There is a house here whose lintel bears the initials GG (George Gregson) and the date 1700. It was the last shelter of Edmund Arrowsmith, a Catholic priest who is now known as a Saint. Edmund Arrowsmith (whose given name was Brian) was born in Haydock in 1585. He was given his new name when he was confirmed as a Catholic priest, on the continent, before he returned to England to fulfil his mission. He settled in Brindle to teach and the Blue Anchor pub was the centre of his network; the landlord was a sympathiser and those requiring Edmund’s services would call for him there.
All was well until Edmund fell foul of the landlord’s son. When Edmund discovered he had married a first cousin – and had the marriage performed by a Protestant – he told the boy that the marriage must not be consummated until Rome had pronounced the union valid in the eyes of God. This was enough for the boy to betray Edmund to the authorities, who arrested Edmund at the house in Gregson Lane. Edmund was imprisoned in Lancaster Castle and condemned to death. He was executed on the 2th August, 1628. In time, Edmund would be beatified and after his death, many relics of the Saint made their way to churches for preservation. It is said that just before his death he begged the attending clergy attending to preserve his right hand, promising that it would have the power to effect miraculous cures.
The ‘Holy Hand’ was first preserved by Edmund’s family, who cared for it for many years at Bryn Hall, and later at Garswood. Pilgrims who came secretly to touch the hand claimed that it had miraculous powers of healing and as this legend spread, the fame of the Holy Hand grew. People claimed relief from daily ills and, on occasion, impending death and it was one of these cases which, in 1736, became the Holy Hand’s first recorded Miracle.
Young Thomas Hawarden had a persistent fever and had gradually lost the use of his limbs, being unable to walk or even stand. His mother drew the Holy Hand up and down Thomas’ back, reciting a prayer all the time, until at last Thomas declared he thought he could stand up – and he promptly did so.
Another miracle cure is in the records; Mary Fletcher, who was cured of convulsions in 1768. She had suffered dreadfully and was confined to bed, her Doctor saying there was nothing more to be done for her. The Holy Hand was brought to her bedside by her brother and Mary prayed to it sincerely whilst it was applied to her body. The very next day, Mary was up and about again, helping her siblings with the housework and the baking.
These cures were formally witnessed by gentry and by priests. One priest, who had witnessed Mary Fletcher’s cure, had need of the Holy Hand himself when he had a life-threatening disease of his throat. He was cured with a single touch of the Holy Hand.
Even as recently as 1872, miraculous cures were reported. A destitute woman from Wigan called Catherine Collins, in the workhouse because she was too sick to make her own way in the world, was cured of paralysis by the Holy Hand. This cure was reported in the Daily News.
Edmund Arrowsmith was ratified as a saint in 1929. His Holy Hand now resides in Ashton-in-Makerfield and is still renowned for its powers of healing.