During building work at Lambeth Palace, workmen unearthed a chamber containing the remains of five Archbishops and a golden mitre. It reminded me of the story of the Oxford Martyrs. Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley burned the stake for treason in Oxford in 1555. Excavation work some years ago unearthed part of a wooden pole and some bits of charred bone in what had once been part of the town ditch.
Hugh Latimer was a former Bishop of Worcester and later a powerful evangelist alongside Nicholas Ridley who was Bishop of London. Both were outspoken critics of the attempt to crown Bloody Mary who was hellbent on killing Protestants. After Mary’s accession to the English throne Latimer and Ridley were arrested and shared a cell in the Tower of London with Thomas Cranmer former Archbishop of Canterbury who wrote the Common Book of Prayer that is still used today.
Latimer and Ridley were in the dock at The Great Heresy Trials of February 1555 presided over by Stephen Gardiner, Lord Chancellor and Bishop of Winchester. Latimer took the opportunity to deliver a blistering defence of the Gospel and the right of every person to have direct access to God through Jesus. There was never any doubt about the verdict and they were both sentenced to burn.
As they went to the pyre both knelt and prayed and Ridley kissed the stake before they were chained up and bags of gunpowder were hung around their necks. Thomas Cranmer was made to watch and would go to his own death the following year. These were Bishop Latimer’s final words “Be of good cheer brother Ridley for tonight, by God’s grace, we light a candle in England that will never be extinguished” Remarkable faith-filled words in the face of such horror.
400 years later a cable laying ship set sail from Sandown Bay on the Isle of Wight with those words of Bishop Latimer inscribed on a plaque and riveted to its hull. That ship was HMS Latimer and before that operation it was the merchant ship SS Empire Ridley.
So what was it doing off the coast of the Isle of Wight and what was the connection to these two Bishops who died in Oxford? HMS Latimer was laying a pipeline. Operation PLUTO or Pipe Line Under The Ocean was an audacious mission to pump millions of gallons of petrol from England to France after the D-Day Landings in 1944.
Without PLUTO, 75,000 vehicles would have run dry and the liberation of Europe would have faltered. The 90 mile long under-sea pipeline from the Isle of Wight to Normandy was laid in one night by one ship and the words that were first spoken by Bishop Latimer became the battle cry of Force PLUTO.
Over the years I have been involved in spiritual battles on the European mainland engaging with many communities of forgotten and at times displaced and rejected people with the good news of Jesus. How badly we need the flame of the Gospel that Latimer spoke of to burn across our spiritually stricken continent.