James Nayler: ‘B’ for Blasphemer

Due to causing a national scandal, the Quaker James Nayler (1618 – 1660) was branded with a ‘B’ for Blasphemer.

The national scandal took place in Bristol, England, in 1656. Nayler (sometimes spelt Naylor) and several followers staged a re-enactment of the “Palm Sunday” arrival of Christ riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Nayler rode on horseback into Bristol attended by followers who sang “Holy, holy, holy” as they strewed the muddy path with garments.

For the outraged religious authorities during the Commonwealth of England, this was nothing short of Nayler being a self-described new Messiah and his actions were quickly condemned.

Trial And Punishment

Nayler and some of his followers were apprehended, arrested and subsequently brought before Parliament.  On 16 December, 1656, he was convicted of blasphemy in a highly publicised trial.  Nayer had argued during the trial that he wasn’t claiming to be Jesus, but rather he had the Inward Christ as did all people.

Narrowly escaping execution, instead he was sentenced to be put in the pillory and on there to have a red hot iron bored through his tongue, and also to be branded with the letter ‘B’ for Blasphemer on his forehead, and other public humiliations. Finally, he was imprisoned for two years of hard labour.

George Fox was horrified by the Bristol scandal, and recounted in his Journal that “James ran out into imaginations, and a company with him; and they raised up a great darkness in the nation”.

In October 1660, while travelling to rejoin his family in Yorkshire, Naylor was robbed and left near death in a field, then brought to the home of a nearby Quaker doctor who tried to save him.

Aged 42, Nayler died two days later from his injuries on 21 October – 360 year ago to the day. Among his last words was the following declaration of Quaker belief:

“There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself.”

James Nayler

Art Thou In The Darkness

Art Thou In the Darkness is the title given to a small passage from Nayler’s writings and is sung here by Paulette Meier for QuakerSpeak.

Image from britannica.com

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