Monday, 30 November 2009


On Monday, 18th November 1678, Fr David Lewis, a Jesuit priest, was incarcerated in Monmouth Gaol. His false friend, John Arnold, a Justice of the Peace, had promised that he would not allow him to be treated with “any incivility or severity”, but had secretly ordered that a strict watch be kept on the prisoner. Fr Lewis was kept a close prisoner and not allowed to leave his cell. However, the underkeeper allowed friends to visit the priest during the day. Through these visits, the prisoner learned of the fate of his friends and fellow priests and also, of events at the Jesuit College of St Francis Xavier, at a place called the Cwm. Fr Lewis had been Superior of the College and he must have been greatly distressed to hear of its devastation.

For Fr Lewis, Christmas 1678 would have been a bleak one indeed. Sunday morning in Christmas week, two magistrates visited him in his cell. They told him of Charles Price, a servant of the Marquis of Worcester of Raglan Castle. Price was accused by William Bedloe of conspiring to kill the King. The Magistrates questioned Fr Lewis as to what he knew about the affair. Under oath, Fr Lewis replied; “Upon oath, and under my hand I gave it, that to my knowledge I never saw Bedloe, I never spoke to him, I never had any correspondence with him directly or indirectly, I further deposed that I never heard, I know nothing of the Plot, till common fame had spread it over the country,” The deposition was sent to London but Fr Lewis heard no more about the matter.

In the New Year, the new High Sheriff, James Herbert, decided to move the County Gaol from Monmouth to Usk. So it was that, on 13th January 1679, the Deputy Sheriff and the Head Gaoler rode with Fr David Lewis to Usk. It was a bitterly cold day and snowing heavily. The group stopped at an inn in Raglan to warm themselves and, while there, a messenger arrived with sad news for Fr Lewis. A friend and colleague from the Cwm, Fr Ignatius Price, lay dying in a barn about half a mile away and wished to see Fr Lewis. Being in the custody of the Deputy Sheriff and the Head Gaoler, Fr Lewis was unable to comply with this poignant request. Three days later, Fr Lewis learned of the death of his friend.

Usk Gaol was situated on the north side of Bridge Street, where 28 Bridge Street is today. This Old Bridewell, or House of Correction, had originally been a Friary, a house of the Grey Friars. In January 1679, The Gaol was crowded with Catholics who had refused the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy. One was a widow, Jane Harris, who had given refuge to a priest but was betrayed by her butcher. Father Lewis would have known most, if not all, of these people. He had spent his priestly life toiling among the persecuted Catholics of the area, travelling on foot to bring them what help and comfort he could.

On 28th March 1679, Fr David Lewis was taken back to Monmouth to be tried at the Assizes. The charge against him was “David Lewis pro Sacred Roman” i.e. “David Lewis for being a Roman Priest”. He was indicted under Statute 27 Elizabeth which made it High Treason for a Catholic to be ordained abroad and return to England for more than forty days. The Clerk of Assizes read the charge against Fr Lewis. “Here thou standest indicted of High Treason by the name of David Lewis, for thou being a natural subject of the King of England, hast passed beyond the seas and taken Orders from the Church and See of Rome.” The jury, made up of Arnold’s toadies, returned the expected verdict, "Guilty", and Fr Lewis was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

Father David Lewis S J, was returned to Usk Gaol. The sentence would not be carried out, just yet.


Friday, 27 November 2009


Having been arrested at Llantarnam on Sunday, 17th November 1678, Fr David Lewis S J, had been taken to the home of the fanatical anti-Catholic Justice of the Peace, John Arnold. The priest spent the night at Arnold’s home, Llanvihangel Court, in a room guarded by two “strong men”.

The next morning, Monday, 18th November 1678, Fr Lewis arose at 7 o’clock. Arnold paid him a short visit in his room where the two exchanged a few civil words. When Fr Lewis had his breakfast, he came downstairs and found the Magistrate and several constables loading guns in the Great Hall. It would seem that Arnold was almost as puerile as he was bigoted for he possessed a repulsive effigy of the Pope. Arnold referred to this parody as “his baby” and, before leaving the house, he invited the priest to view it. Fr Lewis diplomatically declined.

The party now set out on the final leg of their journey to Monmouth Gaol. When Fr Lewis realised that an armed soldier was to lead his horse all the way to Monmouth, he asked to be spared this humiliation. The Magistrate agreed and it was promised that instead, a constable would ride behind him while the remainder of the armed guard walked on either side of him. Once again, John Arnold showed his duplicity. As soon as the party had set off, Arnold sent a message to the Chief Constable that the lead was to be replaced on the horse’s head and that the prisoner was to be closely watched! The Chief Constable turned out to be an unexpectedly sympathetic man who ignored the order.

At last, Monmouth was reached and Fr Lewis was incarcerated at the town’s gaol. A friend paid 14/ a week for Fr Lewis to have a good room with a fire, candle, bed and linen. That morning, Monday 18th November, John Arnold had assured Fr Lewis that he would not allow the gaoler to subject him to “any incivility or severity”. It must have been a sad moment and the shattering of all illusion regarding Arnold’s friendship for him, when the gaoler showed the priest a letter written that very day by Arnold. The letter, dated 18th November, ordered that a strict watch be kept on the prisoner who was guilty of high treason! Fr David Lewis was kept a close prisoner and his confinement was so strict that he never left his cell. However, the underkeeper allowed friends to visit him during the day. For almost two months Fr Lewis was a prisoner in Monmouth Gaol.

In January 1679, the new High Sheriff, James Herbert of Coldbrook, decided to move the County Gaol from Monmouth to Usk. On a cold and snowy 13th January 1679, our saintly priest, Fr David Lewis S J, was transferred to Usk Gaol on Bridge Street. Here, he would await his fate.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


In November of 1678, Fr David Lewis S J was living in a cottage adjoining the Blacksmith’s at Llantarnam. He had been living at Llantarnam Abbey with his Aunt, Lady Frances Morgan, but, with the turmoil fomented by the Oates’ Plot, he had moved out in an attempt to protect his relatives.

Fr Lewis continued to minister to the Catholics of the area. On Sunday, 17th November, early in the morning, he was preparing to celebrate Holy Mass when a party of six armed dragoons arrested him. William James, a lapsed Catholic and former servant of Fr Lewis, joined Roger Seys and William Bedloe in leading the dragoons to apprehend the Jesuit. For this despicable act of betrayal, James was paid the sum of £220 – the Government reward of £20 for the apprehension of a priest and the additional £200 offered by the arch priest hunter, John Arnold. The priest was to be taken to Monmouth Gaol but first the group stopped at the house of Charles Price at Llanfoist. Here, three Justices of the Peace, Charles Price, John Arnold and Thomas Lewis, awaited them.

At about 2 o’clock that afternoon, Fr David Lewis, mounted on horseback, was led away from Llanfoist by Arnold and his henchmen. Guarded by twelve armed men, the priest was then taken to his hometown, Abergavenny. It being Sunday, the streets of Abergavenny were swarming with people. The contingent entered the Golden Lion on Frogmore Street where, in a guarded upper room, Fr Lewis was examined by the Recorder of Abergavenny, William Jones. The avaricious and vengeful William James swore that he had seen Fr Lewis say Mass at least twenty times. Fr Lewis was asked if he had played any part in the Titus Oates Plot and the priest swore on oath that he had no knowledge of or part in any plot. Arnold, showing his contempt for all things Catholic, sarcastically remarked that with Catholics, it was no oath to swear on the Bible. Arnold and Price had previously appeared to be friends of Fr Lewis and, curiously, now treated him with a certain degree of courtesy, although Arnold was not above making course remarks to the priest, at one point calling him the “pretended bishop of Llandaff”. The four now adjourned to the dining room, a large room where they had supper together. Fr Lewis, committed on a charge of Treason, was given the choice of spending the night at the Golden Lion, in a guarded room, or of being the guest of John Arnold at his home in Llanvihangel. Arnold assured the priest that he would be “most civilly entertained”. David Lewis left the decision to the others and it was decided that he should spend the night at Llanvihangel Court.

Fr David Lewis and his captors left the Golden Lion at about 10 o’clock that night. It was a moonlit night and a large crowd had gathered to catch a glimpse of the Jesuit prisoner as the party rode off into the night. Many in the crowd would have known Fr Lewis for he had grown up in the town and, as a priest, had ministered to the Catholics there. It would have been between 11 o’clock and midnight when the men reached Llanvihangel Court. Llanvihangel Court was a fine Elizabethan mansion that had been home to several generations of Arnolds. The defenceless priest spent the night here in a room guarded by two “strong men”.
(This recent photograph of Llanvihangel Court shows the main door of the house. This is not the original entrance. To the left of the window and at about the same height as the top of the window, one can clearly see in the brickwork where the original doorway was. On the night of his arrest, St David Lewis would have been brought in through this original doorway.)

Sunday, 22 November 2009


On this Feast of Christ the King, I think this is an appropriate video to post. I hope it will be an inspiration to all of us to "Keep the Faith".

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


St David Lewis was born in Abergavenny in 1616. He spent all but one year of his priestly life ministering to the people of Abergavenny and area where, despite persecution, fines and imprisonment, many Catholics held firm to the Old Faith. These Catholics were cared for by the Jesuits who had established a seminary and college at a place called the Cwm, near Welsh Newton. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Catholics worshipped in a barn and, later, in the secret attic chapel in the home of Thomas Gunter on Cross Street.

In 1687, Franciscan Friars took over the care of the Catholics in the Abergavenny area. In 1690, with a Catholic King, James II, on the throne, a new Catholic chapel was built in Abergavenny. Unfortunately, with the coming of William III and Mary, things again became difficult for Catholics. However, Abergavenny Catholics kept the Old Faith. By 1740, approximately half the Catholics in the country lived in the district of Abergavenny and it was necessary for the Franciscans to build a new church.

In 1857, Benedictine Monks took over from the Franciscans. The Benedictines sold the old property and built a new church in Pen-y-Pound. This church was opened on 15th May 1860. The Catholic Church of Our Ladye and St Michael, in Abergavenny, is still served by Benedictines.

The church is in possession of some exceptional treasures, including a medieval Holy Water Stoup, a collection of pre-reformation chasubles and copes, and chalice veils from the time of the Stuarts. A red velvet chasuble dates from the time of King Henry VII. Its beauty and craftsmanship suggest it would have been made by ladies of the Royal Court and it is believed to have been given by Queen Elizabeth, wife of Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII, when she visited Abergavenny near the end of the 15th century. Other vestments are gifts of Queen Katherine of Aragon. From time to time, these vestments are worn for important occasions and are exhibited occasionally.

Were any of these pre-reformation vestments worn by St David Lewis? I doubt if anyone can say for certain but, given the number of years the saint laboured in the area, it is more than likely that they were.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009


For a time, Fr David Lewis had lived with his relatives, the Morgans, at Llantarnam Abbey. However, with the danger precipitated by Titus Oates and his fiendish plot, the priest did not want to bring trouble to the family so he decided to live elsewhere. He moved into a cottage adjoining the blacksmith’s shop, opposite the Parish Church of St Michael and All Angels, Llantarnam.

On Sunday morning, 17th November 1678, Fr Lewis was preparing for Mass. On the orders of John Arnold and Charles Price, a party of six dragoons descended on the priest. They were led by the motley crew of Seys, Bedloe and James! Roger Seys of Penrhos, was a petty constable of Arnold’s parish of Llantilio Crossenny. William Bedloe was a nephew by marriage of Charles Price, another rabid anti-Catholic Justice of the Peace. William James, motivated by revenge and greed, received a reward of £220 for leading the group to the priest.

Of his arrest, the 63 year old Jesuit wrote;
“After my full thirty years poor missionary labours in South Wales, on Sunday morning, a little before day, being the 17th November 1678, I was taken by six armed men sent by Mr John Arnold and Mr Charles Price, until then my two very good friends and acquaintances. I was taken in a little house in the parish of St Michael-Llantarnam in the County of Monmouth. From thence by the soldiers, together with such church stuff of mine they there found, carried I was to the house of Mr Charles Price in Llanfoist”

The “church stuff” to which Fr Lewis referred consisted of one large silver gilt chalice and patten, one pair of small silver flower pots, one silver thurible and cover, one small silver plate for crewetts, one silver crewett, one silver bell for the altar, one pair of silver candlesticks, several pieces of silver originally from a crucifix and one picture of the Virgin Mary with silver gilt frame.

After months of incarceration and a rigged trial, Fr David Lewis S J, was martyred at Usk on 27th August 1679.

On Saturday, 17th November 2007, exactly 329 years after the arrest of St David Lewis, a plaque marking the site of his arrest was blessed and unveiled at the Old Post Office, Llantarnam.

Monday, 16 November 2009


The aim of this blog is to spread knowledge of and devotion to the Last Welsh Martyr, St David Lewis. However, St David Lewis did not live in a vacuum or in a bubble! He had family, friends and colleagues. He went places and did things. Events took place and life went on. To convey a sense of his life and times, we have included in previous posts people and places that have touched the life of the martyr. In this post and in future posts, we will continue to do the same.

St John Wall was born into a wealthy Catholic family in Lancashire in
1620 and, at a young age, was sent to the English College at Douai. Interestingly, he was baptised by the future Jesuit Martyr, Edmund Arrowsmith. He enrolled at the English College in Rome on 5th November 1641 under the alias John Marsh. Later, on the English Mission, he used the names of Francis Johnson, Francis Webb and Francis Dromore. Already studying at the English College was a young Welshman, David Lewis, alias Charles Baker. The two became friends and it is thought that John Wall was present in the Lateran Basilica when, on St Stephen’s Day 1642, the recently ordained Fr Lewis preached a short Latin discourse in the presence of Pope Urban VIII.

On 3rd December 1645 John Wall was ordained to the sacred priesthood. On 1st January 1651, he received the Franciscan habit at St Bonaventure's Friary, Douai. A year later he was professed and took the name Fr Joachim of St Anne. He soon became vicar of the monastery and then novice master before being sent upon the English Mission in 1656. For twenty-two years he laboured zealously, chiefly in Worcestershire, and won many converts through his preaching and example. For twelve of the twenty-two years, he used Harvington Hall as his base and went under the alias of Webb. It was during the Titus Oates Plot that Fr John Wall was apprehended quite by accident. In December 1678, the Sheriff’s Deputy was searching for a debtor at Rushock Court when he came upon the unfortunate priest, who was immediately taken before the Justice of the Peace. Refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy, the priest was committed to Worcester Gaol. On 25th April 1679, The Franciscan was finally brought to trial before Judge Atkins at Worcester. He was indicted for high treason for being a priest and remaining in the country. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. John bowed low and said “Thanks be to God; God save the King; and I beseech God to bless your lordship, and all this honourable bench.” The prisoner was returned to his cell.

Later that month, Fr Wall was summoned to London for questioning about the alleged Popish Plot. He was lodged in the notorious Newgate Prison where his friend, Fr David Lewis S J, the aged Fr John Kemble, and Fr Roger Handslip, were also incarcerated. In an attempt to implicate them in the fabricated Plot, the four priests had been brought from their respective prisons to be questioned by Titus Oates, William Bedloe, Stephen Dugdale and Myles Prance. Fr Wall spent a month in London and was strictly examined several times by all four. No evidence could be found against him and he was declared innocent of involvement in any plot. Bedloe was the last to examine Fr Wall and he offered the priest his life if he would embrace the Protestant religion. The saintly priest wrote, “But I told them I would not buy my life at so dear a rate as to wrong my conscience”.

In June, Fr Wall was returned to prison in Worcester and there he remained until his execution in August. Two days before his execution, Fr William Levison visited Fr Wall and found him “a cheerful sufferer of his present imprisonment, and ravished, as it were, with joy, with the future hopes of dying for so good a cause”. Fr Levison heard the condemned man’s confession and gave him communion. On the day of execution, 22nd August 1679, Fr Levison stood near the gallows and, as the priest was turned off the ladder, gave him the last absolution. The Sheriff had offered John Wall the opportunity of dying the following day so as to spare him the further humiliation of dying with two common criminals. John thanked the Sheriff for his consideration but told him that if it was good enough for Jesus, then it was good enough for him. Although, as the sentence demanded, Fr John Wall was quartered and his head cut off, his body was permitted to be buried. The Catholics of the town accompanied his body to St Oswald’s Churchyard where it was buried. Less than a week later, on 27th August 1679, Fr Wall’s friend, Fr David Lewis S J, was martyred at Usk.

Fr Levison had taken possession of the Franciscan martyr’s head and, at the first opportunity, conveyed it to Douai. It was kept in the cloisters of the English Franciscans of Douai until the dissolution of that house during the French Revolution. The Fanciscan Nuns at Taunton possess a tooth and a bone of the martyr.

Fr John Wall was beatified in 1929 by Pope Pius XI. On 25th October 1970, Pope Paul VI canonised the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. Among the forty were the two fellow students and friends, St John Wall and St David Lewis.

*(The photographs, which were taken at Harvington Hall, show a stained glass window depicting St John Wall and the secret chapel that would have been used by St John Wall and other priests in the times of persecution.)

Friday, 13 November 2009


Fr David Lewis was taken to Usk Gaol on a cold and snowy January day in 1679. He was committed to the Monmouth Assizes in March. Although the Titus Oates Plot had been the catalyst in the Jesuit’s arrest, the official Calendar of Assizes listed the charge against him as “David Lewis pro Sacred Roman”, in other words, “David Lewis for being a Roman priest”. Also, at Fr Lewis’s trial the Judge, Sir Robert Atkins, explicitly stated, “It is enough that you have exercised the functions of a priest in copes and vestments used in your Church, and that you have read Mass and taken Confession. He that uses to read Mass commits treason.” In any case, the accused was found guilty and sentenced to the usual punishment for treason – to be hanged, drawn and quartered. However, he was not to die just yet.

In May, along with his cousin and fellow priest, eighty year old Fr John Kemble, Fr Lewis was taken to London. Here he was examined by Titus Oates and other anti-Catholics including Lord Shaftesbury. Lord Shaftesbury offered the priest his life and rich rewards if he would tell them about the plot or conform to the Protestant religion. The good priest said he was unable to tell anything about the plot because he knew of no plot. Neither would he conform because, he said, it was against his conscience. He was sent back to Usk to await execution.

Three months later, on 27th August 1679, the condemned priest was taken from the Gaol on Bridge Street. He was tied to a hurdle, feet foremost, and drawn along the river path to the place of execution. This was in the grounds of what is now Porth-y-Carne House. (Less than a week earlier, on 22nd August, the aged Fr John Kemble had been martyred at Hereford.) In the 1800s, a Catholic Church, dedicated to St Francis Xavier, was built opposite the site of the martyrdom of St David Lewis. Fr David Lewis was canonised by Pope Paul VI on 25th October 1970. In 1974, the Church of St Francis Xavier was rededicated and, in honour of the martyred priest, it is now known as the Church of St David Lewis and St Francis Xavier.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009



Sunday, 8 November 2009


Llantarnam Abbey, the Cistercian Abbey of the Blessed Virgin, was founded as a daughter house of Strata Florida Abbey about 1179. The Abbey was dissolved in 1536, after Henry VIII’s break with Rome. Llantarnam Abbey had four bells, weighing, in total, more than 38 cwt. The four bells were acquired by a William Jones of Caerleon, who paid the sum of £15 to have them taken down, the lead removed and melted down. It was reported that the lead weighed over 4 fothers. (1 fother = 2,000 lbs.)

In 1561, William Morgan acquired the dissolved Abbey from the Earl of Pembroke, to whom it had been granted by Queen Elizabeth in 1559. A new mansion was built from the stones of the Abbey and Morgan, a staunch Catholic, maintained in the house a Catholic Chapel. Lady Frances Morgan, an Aunt of The Jesuit Martyr, St David Lewis, married a descendent of William Morgan and lived at Llantarnam until her death in 1676. The property passed to her son, Sir Edward who, although a Deputy Lieutenant and a Justice of the Peace, held fast to the Old Faith. He also kept a Catholic Chapel which was frequently crowded with Catholics of the surrounding area. In 1670, the priest hunter, John Arnold, informed the House of Lords, that “At Llantarnam, an eminent papist’s house in Monmouthshire, there is a room fitted up chapel wise for saying of Mass where Fr David Lewis, a popish priest, hath said Mass for many years past”. Indeed, for several years Fr Lewis had lived at Llantarnam Abbey with his relatives and ministered to the Catholics in the area. Later, to avoid endangering his relatives, the priest moved to a nearby cottage adjoining the blacksmith's opposite the church of St Michael Llantarnam. However, Fr Lewis continued to say Mass in the Morgans’ Chapel. According to a helpful young lady at the Rights of Way Office, the present Public Footpath, which runs beside St Michael’s Church, has been legally registered since 1967 but has probably been there as long as the church itself . What route did the faithful priest take to the Abbey? Did he walk parts of this path across the fields on his way to celebrate Holy Mass?

In the 1830s, Reginald Blewitt, a relation of the Morgans, restored Llantarnam Abbey. Later, Sir Clifford Corey bought the Abbey and, later still, it became the property of the Government. During the Second World War, it was used as a storage depot by the R A F. In 1946 it was purchased by the Sisters of St Joseph of Annecy. That year, on 26th October, the Feast of Christ the King, Holy Mass was joyfully celebrated there for the first time in two hundred and sixty-eight years. The celebrant was Fr John Cahalane, Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Angels, Cwmbran.

A large metal ring in the pavement, originally a tyring platform used by the wheelwright, marked the site of the blacksmith’s in Llantarnam. That was providential because it also marked the site of Fr Lewis’s cottage and, later, the old Post Office. Today, the old Post Office is a private house. The owners have preserved the metal ring in a beautiful garden of remembrance, which they have lovingly created in honour of the last Welsh Martyr, St David Lewis.

Friday, 6 November 2009


Of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales canonised on 25th October 1970 by Pope Paul VI, ten were Jesuits. The first of the ten to die was St Edmund Campion in 1581. Almost 100 years later, in 1679, the last of the ten, and the Last Welsh Martyr, St David Lewis, was executed. (SEE PREVIOUS POSTS FOR PARTS 1-4)

9) ST PHILIP EVANS, the son of William Evans and Winifred Morgan, was born at Monmouth in 1645. He was educated at St Omer and entered the Jesuit Novitiate at Watten on 7th September 1665. Having completed his training, he was ordained at Liege in 1675 and sent upon the English Mission. Back in Wales, he worked diligently for four years, saying Mass, administering the Sacraments and preaching in Welsh and English. It is known that he ministered to large congregations at the home of Thomas Gunter in Abergavenny, at the home of Charles Prodger at Wernddu, and at Sker House, the home of Christopher Turberville. During the wave of persecution generated by the Popish Plot, friends advised Fr Evans to go into hiding. However, he refused and bravely continued his work. On 4th December 1678, the priest was arrested at Sker House, betrayed by the owner’s younger brother, Edward Turberville, a lapsed Catholic. He was imprisoned in Cardiff Castle Gaol and kept in solitary confinement in the dungeon. After several weeks, he and another Welsh priest, Fr John Lloyd, who had been arrested in November, were permitted to share a cell. The following May, Fr Philip Evans was tried at Cardiff Assizes, found guilty of the treason of priesthood, and sentenced to death. The execution was delayed for some time and Fr Evans was even allowed out of prison for recreation! Eventually, on 21st July, orders arrived that his execution was to take place the following day. At that time, he was playing tennis on the court near St John’s Church. When the gaoler went to the tennis court to tell the priest the news and to return him to prison, Fr Evans remarked, “What haste is there? Let me first play out my game.” This he did! Sister Barbara Catherine, the sister of Fr Philip Evans, was a Blue Nun in Paris. The day before his execution Philip wrote to her. He told her of his situation and urged her to be joyful instead of mourning for him. Promising to pray for her, he asked that she pray for him. Philip was a skilled harpist and when the officials came next morning to lead him to his execution, they found the priest joyfully playing the harp. Philip’s legs had been bound with heavy chains. They were so tight that the struggle to remove them lasted more than an hour and caused the poor priest indescribable agony. Taken to the place of execution, Fr Evans addressed the crowd in both Welsh and English. To Fr Lloyd, who had to watch his friend’s martyrdom, he said, “Adieu, Mr Lloyd! Though only for a little time, for we shall soon meet again”. On 22nd July 1679, 34 year old Fr Philip Evans S J, was hanged, drawn and quartered at Gallows Field (the northern end of Richmond Road) Cardiff.

10) ST DAVID LEWIS, (alias Charles Baker) was born in Abergavenny in 1616, the son of Margaret Pritchard and Morgan Lewis. His father was headmaster of Abergavenny Grammar School. It is not certain if Morgan Lewis was a Protestant or a Church Papist, but, to all appearances, he was a Protestant. Margaret was a staunch Catholic and eight of their nine children were brought up as Catholics. However, Morgan raised David in the Protestant religion. As a young man David spent some time in Paris and while there he converted to Catholicism. He went to study at the English College in Rome where, in 1642, he was ordained as a Catholic priest. Following the example of his uncle, Fr John Pritchard, Fr Lewis decided to join the Society of Jesus and entered the Jesuit Novitiate at Sant’ Andrea. Upon completion of his novitiate, Father David Lewis returned to his native Wales but after about a year, he was recalled to Rome. A year later he was sent back to Wales where he spent his remaining 31 years 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 and the fictitious Popish Plot. On 17th November 1678, as he prepared to celebrate Mass, he was arrested at Llantarnam, Cwmbran. The Jesuit 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. For this he was found guilty and the judge, Sir Robert Atkins, sentenced him to death. The condemned priest was brought to London and lodged in Newgate Prison. Oates, William Bedloe, Dugdale and Price questioned Fr Lewis about the “plot” but were unable to prove anything against him. Lord Shaftsbury tried to bribe him, telling him that if he gave evidence about the “plot” or renounced his Catholic faith, his life would be spared and he would be handsomely rewarded. The heroic priest could not be swayed. David Lewis 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, which came on 27th August 1679. He was taken from his cell in Usk Gaol and carried on a hurdle along the river path to a place known as the Coniger. After addressing the gathering and praying, the condemned man was hanged. A Protestant man held the priest’s hand, ensuring that he was dead before the rest of the barbaric sentence could be carried out. Although the greatly loved priest was drawn and decapitated, he was not quartered. His body was taken in procession to the churchyard of the Priory Church and there it was reverently buried near the main door of the church. St David Lewis was the last Welsh Martyr to suffer for the Catholic faith. He was also one of the ten Jesuit martyrs to be canonised among the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


On 25th October 1970, Pope Paul VI canonised forty martyrs from England and Wales. The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales were a diverse group - men and women, priests and lay people – but, between the years of 1535 and 1679, they all shed their blood for their Catholic faith. Saint David Lewis was the last of the forty to die. Ten of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, including Saint David Lewis, were Jesuits. Our intention is to tell, briefly, the story of each of the Jesuits. (SEE PREVIOUS POSTS FOR PARTS 1, 2 & 3)

7) ST EDMUND ARROWSMITH was born in Lancashire in 1585. His parents were devout Catholics who had been fined and even imprisoned for recusancy. In December 1605, Edmund travelled to Flanders and entered the English College at Douai. Having survived several bouts of ill health, Edmund was finally ordained in Arras on 9th December 1612 and sent upon the English Mission on 17th June 1613. In 1622, he was arrested and imprisoned but he was pardoned and released. In 1624, Fr Arrowsmith joined the Society of Jesus. In August 1628, a Justice of the Peace, Captain Rawsthorn, issued a warrant for Edmund’s arrest and he was captured on Brindle Moor and taken to the Boar’s Head Inn and thence to Lancaster Castle and thrown into prison for refusing to take the oath and on suspicion of being a Jesuit priest. On 26th August, Edmund was brought before Judge Yelverton, who asked him if he was a priest. Making the sign of the Cross, Edmund replied, “I would to God I were worthy". The priest then spent some time in isolation in a dungeon while Yelverton drew up an indictment against him. He was charged with being a priest and a Jesuit and with seducing the people to Popery. Fr Arrowsmith was duly found guilty of high treason and sentenced to die in the usual way of hanging, drawing and quartering. The condemned priest was bound in heavy irons and placed in a dark hole so small that he could not even lie down. From Tuesday to Thursday, without a change of clothes, he endured the misery of having to sit in the ghastly hole. Just before noon on 28th August, Edmund Arrowsmith was taken to the place of execution. Near the gallows, a Mr Lee, pointing to a huge fire and a cauldron of boiling water, taunted Edmund: “Look what is provided for your death; will you conform yourself yet and enjoy the mercy of the king?” Edmund replied, “Good sir, tempt me no more. The mercy which I look for is in heaven, through the death and Passion of my Saviour Jesus and I most humbly beseech Him to make me worthy of this death.” Edmund climbed the ladder and, stopping several times to pray, finally reached the top where he pulled his hat over his eyes and prayed loudly. He was pushed off the ladder and the last words uttered by Fr Arrowsmith were “Bone Jesu” (O good Jesus). He was left to hang until he was dead then his body was cut down, disembowelled and quartered. His head was placed atop Lancaster castle and his four quarters were prominently displayed in various places around the castle. St Edmund Arrowsmith S J, was 43 years old when he was martyred on 28th August 1628. His hand is preserved in St Oswald’s Church in Ashton-in-Makerfield.

8) ST HENRY MORSE (alias Cuthbert Claxton) was born in Suffolk in 1595. He was the sixth of nine sons of a Protestant family. Henry went to London to study law but began to question his religion. He finally went to Douai in Flanders and, on 5th June 1614, he was received into the Catholic Church. He began preparations to train for the priesthood. On a short trip to England, he landed at Dover and was immediately ordered to take the Oath of Supremacy. He refused and was therefore imprisoned in New Prison, Southwark, for four years. Henry was released in an amnesty by King James and he went straight back to Douai and trained there until September 1620. On 15th September of that year, he entered the English College in Rome and completed his priestly studies, being ordained in 1623. Fr Morse joined the Jesuits in 1626. (His older brother, William, also became a Jesuit.) He was sent upon the English Mission in June 1624 and was immediately taken before a magistrate on suspicion of being a priest. He was incarcerated in York Prison for three years, after which time he was released and banished from England. Fr Morse returned to England in 1633 and worked among the poor of London. In 1636 he tended the victims of the plague, giving comfort and assistance to Catholic and Protestant alike. Many referred to him with admiration as the “Priest of the Plague”. Three times the priest himself fell victim to the plague but somehow managed to survive. On 27th February 1638, Fr Henry Morse was arrested by special warrant and committed to Newgate. At the next assizes he was brought to trial and accused of being a priest and of attempting to seduce His Majesty’s subjects to Catholicism. He was found guilty of being a priest but, on the personal intervention of the King’s Catholic wife, Fr Morse was bailed. Again, he was banished. In 1643, Fr Henry Morse was back in England and after about 18 months, he was apprehended by a band of Roundhead soldiers. With the help of a constable’s wife, the priest managed to escape. Six weeks later, the tenacious priest was again apprehended. This time he was thrown into Durham Gaol where he was held for several weeks before being sent to London’s Newgate Prison. He arrived in London on 24th January and on 30th January 1645 the prisoner was found guilty of being the same priest who had already been banished. At 9 o’clock on the morning of 1st February 1645, Henry was taken to Tyburn, the place of execution. After addressing the crowd and praying, he forgave his enemies and persecutors and hoped that God would so the same. He prayed for all Christian Kingdoms, especially England, and finished with the words of Jesus, “Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit”. The cart was drawn away and he hanged until dead. The martyr’s head was placed on London Bridge and his quarters on the four city gates for all to see and be warned. St Henry Morse S J, was 50 years old when he died for the faith at Tyburn.

Monday, 2 November 2009


On 25th October 1970, Pope Paul VI canonised forty martyrs from England and Wales. The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales were a diverse group - men and women, priests and lay people – but, between the years of 1535 and 1679, they all shed their blood for their Catholic faith. Saint David Lewis was the last of the forty to die. Ten of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, including Saint David Lewis, were Jesuits. Our intention is to tell, briefly, the story of each of the Jesuits. (SEE PREVIOUS POSTS FOR PARTS 1 & 2)

5) ST NICHOLAS OWEN was born into a staunchly Catholic family around 1550. Two of his brothers, John and Walter, became Jesuit priests. Nicholas, a carpenter by trade, was consecrated by Fr Henry Garnet, Superior of the English Jesuits, as one of the first Jesuit laybrothers. Because of his size, about 5ft tall, he was nicknamed “Little John” but he was, it has been said, very strong. He put his skills and strength to invaluable use in the times of persecution in which he lived, becoming the consummate builder of priest hiding holes. (Nicholas Owen appears as a minor character in Robert Hugh Benson's 1912 novel “Come Rack! Come Rope!”, where he is erroneously named Hugh Owen.) Trusting no one, Nicholas worked alone and at night, miraculously, without ever disturbing the sleeping household. So as not to arouse suspicion, Nicholas did ordinary carpentry work by day. Of necessity, all of the priest holes had to be different. Some priest holes were merely holes under a floor, but those built by Nicholas were very sophisticated and very difficult to uncover. Pursuivants were persistent and thorough in their searches of houses for priests and they would sometimes spend weeks dismantling a property. One such search resulted in the capture of Nicholas Owen himself. After the, fortunately, unsuccessful Gunpowder Plot, oppression of Catholics increased. Nicholas and another Jesuit laybrother, Ralph Ashley, hid in one of the 11 holes at the home of Thomas Abingdon, Hindlip Hall in Worcestershire, for a week as 100 pursuivants ransacked the building in their search for Catholic priests. Eventually the two men, who had only one apple between them, staggered weak and hungry from their concealment. Nicholas was captured and incarcerated at Marshelsea. When his real identity became known, the officials were overjoyed. Cecil, the Secretary of State, wrote “It is incredible how great was the joy caused by his arrest...... knowing the great skill of Owen in constructing hiding places, and the innumerable qualities of dark holes which he had schemed for hiding priests all through England.” Nicholas was moved to the Tower where he was ruthlessly tortured. Despite his extreme pain and suffering, he disclosed nothing of his work or the whereabouts of any priests. He eventually died of the torture and the authorities, realizing that they had gone too far, tried to say that he had committed suicide on 2nd March 1606. This calumny, however, was disproved by several sources but the exact date of his death remains clouded. Some historians hold that he died on 2nd March 1606 while others claim that he lived until 12th November 1606. Whether it was March or November, Nicholas Owen died heroically for his faith. Fr John Gerard wrote of Nicholas Owen, "I verily think no man can be said to have done more good of all those who laboured in the English vineyard. He was the immediate occasion of saving the lives of many hundreds of persons, both ecclesiastical and secular”.

6) ST THOMAS GARNET, the son of recusant Richard Garnet, was born in 1575. He was still a school boy when, with the rest of his family, he spent a period in prison for recusancy. Thomas was educated at home but when the college opened at St Omer, the young man was sent there, going on, in 1595, to the English College at Valladolid. There, in 1599, Thomas was ordained. He was sent on the English Mission that same year. For six years he toiled, mainly in Warwickshire, and won many converts. He was admitted into the Society of Jesus by his uncle, Fr Henry Garnet, who was at that time, Superior of the English Jesuits. In 1605, Thomas was arrested on suspicion of being involved in the Gunpowder Plot. Cleared of any involvement in the Plot, Fr Garnet was nonetheless imprisoned for nine months before, in 1606, being banished with 46 other priests. He went to the recently established Jesuit novitiate at Louvain but returned to England in September 1607. Just six weeks later, Thomas Garnet was captured. He refused to take the new Oath of Allegiance, stating that if Catholics did take it, it was out of fear, to which he hoped he would never succumb. He was sent to Newgate Prison. He was tried at the Old Bailey, indicted on a charge of high treason, i.e., of having been ordained a priest by the authority of Rome and remaining in England. Unsurprisingly, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. On 23rd June 1608, Fr Thomas Garnet was taken to Tyburn where a great crowd, including the Earl of Exeter, had gathered to witness his execution. The Earl, a member of the Privy Council, urged the condemned priest to save his life by taking the Oath. Thomas steadfastly refused saying, “No, I will not take the Oath, though I might have a thousand lives.” He was then ordered into the cart. Thomas recited the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary and the Creed before the cart was pulled away. At the insistence of the crowd, particularly of the Earl of Exeter, he was left hanging until he was dead. They would not allow his body to be mutilated while he was still alive. St Thomas Garnet’s relics, which had been kept at St Omer, were lost during the French Revolution.

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