A CAMPAIGN is underway to have a Ryedale priest declared a saint by the Catholic Church almost 400 years after his death.

Father Nicholas Postgate was executed in York in 1679, being hung, drawn and quartered simply for being a Catholic priest.

His territory extended from Pickering across the moors to Guisborough and west to Scarborough and today one of the few remaining relics of his clandestine ministry is to be found at St Joseph's Church in Pickering the portable slate altar he used to celebrate mass.

For the past 32 years, an annual rally has been held in his honour alternately at Egton and Ugthorpe and at this year's rally the pressure will be stepped up to have the martyr, who has already been designated "Blessed" made a saint.

Father Bill East, parish priest of St Joseph's, said: "I would very much welcome Father Postgate being canonised. To us in Pickering he is already regarded as a saint and we are allowed to celebrate him, but he has still to be recognised as a saint by the Catholic church worldwide."

Papal knight, Bernard Connelly of Osmotherly, who started the annual rally in Father Postgate's honour in 1974, said: "I am strongly in favour of him being canonised. The dallying has gone on for too long." He said he was confident of successfully stepping up the pressure on the Catholic authorities attending the service which is expected to be attended by the Bishop of Middlesbrough, the Rt Rev John Crowley.

Mr Connelly, 83, who has been appointed a Knight of St Gregory for his services to the Middlesbrough Diocese which includes Pickering, said a public fund could be set up to finance his canonisation.

He added: "Father Postgate was a man of outstanding importance in the history of North Yorkshire."

He served Catholics on the moors from 1630 to 1679, living in priests' holes in country houses on the moors.

Pope John Paul beatified him in 1987 after protests led by Mr Connelly that he had been omitted from the 40 martyrs declared saints in 1970.

The annual rally and mass held in the open air attracts as many as a thousand pilgrims. He was born at Egton Bridge and at 21 he went to France to join the seminary at Douai in Flanders. After being ordained he became chaplain to several landed gentry families in Yorkshire the Hungates at Saxton near Tadcaster, the Constables at Halsham in East Yorkshire, and the Meynells of Kilvington near Thirsk.

But in 1660 he moved back to the moors where he spent his early life, basing himself at Ugthorpe, and travelled around disguised as a gardener ministering to moorland families for over 20 years. He is credited with introducing wild daffodils to the moors. It is said that even non-Catholics secreted him to prevent him being caught for celebrating mass.

"He would hang white sheets on the hedgerows to indicate to Catholics that he was going to conduct a mass," said Father East. His arrest came after a family baptism at Littlebeck. according to local records. He was found with relics, altar breads and Catholic books. Magistrates who examined him sent him for trial at York where he was convicted of being a priest. He is said to have thanked the judge for giving him a short-cut to heaven.

He was executed at the age of 80 after being taken through the streets of York on a horse-drawn sledge.

He is still widely revered in the Esk Valley area of the moors and until quite recently the pub in Egton Bridge was named after him until it was renamed The Station Hotel.

A casket containing the priest's preserved hand is kept at Ampleforth Abbey. In the past this has been taken to the mass which is this year being held on Sunday, July 2 at 2.30pm and which is attended by clergy of all denominations.