Martyrs' Memorial

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Martyrs' Memorial, Oxford

The Martyrs' Memorial is an imposing stone monument positioned at the intersection of the southern end of St Giles and Broad Street in Oxford, England just outside Balliol College.

Designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, the monument was completed in 1843 after two years' work, having replaced "a picturesque but tottering old house". The Victorian Gothic memorial, whose design dates from 1838, has been likened to the spire of some sunken cathedral.

The inscription on the base of the Martyrs' Memorial reads as follows:

"To the Glory of God, and in grateful commemoration of His servants, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Prelates of the Church of England, who near this spot yielded their bodies to be burned, bearing witness to the sacred truths which they had affirmed and maintained against the errors of the Church of Rome, and rejoicing that to them it was given not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake; this monument was erected by public subscription in the year of our Lord God, MDCCCXLI".

This inscription goes a long way to explaining the reasons behind the Memorial's erection, some 300 years after the event it commemorates, revealing as much about the religious controversies of the 1840s as those of the 1550s. Much of the Anglican Church was profoundly alarmed in the 1840s at the burgeoning Newmanite or Tractarian movement also known as the Oxford Movement, which sought to prove that the key doctrines of the Church of England were Roman Catholic. Low Church opponents, led by the Reverend Golightly, raised funds for setting up the Martyrs' Memorial to remind the inhabitants of Oxford (and the nation at large) that the Church of England's founding fathers had been martyred by the Roman Catholic Church.

Cuthbert Bede (in his novel The Adventures of Mr Verdant Green) wrote about the setting of the Martyrs' Memorial thus in 1853:

"He who enters the city, as Mr Green did, from the Woodstock Road, and rolls down the shady avenue of St Giles', between St John's College and the Taylor Buildings, and past the graceful Martyrs' Memorial, will receive impressions such as probably no other city in the world could convey."

The actual site of the execution is 20 meters away in Broad Street proper. The site is marked by a cross sunk in the road.

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