Jerome Russell and Alexander (Ninian) Kennedy, Martyrs 1539.

Jerome (also Hieronymus) Russell was a Black Friar who was a resident in the convent of the Cordeliers in the diocese of the Archbishop of Glasgow. John Knox described him as " a young man of meek nature, quick spirit and  good learning." Alexander (sometimes called Ninian) Kennedy was a young gentleman of just eighteen from  Ayrshire. He had received a liberal education, had a good wit and was something of a poet given, as was the custom of the day, to making rhymes of events - what is called poesie. This was a dangerous gift in those days, when the priests offered  an inviting target and, as Kennedy found, a fatal retribution. Perhaps inexperienced in life and rather naive, the young  man was unable to resist the temptation to write some biting verses on the clergy and was soon charged with heresy. Thus he found himself in irons alongside Jerome Russell, both awaiting the pleasure of the Archbishop of Glasgow in whose diocese they had committed their alleged heresies.

At this time Cardinal David Beaton had succeeded his uncle as Archbishop of St Andrews. He had recently been made a Cardinal and was determined to show Rome how good and great he was,  but he had yet to formally place the crimson hat on his head. Although Primate of Scotland he had to be diplomatic ( a great effort for him) in his dealings with Gawin Dunbar, Archbishop of Glasgow. Although his superior in church matters, Dunbar was the Chancellor of Scotland and had enormous civil powers - until Beaton had his red hat he could not march into his brother  bishop`s diocese and interfere directly in matters. He was, however, determined to get at Russell and Kennedy and in this he again used the services of John Lauder, who had previously entangled the Vicar of Dollar.  Lauder was sent to Glasgow to intercede with Dunbar, and with him sent two others " almost as expert in compassing the death of innocent men." These were Andrew Oliphant, a notary possessed of a supple mind, and a very ardent monk, Friar Mortman ( or Meirman). These three "sergeants of Satan" as Knox called them  " did the cardinal send to the archbishop to stir him up to dip his hands in the blood of God`s saints."

The two prisoners were put on trial before the Archbishop of Glasgow with the "three sergeants" in close attendance. Kennedy was in total awe of the gathering and of the charges against him. He did not have a deep and burning commitment to the evangel and, indeed , it was his `poesie` that had got him into trouble. At this point in the proceedings he was much more inclined to withdraw - recant, anything  that had offended and to humbly apologise.

His companion, Russell on the other hand was of more mature years and his convictions and beliefs were based on the Word of God. He had spent many years in study and was better able to argue his defence and deliver learned opinion regarding the charges. He was calm and maintained a forceful argument refuting charges with wisdom and a dignity that infuriated his accusers. His was a moral triumph that had confounded the "sergeants" and Bishops alike, but to no avail since his doom had been fixed before he had begun his eloquent pleading. Resorting to the bullying tactics the accusers poured opprobium and scorn on Russell who was well able to defend himself retorting

"This is your hour, and power and darkness; now ye sit as judges, and we stand wrongfully accused and more wrongfully to be condemned; but the day will come when our innocence will appear, and ye shall see your own blindness, to your everlasting confusion !. Go on, and fill the measure of your iniquity."

Russell`s defiance had, however, an unexpected outcome and brought two martyrs to the stake. The young Kennedy had taken the matters to heart and revived both his conscience and his faith. He fell upon his knees and prayed long and joyfully of his love and devotion for his Saviour, before turning to the Archbishop and declaring  "Now I defy Death. Do with me as you please: I praise God I am ready".  Dunbar, a more humane person than his colleague of St Andrew`s, was moved by the declarations from the prisoners and was inclined to spare them.  At this the "serrgeants" protested, as slaves to the will of Beaton they dare do less. They resorted to the old tactic of pointing out that he would be the exception if he did not condemn them and thus be " an enemy to the Church" " If you let these men go, ye are not the Pope`s friend ". Dunbar realised that not just his reputation was at stake but also his mitre and all the pleasures and liberties of office. Thus it was that he consented to the condemnation of the men to the flames. They were brought to the stake the following day where both men kneeled and prayed before being tied to the stake, straight and proud in their certainty of the Resurrection. Russell managed a few comforting words to his young companion before the flames did their work -

"Be not afraid brother, for mightier is He that is in us than he that is in the world. "

On on 9th June 1839, a new church was named the Martyrs Church. and on 3rd July 1876, the newly created Martyrs parish in Glasgow was named after them.

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