Barlow was born at Barlow Hall Manchester, in November, 1585, and
baptised at Didsbury Parish Church. He was
the fourth son of his parents, who had fourteen children in all (eight
boys and six girls). They were hard times for Catholics. His grandfather
had died in prison for the Faith the year before Edward (Ambrose was
the name given him when he became Benedictine) was born.
His own father paid fine after fine for refusing to conform to the new
religion. These were followed by seizure of two-thirds of his estate.
He died in 1640, and was buried secretly, by torchlight, in what is now
Manchester Protestant Cathedral.
At the age of twelve Edward was sent as a page to a relation, Sir Uryan
Legh, a non-Catholic, but his faith survived, and later, he went abroad
to study for the priesthood. He was in college at Douay, then at Valladolid
in Spain, finally returning to Douay, where he was professed as Benedictine
in 1615, and ordained a priest in 1617. Father Ambrose, as we may now
call him, returned then to England. First he visited his family at Barlow
Hall, where his mother was still living, then he t00k up residence at
Morley's Hall, Astley.
His life then was a very simple and orderly one. Daily he made his meditation,
offered his Mass, recited his Office and Rosary, and visited the Catholics
of his, "Parish". His visiting he did all on foot. He worked
out a routine-three weeks touring the area and one week at the Hall. At
Wardley Hall (now the official residence of our Bishop) lived Father Ambrose's
cousins, the Downes. This was one of the places he visited, and one where
the Catholics gathered for the Mass. Wherever he went he offered Mass,
preached, and gave the Sacraments. He encouraged all to fortitude, and
sternly rebuked those who should have given a good example and failed
to do so. He was strict with himself, leading a very simple life, wearing
poor clothes, and being abstemious in food and drink. The poor were always
his first concern.
This might be the life of many a priest. In addition, for many years,
was the constant likelihood of his arrest and martyrdom. He had many hair's-breadth,
escapes and was imprisoned several times.
On March 7th, 1641, came a new proclamation that all seminary priests
should leave the country within a calendar month. Father Ambrose's friends
besought him at least to conceal himself. He refused. "Let them fear
that have anything to lose which they are unwilling to part with,"
On Easter Sunday, 25th April, Father Ambrose had just finished Mass and
was preaching to his congregation of about 100 on "Patience",
when the Hall was surrounded. The Vicar of Leigh and his congregation
of some 400 had decided to catch the popish priest in the act. Father
Ambrose gave himself up, the people were allowed to go free after their
names had been taken, and he was taken to the Justice of the Peace at
Winwick, and thence to Lancaster Castle.
The trial came at last on 7th September, before Sir Robert Heath. Blessed
Ambrose stoutly defended his faith, and the next day, the feast of the
Nativity of Our Lady, he was found guilty, and sentenced in the usual
Father Ambrose received it with great serenity, exclaimed, "Thanks
be to God," and prayed for pardon for all who were accessory to his
On 10th September he was led out to die.
He was drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, hanged, dismembered,
quartered, and boiled in oil. His head was afterwards exposed on a pike.
When the news of his martyrdom reached his brethren at Douay, Mass of
Thanksgiving and the "Te Deum ", were ordered to be sung. In
1929, together with 135 English Martyrs, he was declared blessed by the
Pope in St. Peter's at Rome.
BLESSED AMBROSE BARLOW, PRAY FOR US."