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.



  1. I am enjoying learning about Fr. Lewis. Thank you.

  2. Daily Grace
    Nice to hear from you. I am pleased you are interested in St David Lewis. He is a great Saint who is little known outside his own area, South Wales. He was holy, brave and courageous and a shining example to all of us. Thanks for your interest. Keep looking in, there's lots more to come. God bless you.


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