Saint for September: St Ambrose Barlow

By Madelaine McDonald

Looking through my diary this month, I noticed that 10 September is the feast of St Ambrose Barlow. Saints usually seem distant from us – they either lived long before us or far away from us. St Ambrose Barlow certainly lived before our time, but he walked the same roads and lanes that many of us in our archdiocese do today.

He was born in 1585 in Barlow Hall, Didsbury. After studying abroad he joined the Benedictines and from 1617 had his base at Morley's Hall near Leigh. He served the local Catholics for one week each month and during the other three weeks would travel on foot along country lanes through much of what is now our archdiocese.

He would say Mass in secret chapels in loyal houses or in barns or outhouses. The local people would know by the presence of a lantern in a particular window or a sheet placed over a certain hedge that 'Mr Brereton' (St Ambrose's alias) had arrived. Lookouts would be posted, because, if caught, priests were subject to dire penalties.

Places we know he regularly visited are Aughton Hall, Moor Hall and Mossock Hall (all in Aughton), Mossborough Hall and Eccleston Hall (north-west of St Helens), Tuebrook House and Croxteth Hall (Liverpool), and Appleton and Ditton Hall (Widnes).

In Easter 1641 he was arrested and carried to Lancaster where he was tried and barbarously executed. He was a brave and saintly man who kept the faith alive for us and whom we can remember every time we walk, ride or drive along our own local roads.