to cast in my handis a Jesuit that calls himself Ogilvy.
In his bulget we hais found his vestmentis
and other furniture for the masse…'
Ogilvie slumped on the flagstones
chained to an unliftable bar.
To the little light that slanted in above him
he turned his head in the manner
of his commemorative portrait.
Sore after the storm of blows – bold indeed
to say his masses in a reformed city -
he knew there was nothing now
but the body’s dissolution.
At the first arraignment
in the Archbishop's palace
Ogilvie of course acknowledged that James
was de facto king ('sed stupidi…' – but the stupid
fellows, he wrote in his smuggled-out diary,
being ignorant of legal terminology,
did not know how to continue).
The guards worked in shifts
and were offered ample wine
before they took hold of the prisoner
and yelled in his face – Papist bastard,
rouse yourself! – pinched him in the groin
and thigh, stabbed him with needles –
my God my God – bruising him awake
as days bled into night – What more could you want,
said his father, with a knowing look
that took in everything
in the settled universe of the elect –
if he was unconscious
dropped him like a sack on the floor –
the chosen will sit at God’s…
sluiced out his own piss over him.
The chosen will sit – to sit…
Spottiswoode pulled his head back:
'You are going to die, priest.
For the last time. Is James not the king
de jure?' But he was beyond speech –
his hair plastered onto his pitted face;
teeth bared in the rattle of his breathing.
On the ninth morning the physician
declared he had three hours to live.
The 'vigil' was over.
His Majesty's Attorney General
read the indictment charging the priest
with 'most hainous, detestable and unpardonable treason.'
James' five questions were put to him again
but Ogilvie, weak from his torture,
replied that until the pope spoke, he could not recall
…an early autumn morning in the orchard at Douai,
his superior - a wily survivor of three generations of upheaval –
straining to hold on to his young buck -
'I can’t let you go. James is smoking out Catholics
in every corner of the kingdom. Stay here, John.
Pray. Write. Be content. You don’t have to be a martyr
to do God’s work.' Newly vested in his vows, he obeys,
snatching at an apple in a flare of temper…
'Guiltie,' barked the juror, 'of the whole treasonable crimes.'
Sentenced to be hanged and quartered,
he remained on his knees for three hours
while his judges dined.
A large crowd pressed in around
the gallows platform – closet papists
and presbyterians alike muttering against the judgement.
The magistrates' men shoved them back
as Ogilvie was led up the steps, blinded
by daylight. It was March. A blustery wind
tugged at the hair and clothes of the execution party.
Ogilvie shouted out he died for 'religion alone'
and cast his rosary beads into the crowd
(in mid-air like a speech bubble).
They struck Jan de Eckersdorf on the chest –
a merchant, perhaps, who'd chanced into history
that morning to find himself the universal spectator
at the testing ground of faith, taking the hint
away with him. When he looked up
at the theatrical gasp – a shout of No! –
Ogilvie was swinging between heaven and earth
with a look of some excruciating problem
on his face. Father forgive me… The body on the rope
kicked like a landed salmon – choking now,
lungs that knew nothing of heaven
screaming for air. The hangman, still on the ladder,
hugged him round the waist until a right hand
twittered in blessing. When the cadaver
landed with a clout on the boards two men
moved in nervously and unwrapped cleavers
to draw open the stomach. But the crowd had swung
behind the dead man and were restive. This judgement
'was for some respectes not used.'
That night, according to some accounts,
the thunder of forty horsemen disturbed
the ground above the martyr's head.
They hoicked him up from his malefactor's crate –
spitting out soil, feeling around his neck –
and ghosted him into the reeking mist.
A posse was sent out to probe the ground –
the magistrate’s only too happy to hear
that a blade had discovered something hard.
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