Sunday, 4 October 2009

ST DAVID LEWIS, LAST WELSH MARTYR

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DAVID LEWIS, (alias Charles Baker) was born in Abergavenny in 1616, the son of Margaret Pritchard and Morgan Lewis. His father, who was headmaster of Abergavenny Grammar School, raised him as a Protestant. As a young man he spent some time in Paris and while there he converted to Catholicism. Subsequently, he went to study at the English College in Rome where, in 1642, he was ordained as a Catholic priest. Three years later he became a Jesuit.

Father David Lewis returned to his native Wales and with the exception of a brief period in Rome, he spent his priestly life labouring for the people of Monmouthshire and area. He was greatly loved and, for his kindness to all, he was known as ‘Tad y Tlodion’, ‘Father of the Poor’. Father Lewis became a victim of the evil Titus Oates. He was arrested at Llantarnam on 17th November 1678 and was brought for trial at the Lenten Assizes in Monmouth on 16th March 1679. He was brought to the bar on a charge of High Treason, that is, for having become a Catholic priest and remaining in the country. He pleaded not guilty to the charge of being an accessory to the Popish Plot but several witnesses claimed they had seen him say Mass and perform other priestly duties. For this he was found guilty and the judge, Sir Robert Atkins, sentenced him to death. The condemned priest was brought to Newgate Prison in London with Fr John Kemble and questioned about the “plot”. Oates and his henchmen, William Bedloe, Dugdale and Price were unable to prove anything against him. Lord Shaftsbury advised him that if he gave evidence about the “plot” or renounced his Catholic faith his life would be spared and he would be well rewarded. The heroic priest said in his dying discourse, “discover the plot I could not, as I knew of none; and conform I would not, for it was against my conscience”. He was brought back to Usk Gaol to await his execution.

Fr David Lewis was martyred on 27th August 1679. He was taken from his cell in Usk Gaol and carried on a hurdle to a place known as the Coniger and the dreadful sentence was carried out. His body was taken in procession to the churchyard of the Priory Church and there it was buried. His is the grave closest to the main door of the church. Every year on the Sunday nearest to 27th August there is a pilgrimage to this holy site.

In October 1970, Pope Paul VI canonised the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. Fr David Lewis, the last Welsh martyr, was one of the Forty.
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