Christ Among The Tombs: “Crypto-Catholics At Jamestown?” (July 29, 2015, Patheos) [link]:
The archaeology feeds have been buzzing with news of a discovery at a dig in Jamestown, Virginia. The graves of four people are being excavated, among them prominent leader Captain Jeffrey Archer, one of the leading opponents of Captain John Smith. This was found with Archer’s coffin (in situ):
Archer was an important leader who was there from the beginning until his death in the harsh winter of 1609/10, when he was given a respectful burial at a time when other settlers may have been reduced to cannibalism.
Jamestown was a Protestant colony, and at the time it was founded Catholic recusants, such as Archer’s father, were being persecuted back home in England. Bringing the scourge of popery to the first permanent English colony in the new world would have been extremely unusual. James Fort was founded only two years after the Gunpowder Plot and the Papal Recusants Act requiring Catholic to take the Oath of Allegiance denying papal authority over the king. James I may not have been a monster like Elizabeth I, but he hardly would have wanted to plant Catholics in a new world that he was trying to seize from the Spanish. Catholics were never to be trusted.
But now we know that Catholics were at Jamestown. The recent excavations have uncovered rosary beads, a crucifix, and holy medals. Remember that the Reformation in England was not driven by a groundswell of popular belief, but imposed by a tyrant on a population that was fiercely Catholic. Remnants of Catholicism went underground.
And some, it appears, made their way to the new world.
First, the timing of Jamestown, established 1607, is a near contemporary with Shakespeare’s Macbeth [link], first performed, we think, in 1606. Macbeth is full of lovely relic references. The Witches, who along with the ghosts, give the play a uniquely Catholic tinge. In Act One, for instance, the audience sees the witches scouring the battle field for body parts, a not-so-veiled reference to the collection of martyrs’ bodies and relics in the battles between Protestants and Catholics:
Look what I have.
Show me, show me.
Here I have a pilot’s thumb,
Wreck’d as homeward he did come.
(There are also multiple references to the recent “Gunpowder Plot” (1605) — the smoke references: “Disdaining fortune, with his brandish’d steel / Which smoked with bloody execution and You wait on nature’s mischief! Come, thick night / And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell — as well the strange and strangely humorous drunken Porter (of Hell’s gate) monologue in Act II, Scene III, concerning the “equivocator” qua informant on the members of the Plot.)
Moreover, there is the conversation between Ross and Macduff over the body (and relics) of Banquo:
Where is Duncan’s body?
Carried to Colmekill,
The sacred storehouse of his predecessors,
And guardian of their bones.
Second, it’s exciting to see the use of relics, especially relics enterred with the dead, in the earliest colonies. The prayers of the Saints, Holy Church teaches, have the efficacy of delivering the soul from Purgation, since the saint’s body, a temple of the Holy Spirit, was and still is a place of power, healing, and a locus of charity and intercessory prayer, for it is written:
For his soul pleased God: therefore he hastened to bring him out of the midst of iniquities: but the people see this, and understand not, nor lay up such things in their hearts: That the grace of God, and his mercy is with his saints, and that he hath respect to his chosen.But the just that is dead, condemneth the wicked that are living, and youth soon ended, the long life of the unjust.For they shall see the end of the wise man, and shall not understand what God hath designed for him, and why the Lord hath set him in safety. (Wisdom 4.14-17)