Ambrose Edward Barlow (1585 – 10 September 1641) was an English Benedictine monk who is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. He spent much of his priesthood ministering to recusant Roman Catholics in the Parishes of Leigh and Eccles in south-east Lancashire. After being apprehended at Morleys Hall in Astley at Easter 1541, Barlow was taken for trial to Lancaster Castle, where he was executed. He is one of a group of saints canonised by Pope Paul VI who became known as the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.
Edward Barlow was born at Barlow Hall in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, near Manchester in 1585. He was the fourth son of the nobleman Sir Alexander Barlow and his wife Mary. His older brother was the Benedictine monk William (Rudesind) Barlow (1584–1656). The Barlow family had been reluctant converts to the Church of England following the suppression of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. Barlow’s grandfather died in 1584 whilst imprisoned for his beliefs and two thirds of Sir Alexander Barlow’s estate was confiscated for refusing to conform to the new established religion. On 30 November 1585, Barlow was baptised at Didsbury Chapel and his baptism entry reads “Edwarde legal sonne of Alex’ Barlowe gent’ 30”. Barlow adhered to the Anglican faith until 1607 when he converted to Roman Catholicism and took the name Ambrose.
Barlow travelled to Douai in northern France to study at the English College before attending the Royal College of Saint Alban in Valladolid, Spain. In 1615, he returned to Douai where he became a member of the Order of Saint Benedict, joining the community of St Gregory the Great (now Downside Abbey), and was ordained as a priest in 1617.
After his ordination, Barlow returned to his father’s house, before taking up residence at the home of Sir Thomas Tyldesley, Morleys Hall Morleys Hall, a moated hall converted into two houses on the edge of Astley Moss in Astley, Greater Manchester, England, was largely rebuilt in the 19th century on the site of a medieval timber house. in Astley. Tyldesley’s’ grandmother arranged for a pension for Barlow which allowed him to carry out priestly duties amongst the poor Catholics in the parish of Leigh. He offered daily Mass and recited his Office and Rosary for 24 years. To avoid detection by the Protestant authorities, he devised a four-week routine in which he travelled throughout the parish for three weeks and remained at Morleys for one. He visited his cousins, the Downes, at Wardley Hall and conducted Mass for the gathered congregation.
Arrest and execution
King Charles I signed a proclamation on 7 March 1641 decreeing that all priests should leave the country within one calendar month or face arrest and imprisonment or death as traitors. Barlow’s parishioners implored him to flee or go into hiding but he refused. A stroke had resulted in the 56-year-old priest being partially paralysed. “Let them fear that have anything to lose which they are unwilling to part with”, he told them.
On Easter Day, 25 April 1641, Barlow and around 200 people were surrounded at Morleys Hall by either the Vicar of Leigh or the Vicar of Eccles and an armed mob of some 400. Barlow surrendered, and his parishioners were released after their names had been recorded. The priest was taken on horseback with a man behind him to prevent his falling, and escorted by a band of sixty people to the Justice of the Peace at Winwick, before being taken to Lancaster Castle.
Barlow appeared before Justice Sir Robert Heath, on 7 September when he professed his adherence to the Catholic faith and defended his actions. On 8 September, he was found guilty and sentenced to be executed. Two days later, he was taken from Lancaster Castle, drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, hanged, drawn and quartered. His head was afterwards exposed on a pike. His cousin, Francis Downes, Lord of Wardley Hall, a devout Catholic rescued his skull and preserved it at Wardley where it remains.
On 15 December 1929, Pope Pius XI proclaimed Ambrose Barlow as Blessed at his Beatification ceremony at St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. In recognition of the large number of British Roman Catholic martyrs who were executed during the Reformation, most during the reign of Elizabeth I, Pope Paul VI decreed that on 25 October 1970 he was canonising the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales of whom Barlow was one.
Barlow’s jaw bone is held at the Church of St Ambrose of Milan, Barlow Moor, Manchester; one of his hands is preserved at Stanbrook Abbey and the other is at Mount Angel Abbey in St. Benedict, Oregon. His skull is preserved on the stairwell at Wardley Hall in Worsley, the one time home of the Downes family, and now the home of the Catholic Bishop of Salford.