The famous Benedictine writer and mystic, Dom Augustine Baker, was a great uncle of Saint David Lewis.
David Baker was born in Abergavenny on 9th December 1575. Although his grandfather was a vicar of Abergavenny, David was brought up in a family of church papists. That is, they appeared to conform to the established religion but their real allegiance was to the Catholic faith. In fact, David’s sister, Margaret, was fined for recusancy in 1608. However, by his mid twenties, David had totally abandoned religion and was an atheist.
David’s father was an important figure in the cloth industry and the family had served as stewards to the Lords of Abergavenny since the time of Henry VIII. In 1596, David was sent by his father to London’s Inner Temple to study law. The young man excelled in his studies but, upon the death of his elder brother, he was called home to assist his father and he became the Recorder of Abergavenny. It was after his return to Abergavenny that David had a profound religious experience which completely changed his life and, in 1603, he was received into the Catholic Church.
Two years later, at the age of 30, David Baker was clothed with the Benedictine Habit at the Abbey of St Justina in Padua. He was given the name of Augustine. He was ordained priest in 1613 by Dr Gifford, the Archbishop of Rheims. Dom Augustine Baker returned to London and took up residence in the lawyers’ district, Grays Inn Lane, where he assisted Catholics in matters of law. He also undertook research into the English Benedictines. It was claimed by some that an English Benedictine Congregation did not exist before the Reformation. David’s research was to cost him two years and £200 of his own funds, but it proved the critics wrong. About 1625, the results of his research were published in the book, “Apostolatus Benedictinorum in Anglia”. Augustine Baker is probably best remembered for his treatise on the prayer of contemplation, “Sancta Sophia” or “Holy Wisdom”.
Due to anti-Catholic feelings in England, many priests left for the continent. Fr Baker went to Douai, in Flanders. He was appointed Spiritual Director of the English Benedictine Nuns at the Abbey of Our Ladye of Consolation in Douai. (The Nuns of Stanbrook Abbey) He remained in this post for nine years and then returned to London.
Fr Baker’s sister, Margaret, had married Henry Pritchard. One of their children was John Pritchard, who became a Jesuit priest. Another of their children, Margaret, married Morgan Lewis, headmaster of the Abergavenny Grammar School. Margaret and Morgan Lewis were the parents of David Lewis, who also became a Jesuit and eventually shed his blood for the faith.
In 1620, on his last visit to Abergavenny, Dom Augustine Baker stayed with his sister, Margaret Pritchard. It is inevitable that he would have met her young grandson, his great nephew, David Lewis. What a momentous meeting that would have been – the great Benedictine, whose motto was “I am nothing. I have nothing. I crave nothing, save Jesus”, and the future martyr, Saint David Lewis! Heaven must have smiled.
David Augustine Baker, whose health was never good, was stricken with the plague and died in London on 9th August 1641. He is buried in St Andrew’s Churchyard, Holborn.