Born at Dimples Hall, Garstang, Lancashire, England, the son of Robert Plessington, a Royalist Roman Catholic, and Alice Rawstone, a family thus persecuted for both their religious and political beliefs. Educated by the Jesuits at Scarisbrick Hall, then at the Royal College of Saint Alban at Valladolid, Spain and then Saint Omer's monastery in France, he was ordained in Segovia on 25 March 1662. He returned to England in 1663 ministering to covert Catholics in the areas of Holywell and Cheshire, often hiding under the name William Scarisbrick. He was also tutor at Puddington Old Hall near Chester. Upon arrest in Chester during the Popish Plot scare caused by Titus Oates, he was imprisoned for two months, and then hanged, drawn and quartered for the crime of being a Catholic priest. From the scaffold at Gallow's Hill in Boughton, Cheshire he spoke the following:
- But I know it will be said that a priest ordayned by authority derived from the See of Rome is, by the Law of the Nation, to die as a Traytor, but if that be so what must become of all the Clergymen of the Church of England, for the first Protestant Bishops had their Ordination from those of the Church of Rome, or not at all, as appears by their own writers so that Ordination comes derivatively from those now living.
He was beatified in 1929 by Pope Pius XI, and canonized and made one of the Forty Martyrs on 25 October 1970 by Pope Paul VI. There is now a school called St. John Plessington in England which has just won TES School of the Year 2010 out of England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland.
There is a memorial tablet to him located in the entrance porch of St Werburgh's Catholic Church, Grosvenor Park Road, Chester, just a short distance from the spot he was executed on. In 1980 his name was added to the base of the granite obelisk nearby that was erected in 1898 for the Protestant martyr George Marsh in Boughton, which has the following inscription:
John Plessington Catholic Priest, martyred here on 19th July 1679. Canonised Saint 25th October 1970
- List of 40 martyrs, accessed 20 July 2008
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