The Dead Hand
The “Dead Hand,” or the “Holy Hand,” as it is sometimes styled, alluded to in the foregoing tradition,is the centre around which quite a galaxy of marvellous tales have gathered. It is known to have belonged to Father Edmund Arrowsmith, a Jesuit, who suffered the extreme penalty of the law at Lancaster, on the 28th August 1628.
The cause of Father Arrowsmith’s trial and execution has been variously stated, certain sceptical persons alleging that he had been found guilty of some foul crime, and that the tale of his martyrdom for the sake of his faith, and the miracles which attest his sanctity, have been invented for the purpose of preventing scandal in the Church. The onus probandi lies, of course, with them, and until these unbelievers in miraculous intervention can adduce any evidence on behalf of their allegations, there does not appear to be any reason for refusing to accept the testimony of the Catholics, which is to the following effect.
Arrowsmith was born at Haydock, in the parish of Winwick, Lancashire, in 1585. In 1605 he entered the Jesuit College at Douay, and in 1612 was ordained priest. The next year he was sent on a mission to England; and in 1623 was apprehended and taken to Lancaster on a charge of being a Eomish priest, contrary to the laws “in that case made and provided.” He was tried for this offence, found guilty, sentenced to death, and executed. After his body was cut down one of his friends or, as other accounts say, his spiritual attendant, cut off his right hand, in compliance with his dying injunctions, and to fulfil his dying promise that he should work miraculous cures on those who had faith in its efficacy.
For many years the hand was kept at Bryn Hall, and when that ancient edifice was demolished it was removed to Garswood Hall, Sir Robert Gerard’s residence. Ultimately it was placed in the Catholic Chapel at Ashton-in-Maskerfield, where it now is in custody of the priest. This holy relic, by which so many marvellous cures have been wrought, is most carefully preserved in a white silk bag. We have before us an account of a case which occurred in August 1872: a woman named Catherine Collins, was sent to the Wigan Workhouse a wholly destitute. She had been sitting all day on a door-step, after having come out of the workhouse at Salford on leave, and walked all the way from that town to Mackerfield, in order to have the “Holy Hand” applied to her side, which was paralyzed. When her case came before the Wigan Board of Guardians, Mr. Clarke, one of the guardians for Ashton, informed the Board that hundreds of persons visited the township on a similar errand to that of this paralytic woman.
[The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain by John Ingram (1897)]