James Abbes stripped off his clothes and shoes. Where he was going in a few minutes, he would not need them--new and glorious garments would be his. But here on earth, some poor folk might find his old garments helpful.
The crowd had come to see one of the burnings that were all too common in the sixteenth century. They would not be disappointed. And they heard words of encouragement, too. As James moved toward the stake, he urged the bystanders to cling to the truth and to seal the cause of Christ with their blood if need be--just as he was now doing. The young man seemed completely confident.
One of the sheriff's servants was cut to his heart by this talk. He cursed James' faith, calling it heresy and he mocked James as a madman. To England's ruling elite as well as to the sheriff's servant, James was a heretic. He held Reformation views during the reign of Queen Mary Tudor of England.
Earlier, when the bishop of Norwich learned of James' "heresy," he ordered him arrested. James wandered about to escape capture, but an informant turned him in. The bishop of Norwich convinced James to recant and gave him a piece of money to seal the bargain.
The money burned the young man's conscience. Although he knew it meant a cruel death, he came back to the bishop and threw down the coin, saying he had been wrong to accept it.
The bishop attempted to talk James out of the stand he was taking; but this time, there was no swaying him. He was given a mock trial and condemned to be burned.
On this day, August 2, 1555 the sheriff's men fastened James to a stake at Bury, England. As the fire was lit, he praised and glorified God. The flame rose around his body.
At that moment, according to John Foxe's account, the servant who had mocked James and called him mad went mad himself. Imitating James, he ripped off his clothes and shoes in front of the people, exclaiming, "Thus did James Abbes, the true servant of God, who is saved but I am damned." He repeated this line again and again.
Then, as Foxe tells it, "The sheriff had him secured, and made him put his clothes on, but no sooner was he alone, than he tore them off, and exclaimed as before. Being tied in a cart, he was conveyed to his master's house, and in about half a year he died..."
- Foxe, John. Book of Martyrs. Various editions.
- Various internet articles.
Last update June, 2007