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John Gerard: The Autobiography of an Elizabethan
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John Gerard: The Autobiography of an Elizabethan

4.27  ·  Rating Details ·  104 Ratings  ·  13 Reviews
Truth is stranger than fiction. And nowhere in literature is it so apparent as in this classic work, "The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest." This autobiography of a Jesuit priest in Elizabethan England is a most remarkable document and John Gerard, its author, a most remarkable priest in a time when to be a Catholic in England courted imprisonment and torture; to be a prie ...more
Hardcover, 296 pages
Published by Family Publications (first published 1951)
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A strange little book this: one of the very early examples of an autobiography, written by an English Jesuit priest at the beginning of the seventeenth century. It's only about two hundred pages long, but it's packed full with the event of an extraordinary life, much of it spent in covert work as a Catholic missionary in England under the reign of Elizabeth I. It's one of the few, if not the only, complete first-hand accounts we possess of that world; an account which is made even more interesti ...more
I found this book to be fascinating on a number of levels. First, I was interested because Fr. Gerard was used as a character in the young adult novel Shakespeare's Spy. In the novel, his ability to change character to hide among the London populace was emphasized. His actual autobiography stresses his relationship with various people and families in more detail. His devotion to the Jesuit priesthood and the Catholic Church during the Renaissance is humbling, especially since he takes the troubl ...more
Jun 04, 2008 Elanor rated it really liked it
I've read my share of historic autobiographies, and generally speaking, those that come before the novel read VERY much like the authors had never read a novel. I was really surprised how much I enjoyed this book, and contribute it to the following: a) I read it immediately following a trip to the midlands -- I actually purchase the book at the Badsley Clinton gift shop; a manor house whose priest hole(s) are featured in Gerards story. b)I'm catholic, and my sympathys are certainly easy to disti ...more
Feb 01, 2013 Anne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am greatly interested in the English Reformation and the repression of the Catholic Church, and count St. Thomas More as one of my patrons. Still, I hesitated a bit before reading this, thinking it might be poorly written or difficult to read. I was wrong. This really was an amazing book, by a priest who survived persecution, torture, and hardship. Thank you to Ignatius Press for republishing it.
Aug 16, 2012 Bee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved it! This is real history.
I really thought I'd enjoy this, but I didn't. The writing is extremely prosaic, and it's as much a sort of hagiography as anything else (this decapitated priest's head never turned black even when it was on a pole!!! this well and stream always turned blood-red on the feast day of the saint who was martyred there!!!), that I could barely keep turning the pages as long as I did. Perhaps this is because it was written by a Catholic priest during the reign of Elizabeth, and there wasn't much in th ...more
Oct 16, 2013 Henry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very interesting and inspiring memoir of an Elizabethan and Jacobean Jesuit missionary in England who, as he says, "did not merit the crown of martyrdom," although he was arrested and tortured. He escaped from the Tower of London and eventually to the Continent, after he was accused, along with other Jesuits, of complicity in the Gunpowder Plot. In fact he knew nothing about it, and the Jesuits tried to persuade the plotters not to go forward, but several, including the superior, were ...more
Harry Allagree
This is a fascinating firsthand account of the ministry in England of Father John Gerard, S.J. (1564-1637) during the reigns of Elizabeth & James. It was a time when Catholics could be arrested, punished or executed for practicing their religion. Gerard's is a an honest, sometimes graphic account of his & others' sufferings, as well as a memorial to the strength of his faith, his humility, & his utter devotion to his ministry, which was mainly trying to convince those of the upper cl ...more
A beautiful, thought-provoking book. Father Gerard occasionally goes into detail about how he managed to stay undercover - clandestine meetings, types of invisible ink, psychological chess matches, constructing hiding places for priests - and it is both fascinating and chilling. He is almost dismissive of the torture inflicted upon him by the men of "Good Queen Bess," and focuses on priests who experienced even greater torture than him. He was cross-examined numerous times, and he provides summa ...more
Tom Schulte
After the pope declared Elizabeth I of England illegitimate in 1570 and released her subjects from obedience to her, several conspiracies threatened her life, all of which were defeated with the help of her ministers' secret service. Agents in the field were the ardent pursuivants, a new word to me I actually first learned on recently reading Sea Changes: British Emigration and American Literature. Not covered in their Wikipedia article, in Elizabethan England they chased around secret priests a ...more
Sister Anne
An amazing first person narrative of life as a Catholic priest during the persecutions of Elizabethan England.
Jesuit Father John Gerard celebrated illegal Masses in secret, hid in brilliantly designed priest holes (some of them are still being discovered to this day) and as a prisoner in the Tower of London managed, by the grace of God, to withstand tortures designed to get him to reveal the names and hiding places of other priests. Then he escaped from the Tower, helping his jailer get out, to
Aug 14, 2015 Rachel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent primary source that is also readable and enjoyable. I recommend this book to anyone interested in Catholic history and/or the history of England as a whole. it reads like an older novel but with plenty of clear and accurate historical facts, and all the charm of being a true, firsthand account of life as a Jesuit priest in a time when being one was an automatic death warrant.
Karen Stynchula
Nov 22, 2016 Karen Stynchula rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very good portrait of 15th & 16th Century England!
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John Gerard (also known as John Gerarde, 1545–1611 or 1612) was an English herbalist notable for his herbal garden and botany writing


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Rev. Father John Gerard, SJ was born 4 October 1564 in Etwall, Derbyshire, England and passed away on 27 July 1637 in Rome. He wrote 'Autobiography of a Hunted Priest' and 'Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot.'
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