John Bradburne

John Randal Bradburne, O.F.S.[1] (14 June 1921 in Skirwith, Cumbria, England, UK – 5 September 1979 near Mutoko, Mashonaland South, Rhodesia – now Mashonaland East, Zimbabwe), was a lay member of the Order of St Francis, a poet, warden of the Mutemwa leper colony at Mutoko. Killed by guerrillas, he is a candidate for canonisation but has not yet received from the Holy See the title of "Servant of God", which is the first step toward canonization.


John Randal Bradburne was born on 14 June 1921 in Skirwith, Cumberland.[2][3] A son of the marriage of Thomas William Bradburne and Erica May Hill in 1916,[4] he was baptised in the Church of England at Skirwith on 31 July 1921.[3] He had two brothers and two sisters. Their father, an Anglican clergyman, was Rector of Skirwith at that time.[3] The Bradburnes were also cousins of the playwright Terence Rattigan and were more distantly related to the politician Christopher Soames. John Bradburne was one of 5 children, Phillip, Mary, Audrey and Michael Bradburne.


Bradburne was educated at Gresham's, an independent school in Norfolk, England, from 1934 to 1939, the choice of school being chiefly because his father had gained a new benefice in Norfolk. His brother Michael was at Gresham's with him, but moved on to Eton. Bradburne was a member of the school's Officer Training Corps. He was planning to continue his studies at a University, but at the outset of the Second World War he volunteered for the Indian Army, with which his mother's family was connected. She had been born in Lucknow. He was accepted and sent for training at an Officer Cadet Training Unit at Bulford.[5]

Army days.jpg

War Service

In 1940 Bradburne was assigned to the 9th Gurkha Rifles of the Indian Army and soon found himself posted with them to British Malaya to face the invasion of the Imperial Japanese Army. After the fall of Singapore, Bradburne spent a month in the jungle. With another Gurkha officer, he tried to sail a sampan to Sumatra but they were shipwrecked. A second attempt was successful, and Bradburne was rescued by a Royal Navy destroyer and returned to Dehra Dun. For his escape, he was recommended for the Military Cross, although this was never awarded. He then saw active service with Brigadier Orde Wingate's Chindits in Burma.

After the war

Bradburne had a religious experience in Malaya, and the adventurer became the pilgrim. When he returned to England after the war, he stayed with the Benedictines of Buckfast Abbey, where he became a Roman Catholic in 1947. He wanted to be a Benedictine monk but the Order would not accept him because he had not been in the Church for two years.[6] After a while, he felt a strong urge to travel.

For the next sixteen years, Bradburne wandered through England, France, Italy, Greece and the Middle East with only a Gladstone bag. In England, he stayed with the Carthusians for seven months. In Israel, he joined the small Order of Our Lady of Mount Sion, founded for the conversion of the Jews, and went as a Novice to Louvain, Belgium, for a year, where he met Geza Vermes, who would become a noted scholar.[7] After that, he walked to Rome and lived for a year in the organ loft of the small Church in a mountain village, playing the organ. He then tried to live as a hermit on Dartmoor, then went to the Benedictine Prinknash Abbey, before joining the choir of Westminster Cathedral as a Sacristan. Cardinal Godfrey asked him to be the caretaker of his country house, Hare Street House, in Hertfordshire, England.

In 1956, on Good Friday, Bradburne joined the Secular Franciscan Order but remained a layman. However, he decided he wanted to be buried in the habit of St. Francis of Assisi.

Bradburne's wanderlust was almost coming to the end in 1962, when he wrote to a Jesuit friend in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Fr John Dove SJ. He asked, "Is there a cave in Africa where I can pray?" The answer was the invitation to come to Rhodesia and be a missionary helper. This is where in 1969, Bradburne found Mutemwa Leprosy Settlement near Mutoko in Zimbabwe,143 kilometres (89 miles) northwest of Salisbury (now Harare). It was a cut off community of leprosy patients abandoned by others. Here Bradburne stayed with these patients caring for them as their warden until his murder in 1979. After his arrival to Africa, Bradburne told a Franciscan priest that he had three wishes: to help the victims of leprosy, to die a martyr, and to be buried in the Franciscan habit.[8]


By July 1979, the Rhodesian Bush War, then in its 15th and last year, was approaching Mutemwa. His friends urged Bradburne to leave but he insisted that he should stay with the lepers. On Sunday, 2 September 1979, the guerrillas came for him. Accusing him of being an informer, they kidnapped him and then shot him. He died instantly, on 5 September at the age of 58. He was buried in a Franciscan habit, according to his wishes, at the Chishawasha Mission Cemetery, about 18 kilometres (11 miles) northeast of Salisbury (now Harare).[9]


Feature articles on John Bradburne and Mutemwa appeared in the print versions of England's Sunday Telegraph on 23 April 1989 and on 28 August 1994 and the online version on 14 September 2009.[10] The last two articles were written by the newspaper's editor, Charles Moore, who had visited Mutemwa.

In July 2001, the Franciscan priest Father Paschal Slevin, OFM, presented a petition to Patrick Fani Chakaipa, Archbishop of Harare, for an inquiry into Bradburne's canonisation. Father Slevin commented: "I have no doubt that John died a martyr in his determination to serve his friends, the lepers. If his martyrdom is accepted, his cause for sainthood could go quite quickly".[11]

A service is held in Bradburne's memory at Mutemwa every year, drawing as many as 25,000 people each time. In 2009 a Mass commemorating the 30th anniversary of his death was held at Westminster Cathedral in London, England.[12] This year in 2019, marks the 40th Anniversary of John's assassination. This will be marked both in Zimbabwe at Mutemwa with the pilgrimage and then an exhibition and talks at Westminster Cathedral on 21 September 2019, where John's relics will be showcased for the first time.

A poet, he left behind 6,000 poems.[13] He is in the Guinness Book of Records for being in terms of lines of poetry alone, the most prolific poet in English. Comprising a total of 169,925 individual lines. Bradburne's output almost doubles that of William Shakespeare. Bradburne completed almost 6000 poems in total, most written during 1968-79 and covering a wide range of spiritual, natural, elegiac and narrative subject matter. As he wrote his domestic letters largely in verse, new poems from the recipients are still occasionally found.

A campaign to have Bradburne beatified and canonised has started by the late Celia Brigstocke, John's niece and is now being continued by Kate Macpherson, John's great niece. .[14][15]

On 1 July 2019 The Congregation for the Cause of Saints in Rome issued a formal nihil obstat for the cause of beatification of John Bradburne to proceed. The letter was sent to Archbishop Ndlovu, primate of Zimbabwe, who in April 2019 had convened a meeting of Zimbabwean Bishops at which there was unanimous approval to support the cause. A postulator, Dr Enrico Solinas, a lay judge at the Umbrian Interdiocesan Ecclesiastical Court of Perugia, was appointed in 2018 and is now taking the cause forward.

On 5 September 2019, the 40th anniversary of John's death, a special ceremony is to be held at Mutemwa, where the cause will be officially launched.


  1. ^ (en) Although Bradburne was a S.F.O. when he was alive, members of his order, the Secular Franciscan Order, are now required to use O.F.S. after their names by the 2011 declaration of the order's General Chapter.
  2. ^ "Bradburne, John R, mother's maiden name Hill" in Register of Births for Penrith Registration District, vol. 10b (1921), p. 1089
  3. ^ a b c Rt. Rev. Patrick O'Donoghue, the Bishop of Lancaster, "A Pilgrimage to Skirwith!", in John Bradburne Memorial Society Newsletter, Winter 2004, p. 2
  4. ^ "Bradburne, Thomas W & Hill, Erica M." in Register of Marriages for Watford Registration District, vol. 3a (1916), p. 1688
  5. ^ John Dove, Strange Vagabond of God: The Story of John Bradburne, p. 5
  6. ^ (en) Joan Carroll Cruz, Saintly Men of Modern Times, p. 164
  7. ^ Vermes, Geza (1993). Providential Accidents: An Autobiography. 1998. pp. 78–79. ISBN 0334027225.
  8. ^ (en) Ibid., p. 166
  9. ^ (en) Ibid., pp. 167–169
  10. ^ (en) Charles Moore, "John Bradburne: a martyr who turned love into the divine", The Daily Telegraph [London, England], Monday, 14 September 2009
  11. ^ (en) Spectator (UK), "Letter from Zimbabwe",, Friday, 29 June 2001
  12. ^ (en) "London: John Bradburne: Anniversary Mass and Talk", Independent Catholic News, 5 September 2009,
  13. ^ (en)
  14. ^ Burgess, Kaya (23 April 2018). "Calls for first English saint in 50 years". The Times. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  15. ^ "Campaign to make John Bradburne first English saint in almost 50 years". The Week UK. 23 April 2018. Retrieved 30 May 2018.


  • (fr) Didier Rance wrote 'The Vagabond of God' 2017.
  • (en) Prof. David Crystal wrote 'A Life Made of Words, poetry and Thought of John Bradburne' 2018.
  • (fr) Didier Rance wrote 'John Bradburne Une Vie' 2019
  • (en) Renato Tonel wrote 'John Bradburne Mystic, Poet and Martyr 1921-1979' 2018
  • (it) Fr Valentine Cascarino 'Thesis on John and Franciscanism' 2019
  • (en) Father John Dove, SJ, Strange Vagabond of God: The Story of John Bradburne (Leominster, England: Gracewing, 2001) ISBN 0-85244-383-8 (Published 1985 and 1990, revised 1997, reprinted 2001)
  • (en) John Bradburne and Professor David Crystal, editor. Songs of the Vagabond (Leominster, England: Holy Island Press, 1996) ISBN 0-951306-34-0
  • (en) Prof. David Crystal and Hilary Crystal, eds., John Bradburne's Mutemwa in Poems and Pictures (Leominister, England: Holy Island Press, 2000) ISBN 0-951306-35-9
  • (en) John Bradburne Memorial Society, John Bradburne of Mutemwa, 1921–1979 (Leominster, England: The John Bradburne Memorial Society, ca 1995)
  • (fr) Didier Rance, John Bradburne, le vagabond de Dieu [John Bradburne, the Vagabond of God] (Paris: Éditions Salvator, 2012) ISBN 2-706708-82-4
  • (en) Joan Carroll Cruz, "John Bradburne / 1921 – 1979 / Vagabond of God / England/Africa", Saintly Men of Modern Times, pp. 163–169 (Huntingdon, Indiana, USA: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 2003) ISBN 1-931709-77-7
  • (en) Leo Knowles, "Come Sweet Death on Wednesday" : "John Bradburne", Modern Heroes of the Church (Huntingdon, Indiana, USA: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 2003), pp. 15–24 ISBN 1-931709-46-7
  • (en) Nanette Mary, "The Long Road to Mutemwa" [a poem about the life and adventures of John Bradburne], The Long Road to Mutemwa: And Other Writings (Bloomington, Indiana, USA: AuthorHouse, 2012), pp. xiii–xiv, 1–21. ISBN 978-1-4772-2661-2. The first five pages of the poem are available online at "Nanette+Mary"&hl=en&sa=X&ei=La8OUZ0CjoHQAfaegNgC&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%22John%20Bradburne%22%20"Nanette%20Mary"&f=false GoogleBooks


  • (en) "On Eagles' Wings: The Life and Death of John Bradburne", VHS, running time, producer, place, and date unknown, available from the John Bradburne Memorial Society.
  • (en) "Vagabond of God", 59 minutes, format unknown, Norman Servais, Cape Town, South Africa, 1999; released to coincide with the 20th Anniversary of the death of John Bradburne. For more information, go to [1].

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