The city of Exeter in southwestern England existed even before the Roman conquest as the chief settlement of the Dumnonii tribe. The Anglo-Saxons captured it in when they took the British isles and William the Conqueror captured it in the 11th century. Situated in the county of Devon, its main tourist attraction is its beautiful cathedral.
Another site worth visiting, which few tourists know about, is the obelisk erected in 1909 as a memorial to two individuals, Thomas Benet and Agnes Prest, known as the Exeter Martyrs. Thomas Benet died January 10, 1531.
Agnes was originally from Cornwall, but lived for a while in Exeter as a servant. Later she returned to Cornwall and married a man who lived in Launceton. They made their living spinning. Agnes was known to be cheerful, patient, sober and never idle. Although uneducated, she knew the Bible almost by heart. The chief sadness in her life was the difference in religion between herself and her husband. He was a Roman Catholic and she a Protestant. They tried hard to convert each other. The children were brought up Catholic. At last, Agnes left home and stayed with friends, trying to support herself by spinning. However, she missed her family and returned home. There she was greeted by the hostility of her husband and friends. They led her to the parish priest and accused her of heresy. She was arrested and spent several months in the Launceton jail.
Bishop Touberville interrogated her. The chief point of contention was Agnes's reluctance to accept belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Nevertheless, the bishop gave her a month's parole and she went to work as a servant in the home of the keeper of the Bishop's prison. Although she had freedom to walk about, she was continually approached by the clergy to change her mind. She stood firm in her Protestant beliefs. One day, after she was overheard expressing criticism of statues, the authorities returned her to prison.
Agnes was tried at the Guildhall before John Petre, Mayor of Exeter, in the presence of the bishop. She could not be moved from her beliefs. Sentence of death was issued. It is hard for us to understand the sentences of those days. Strange and brutal though it seems to us today, burning at the stake for one's religious beliefs was perpetuated into the seventeenth century.
No one knows the exact spot where Agnes was burned, but it is said she was led outside the city walls to Southernhay by the Sheriff and city officials. Her last words on this day, August 15, 1557, were, "I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith Christ. He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and he that believeth in Me shall never die."
- Avery, Elroy McKendree. History of the United States and its People. Cleveland: Burrows Bros, 1904. Source of the image.
- Foxe, John. Book of Martyrs. Various editions.
- Various internet articles.
Last updated April, 2007.