Thursday, 22 October 2009


This is from a booklet by the late Canon J B Davies, D D. I believe this little gem is now out of print and its age (printed 1960) can be guessed by its title “Blessed David Lewis”, and its price, 4d! The piece I wish to quote is fairly long, but it is so beautiful it has to be shared. I will do it in two posts so be sure to look in again tomorrow for part two.

On a fine day in August, 1679, they hanged David Lewis in Usk for being a Roman Catholic priest. There was some difference of opinion at the
time between Catholics and Protestants as to whether a man ought to be hanged for being a Catholic priest, but at any rate they both agreed that this was why he was being hanged. It is true that his enemies, including the Lord Bishop of Hereford, had published a story of his having defrauded a “poor woman” of some moneys, but hardly anyone except the Bishop seems to have believed it. One thing is certain; while David Lewis lived no one ever accused him of any political plotting or treason, neither the Protestant Bishop who slandered him, nor the prosecution who charged him, nor the judge who sentenced him. Even that arrant liar, Dorothy James, who boasted she would “wash her hands in Fr Lewis’s heart’s blood” never, suggested he was guilty of treason. Let no one, therefore, suggest it today.

And yet as they led him out of Usk gaol to tie him on the hurdle on which he had to be dragged to the place of execution, his manner
showed plainly enough that he was anxious. Brother Foley would have us picture him setting out on his last journey calm, unmoved and completely detached from this world; any less heroic and more human attitude towards martyrdom was hardly conceivable in the 19th century. But this is not quite borne out by the evidence. The portrait we fortunately possess of David Lewis shows a slender, intellectual face, unmistakably Welsh with its long nose, mobile mouth and short upper lip, a face suggesting either the artist or the mystic, but certainly revealing a temperament of extreme sensibility. And his last speech shows clearly enough what his thoughts really were as he came out of the gaol, his quick, intelligent eyes eagerly scanning the people lining the street to watch his execution – would they be friendly? Or had they been deceived by that scurrilous pamphlet of the Bishop’s into thinking him a thief and a hypocrite?

If this is not quite the exalted mood we expect of a martyr going out to die for Christ, let us remember that Fr Lewis was not only a holy Jesuit priest, but also a Welsh gentleman, belonging to a class whose pride in long lineage and gentle manners, though often derided, stems from the Christian ideal inherent in the tribal solidarity of mediaeval Wales. After all, these were his own people watching him walk out to a most ungentlemanly death. He had spent almost his whole life among them; he was related to some of their oldest families; by a life of heroic charity he had won the love of the Catholics and the respect of the Protestants – was all this to be thrown away because a woman could tell lies and a Bishop confirm them? St Peter’s words kept running through his mind: “Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief; but if as a Christian, let him not be ashamed.” It was so important that they should understand why he was being put to death; what became of his testimony to Christ if they thought he was being hanged for a thief?”

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