Edmund Campion was hung, drawn and quartered on this cold December day in 1581, dying for the Faith to which he had been converted, and whose truths he held more dearly than life itself. Around time of Campion’s ministry, William Byrd was composing his great polyphonic motets. A convert to Catholicism himself, Byrd was somehow tolerated, even in the midst of increasingly strict anti-Catholic laws. Albeit, they were intermittently enforced. As a layman he did not say Mass nor hear Confessions (although he likely participated in both in secret), and his music was so transcendently beautiful that, well, the Queen and the realm could not quite do without him. The same, by the bye, in a literary way, may be said of Byrd’s and Campion’s contemporary, Shakespeare, who was also a closet Catholic.
On that note, here is Byrd’s Ave Verum, written in 1605, performed to perfection by Voces8. This is all the more poignant, for being caught at Mass or with the Eucharist in Elizabethan England meant the death penalty. But for what greater truth to risk one’s life, and for the One Who gave His life for us?