In the south east corner of the church is the martyrs’ memorial. The Good News of Jesus Christ is that people can be saved by what he has done, freely. All that is required of us is to believe in him. Salvation is by faith in him, and yet, this free message is rejected, derided and ridiculed even now. Even in this city many have been burned to death for it.
At the far right of the nave on the south wall is the moving martyr’s memorial listing men and women burned at the stake in Smithfield London.
John Rogers, the first to burn in London, had been a friend of William Tyndale - the Bible translator. As a Catholic priest he had been in holy orders and yet he had not understood the gospel of the free grace of God in Jesus Christ. William Tyndale explained this to him and John Rogers put his faith in Christ. He would go on to help Tyndale translate the New Testament - in fact, the first William Tyndale New Testaments were known as the John Rogers Bible. However, when Queen Mary - who we know as Bloody Mary - came to the throne, John Rogers was imprisoned at Newgate Prison - the site now of Old Bailey.
While he was in prison, his wife had his last child. She asked if he could at least meet the child before he was executed, but was told ‘Madam, he shouldn’t even have got married - he had been a Catholic Priest - so no’.
On the day of his execution the pressure was intense on Rogers - would this man really die for such a free message? We know what happened because the French Ambassador was among the crowd. He recorded that as Rogers was taken to Smithfield he walked down streets lined by his church congregation with his family among them, and that as he walked to Smithfield he walked as though it was his wedding day.
John Bradford was considered one of the great minds among the English reformers - his books are still published. When he was brought to Smithfield he was burned with the young man called John Leaf and was overheard saying to young Leaf: ‘Master Leaf - be of good comfort for tonight we shall have a merry supper with the Lord’.
John Philpot is said to have kissed the stake where he was to burn, and John Fox records that he said ‘Shall I disdain to suffer at the stake when my redeemer did not refuse to suffer the most vile death upon the cross for me’.
But perhaps the most memorable of all these martyrs was Anne Askew. Anne was fifteen when her older sister was bequeathed to an older man. And yet, her older sister died and so Anne was told she must take her place. She didn’t want to but her father insisted. The marriage is described as brutal and after a few years the man got rid of her. Anne became what was known at that time as a gospeller. She was working with people trying to explain and to proclaim the message of free salvation through faith in Jesus to people in this city. She was arrested by two senior courtiers - Sir Richard Rich and Sir Thomas Risly - and was taken to the Tower of London and where she was handed to the torturer. The torturer at the Tower of London would be expected to be a hard-hearted man, but this torturer of course had seen people tortured, and when he saw this attractive young woman in her twenties brought to him he said ‘I’m not doing this’. And he tried to get Anne released. But as he was attempting to get Anne released, Sir Richard Rich and Sir Thomas Risly tied Anne to the rack and they stretched her until her ligaments were torn, her joints were ripped out, and her screams could be heard from outside the tower. She was brought to Smithfield on a cart and was tied to a stake and was burned. It is said that it took fifteen minutes to die.