Thursday, 31 December 2009
Wednesday, 30 December 2009
“It is enough that you have exercised the functions of a priest in copes and vestments used in your Church, and that you shall have read Mass and taken Confessions. He that uses to read Mass commits treason.”
Now, in the dying days of 2009, it is fitting to remember these four holy martyrs, two Jesuit priests and two secular priests.
FR JOHN KEMBLE
John Kemble, alias Holland, was born at Rhydicar Farm, St Weonards, Herefordshire in 1599. He was the son of John Kemble and Anne Morgan. He was ordained a priest at Douai on 23rd February 1625 and, on 4th June, was sent upon the English Mission. For 54 years Fr Kemble worked for the Catholics of Herefordshire and Monmouthshire. He was greatly loved by his own people and respected throughout the area because, it was said, he gave offence to none.
In 1678, Fr John Kemble became another innocent victim of the non-existent Popish Plot. A lapsed Catholic, Captain John Scudamore of Kentchurch, was sent to arrest Fr Kemble at Pembridge Castle, where the aged priest was staying with his relatives. When urged to flee, the 80 year old priest calmly said, “According to the course of nature I have but a few years to live. It will be an advantage to suffer for my religion and therefore I will not abscond.” After three months in Hereford Gaol, John Kemble endured an agonising journey to London where he and his kinsman, Fr David Lewis, were lodged in Newgate Prison. He was interrogated by Titus Oates and his fellow perjurers but, since no evidence of involvement in any plot could be found, Fr Kemble was sent back to Hereford Gaol. In accordance with Statute 27 of Elizabeth I, he was tried for treason, i.e. for being a Catholic priest and for saying Mass. He was found guilty, and condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered.
On 22nd August 1679, the morning of his execution, Fr Kemble made his devotions as usual. Before his execution on Widemarsh Common, the kindly old priest forgave all who had played a part in bringing him to such a situation and asked forgiveness of any whom he may have offended. Taking the hand of the distraught hangman, Fr Kemble said “Honest Anthony, my friend Anthony, be not afraid; do thy office. I forgive thee with all my heart. Thou wilt do me a greater kindness than discourtesy.” He prayed silently for a few minutes then commended himself to God. The cart was drawn away and he was hanged. Such was the affection for Fr Kemble that he was allowed to die upon the gallows before being beheaded. He was also spared the grisly ritual of drawing and quartering. It was said, even by his persecutors, that “they never saw one die so like a gentleman and so like a Christian”.
The martyr’s nephew, Captain Richard Kemble, took the body to the church at Welsh Newton and buried it beside the churchyard cross. The gravestone is inscribed “J K Dyed the 22 of August Anno Do 1679. Every year, on the Sunday nearest to 22nd August, there is a pilgrimage to the Saint’s grave.
FR DAVID LEWIS S J
David Lewis was born in Abergavenny in 1616 to Margaret Pritchard, a devout Catholic, and Morgan Lewis, who followed the Established Church. Morgan brought David up as a Protestant but, at about aged 19, David converted to Catholicism. Subsequently, he went to study in Rome where, in 1642, he was ordained as a Catholic priest. Three years later he became a Jesuit.
Fr David Lewis returned to his native Wales and, with the exception of a brief period in Rome, he spent his priestly life among 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, too, became a victim of the evil Titus Oates. He was arrested at Llantarnam on Sunday 17th November 1678, as he prepared to celebrate Mass. He was brought for trial at the Lenten Assizes in Monmouth on 16th March 1679 and brought to the bar on a charge of High Treason, that is, for having become a Catholic priest and remaining in the country. He was found guilty of being a priest and the judge, Sir Robert Atkins, pronounced the usual sentence for treason – to be hanged, drawn and quartered.
The condemned priest was brought to London with his cousin, Fr John Kemble, and questioned about the “Plot”. Titus Oates and his three henchmen, Bedloe, Dugdale and Price, questioned him about the “Plot” but they were unable to prove anything against him. Lord Shaftsbury offered him his life and rich rewards if he would give evidence about the “Plot” or renounce his Catholic Faith. The steadfast priest would do neither for as he declared 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”.
Fr David Lewis was brought back to Usk Gaol to await his execution. Fr Lewis was martyred at Usk on 27th August 1679. A Protestant man held his hand until he was dead, thereby preventing him being cut down and disembowelled while still alive. His body was permitted to be carried in procession to the churchyard of the Priory Church, Usk, and there it was buried. The Saint’s grave is the grave closest to the main door of the church. Annually, on the Sunday nearest to 27th August, there is a pilgrimage to this holy site.
In 1970, Pope Paul VI canonised the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. Among them were the Welsh priests, St Philip Evans S J, St John Lloyd, St John Kemble and St David Lewis S J.
(The photo of St John Kemble is from a stained glass window at Harvington Hall and St David Lewis is from a stained glass window in the Catholic Church, Tenby.)
Tuesday, 29 December 2009
St Thomas Becket, whose feast is kept today, 29th December, was the son of a wealthy Norman merchant. Thomas was born in London in 1118. He became acquainted with the young King, Henry II, and the two became close friends.
Henry appointed Thomas Chancellor. Upon the death of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1161, the King, against Becket’s wishes, appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury. If the King’s plan was to have a “yes man” in Canterbury, he was sadly mistaken. Thomas was genuinely devout and, knowing the King’s mind, warned him; “I know your plans for the Church and that you will put forth claims which I, as Archbishop of Canterbury, must necessarily oppose”.
To be free of all civil ties, Thomas displeased the King by insisting on resigning his Chancellorship. This led to open hostility between the former friends, King Henry and Thomas. Because of the Archbishop’s continued resistance to the “Constitutions of Clarendon”, the King set in motion a policy of financial persecution, imposing upon the See of Canterbury huge monetary fines. Knowing he was in grave danger, the Archbishop fled to France. The King confiscated all of Thomas’ property and persecuted and exiled his family and friends.
After four years, reconciliation between Monarch and Ecclesiastic seemed to have been achieved and, in 1170, Thomas returned to Canterbury. It wasn’t very long before Thomas realised that he was in mortal danger. The exact words of an exasperated King Henry are not really known but, Shakespeare has made popular the line “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” Whatever the wording, four of Henry’s knights, probably to gain favour with the King, immediately rushed off to England to kill Becket. They found him in the Cathedral and being unable to drag him outside, struck him at the foot of the altar steps. When they had murdered him, they rode away. The four knights who slew Thomas Becket were Reginald FitzUrs, William de Tracy, Richard le Breton and Hugh de Moreville.
Shock and outrage was the immediate and almost universal reaction to the atrocity. Within two years Thomas Becket was canonised by Pope Alexander III. The martyr’s shrine became a place of popular pilgrimage. In 1538, on the orders of King Henry VIII, the shrine was destroyed and the Saint’s relics scattered. Today, a simple candle marks the place where it once stood. A modern memorial, two jagged swords and a broken sword, at the place where Thomas Becket was slain marks his martyrdom. And the pilgrims still come in droves!
"For the name of Jesus and the defence of the Church I am willing to die." (St Thomas Becket)
(This is a picture of Christchurch Gate, the main entrance to the Cathedral Precincts.)
Monday, 28 December 2009
2009 marks the 330th Anniversary of the martyrdom of four priests who were executed for “High Treason”. Philip Evans, John Lloyd, John Kemble and David Lewis were Catholic priests and to be a Catholic priest was considered treason. At the trial of Fr David Lewis, the judge, Sir Robert Atkins, made that abundantly clear when he said;
“It is enough that you have exercised the functions of a priest in copes and vestments used in your Church, and that you shall have read Mass and taken Confessions.
He that uses to read Mass commits treason.”
Now, in the dying days of 2009, it is fitting to remember these four holy martyrs, two Jesuit priests and two secular priests.
FR PHILIP EVANS S J
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 recorded 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 about three weeks, the governor was persuaded to allow Fr Evans and Fr John Lloyd, who had been arrested in late November, to share a cell.
The following May, Fr 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 and Fr Lloyd were even allowed out of prison for recreation! Eventually, on 21st July, orders arrived that the execution was to take place the following day. At that time, the priest was playing tennis on the court near St John’s Church. (Lest we become self-righteous, this was near the spot where, a century earlier, Rawlins White, a Protestant, was burnt at the stake for his beliefs under Catholic Queen Mary.) 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.”
Philip was a skilled harpist and when the officials came the next morning to lead him to his execution, they found him joyfully playing the harp. On 22nd July 1679, the Jesuit priest, Fr Philip Evans, was hanged, drawn and quartered at Gallows Field, Cardiff. He was 34 years old. His friend and cellmate, Fr John Lloyd, looked on, knowing he would be next.
FR JOHN LLOYD
John Lloyd, the son of Walter Lloyd, was born in Brecon around 1630. In 1649, John Lloyd entered the English College at Valladolid and was ordained there on 7th June 1653. In April 1654, he left for his homeland where he spent the next 24 years labouring among the Catholics of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire.
On 20th November 1678, Fr John Lloyd was arrested at the home of John Turberville at Penllyn. Fr Lloyd was taken to Cardiff castle Gaol where he was imprisoned, probably in the Black Tower. For a time, he was kept in solitary confinement until the Jesuit, Fr Philip Evans, who had been arrested in early December, joined him.
On 9th May 1679, the Assizes opened in the Shire Hall, within the grounds of the Castle. Fr Lloyd was indicted as a Catholic priest and therefore a traitor. He was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. On 22nd July 1679, the gruesome sentence was carried out. Fr Lloyd had to watch as the younger priest, Fr Philip Evans was executed. Then he too was subjected to the same brutal martyrdom. Fr John Lloyd was 49 years old.
Fr John Lloyd was not the only member of his family to suffer because of the Popish Plot. His brother, Fr William Lloyd, who had been head of the secular clergy in South Wales, was arrested at the height of the Plot and imprisoned in Brecon Gaol. Sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, he died in prison just days before his scheduled execution.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
Saturday, 26 December 2009
During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, it was the Government’s objective that the Catholic Faith should die out in England. To this end, new laws were introduced forbidding the training and ordination of Catholic priests. According to their plan, once the Marian priests (those ordained under Catholic Queen Mary) died, there would be no priests to take their place and, of course, no priests would mean the end of Catholicism in the country. They reckoned without the tenacity of the Catholics!
Cardinal William Allen conceived of a plan to alleviate the situation. In 1568, Cardinal Allen opened a seminary in Douai, Flanders, for the training of boys and young men from Britain. Then in 1576, he converted the English Hospice in Rome into a seminary. Its first students arrived in 1577. Many of its students, upon ordination, were destined for the “English Mission”, having to steal back into their homeland in disguise. Being a time of great persecution, the College quickly gained a reputation as a training ground for martyrs. Its protomartyr, St Ralph Sherwin, was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 1st December 1581.
In 1638, David Lewis, a 21 year old Welshman, entered the English College in Rome. Because of the persecution at home, it was necessary for the British students to assume an alias. David Lewis assumed the name of Charles Baker. On 20th July 1642, David Lewis was ordained priest at the English College.
Owing to the number of its martyred students, the custom arose of a student of the English College preaching on the theme of martyrdom before the Pope on St Stephen’s Day. On St Stephen’s Day 1642, that honour fell to the recently ordained Fr David Lewis. Fr Lewis preached eloquently before Pope Urban VIII in the Lateran Basilica. His Latin homily, entitled “Corona Christi pro spinis gemmea”, was on the Martyrdom of St Stephen, the first Christian Martyr.
The College produced a long line of priests who, for their faith, suffered imprisonment or exile. More than 40 former students were martyred. The last Alumnus to suffer martyrdom was St David Lewis who was executed at Usk on 27th August 1679. Because of its many martyrs, the College has been known since 1818 as “The Venerable English College”.
Friday, 25 December 2009
Most of us are familiar with the Christmas song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’. In spite of its nonsense sounding lyrics, it is believed by many to have been written for a serious purpose at the time when Catholic priests like St David Lewis were being martyred for their faith. It is said to be one of the “catechism songs” written as an aid to teaching Catholics the tenets of their faith during the days of persecution in England when the Catholic religion was proscribed. For various reasons, I have my doubts about the veracity of that account but it is an interesting concept and I will pass on the story as it was told to me.
The “true love” mentioned in the song refers to God Himself.
The “me” who receives the presents refers to every baptised person.
The “partridge in a pear tree” is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge which feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, recalling the expression of Christ’s sadness over the fate of Jerusalem; “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered thee under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but thou wouldst not have it so....”
1 Partridge in a pear tree = Jesus Christ
2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = the Theological Virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity
4 Colley Birds = the Four Gospels /the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament
6 Geese-a-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans-a-swimming = the seven Sacraments or the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit
8 Maids-a-Milking = the eight Beatitudes
9 Ladies dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords-a-leaping = the Ten Commandments
11 Pipers piping = the eleven faithful Apostles
12 Drummers drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles Creed
There you have it! As I said, I have my doubts as to this being the origin of the song. However, be the account fact or fiction, it will have done some good if, upon hearing again “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, the remembrance of this story causes us to have even a brief holy thought. Now, as the twelve days of Christmas begin, let’s remember to pray for Christ’s peace in our hearts, in our homes and in our world.
Wednesday, 23 December 2009
Monday, 21 December 2009
It is hard to believe that the Fourth Sunday of Advent has come and gone already! Yesterday at Mass we sang that old favourite, taken from the Great O Antiphons, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”. In the fourth verse we sang:
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.”
St David Lewis was born in the pretty market town of Abergavenny in 1616. His mother was a devout Catholic but his father, Morgan Lewis, was a Protestant and he had David brought up as a Protestant. It is almost certain that David would have been baptised in the Protestant parish church, St Mary’s Priory Church. Also, he would have attended services there. This ancient and beautiful church still serves Abergavenny today and it is one of the loveliest churches in Wales. It possesses many, many historic treasures and if ever the opportunity to visit the church should arise, I strongly urge you to take it. You will be delighted with what you see there.
Among the many treasures of St Mary’s Priory Church, and my personal favourite, is its famous "Jesse". So who is this Jesse? “A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse, a scion thrusts from his roots: on him the spirit of the Lord rests, a spirit of wisdom and insight, a spirit of counsel and power, a spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:1-3) “That day, the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples. It will be sought out by the nations and its home will be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:10) These lines from the Old Testament foretell the coming of Jesus. Since medieval times Jesse has been placed at the base of Christ’s Family Tree. In the Genealogy of Jesus Christ as related in Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-28, we see that Jesus descended from King David and therefore, from Jesse.
From the eleventh century the Tree of Jesse has been portrayed in religious iconography. In the representation of the Tree, it is usual for Jesse to be portrayed recumbent with a tree rising from his body and the ancestors of Christ portrayed in its branches, with Christ at the summit. The Abergavenny Jesse is a 15th century figure carved from a single piece of oak. This recumbent Jesse was the base of the Jesse Tree and the Virgin & Child were at the top. The tree was probably around 30 feet high and it is thought to have been a reredos. Originally, the Abergavenny Jesse Tree was vividly coloured and it is still possible to see traces of colour in the details. This magnificent work is one of the finest medieval sculptures in the world. It is amazing, and our good fortune, that this beautiful piece of artwork survived Henry VIII’s vandals and later, Oliver Cromwell’s thugs.
Isn’t it wonderful to think that St David Lewis, as well as generations and generations before him, would have looked upon this same Jesse, carved by the hand of an unknown artist, that we are privileged to enjoy today. And this all brings me back to:
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.”
(This photograph is of the beautiful, 15th century Jesse in St Mary's Priory Church, Abergavenny.)
Saturday, 19 December 2009
St David Lewis was a Welsh Jesuit priest who was born in Abergavenny in 1616 to a Catholic mother and a Protestant father. David, the youngest of nine children, was brought up as a Protestant although his eight siblings were brought up as Catholics. That could well have been for political and economic reasons. David’s father, Morgan Lewis, was headmaster of King Henry VIII Grammar School in Abergavenny and his Protestantism may have been genuine or it may have been for convenience. In his position, he would have been expected to conform to the new Religion. His son, David, attended the Grammar School and bringing him up as a Protestant would have added validity to Morgan’s claim to Protestantism. Whatever the reasoning behind it, David was indeed brought up as a Protestant. However, at about the age of nineteen, while on a visit to Paris, he converted to Catholicism. In 1638, David Lewis entered the English College in Rome and began studies for the Catholic priesthood. In July 1642, David was ordained and three years later he entered the Jesuit Novitiate at Sant’ Andrea, which had been founded by St Francis Borgia in 1565. Father David Lewis S J, was sent to Wales in 1647 but was soon recalled to Rome. In 1648, Fr Lewis returned to Wales and here he spent the remainder of his life working for the persecuted Catholics in Monmouthshire and the surrounding area.
Christmas of 1678 wasn’t exactly a joyful one for Fr David Lewis. Details of that Christmas are scant but we do know for certain that it was Fr Lewis’s last Christmas on earth. As he prepared to celebrate Mass on Sunday morning, 17th November, Fr Lewis was arrested at Llantarnam. He was incarcerated in Monmouth Gaol. The Justice of the Peace, John Arnold, who had feigned friendship with the priest, promised him that he would not allow him to be treated with “any incivility or severity”. The promise proved to be as false as the friendship! That very same day, the perfidious Arnold had ordered that a strict watch should be kept over the prisoner, who was guilty of “high treason”, i.e., he was a Catholic priest!
Christmas found Fr Lewis in Monmouth Gaol, where a friend of the Jesuit had paid 14/ a week to provide him with a good lower room, a bed, linen, fire and a candle. Officially, Fr Lewis was in Solitary Confinement but the Underkeeper of the Gaol allowed friends to visit him in his cell by day.
Early in December, the Lords ordered an investigation of the Jesuit College of St Francis Xavier at the Cwm, where Fr Lewis had been Superior. Just before Christmas, the Bishop of Hereford, Herbert Croft, led a raid on the Cwm. He had the enthusiastic help of John Arnold, John Scudamore and Charles Price. The buildings were ransacked and all books, papers and property confiscated. Some of the books stolen from the Cwm are today in the library of Hereford Cathedral. Croft reported that he had found “two horse- loads of books in an adjoining Pig Cot covered with straw, also a great store of divinity books (but they are not yet brought to me, it being Christmas holy days, but they remain in a safe hand) many whereof are written by the principal learned Jesuits,”
In the first week of December, Fr Philip Evans, the youngest of the Jesuit missioners in South Wales, was arrested. He was imprisoned in Cardiff Castle where he was kept in Solitary Confinement for three weeks. After this time, the Governor was persuaded to allow Fr Evans and a secular priest, Fr John Lloyd, who had been arrested in November, to share a cell. Other priests had been arrested and some had died of hardship and exposure. All these things Fr David Lewis would have learned from the friends who visited him in Monmouth Gaol.
So passed what was to be the last Christmas of Fr David Lewis. Early in 1679, the new High Sheriff, James Herbert, decided to move the County Gaol from Monmouth to Usk. On 13th January, a bitterly cold and miserable day, Fr Lewis was transferred to Usk Gaol to await his fate. Later that year, in the lovely month of August, Fr David Lewis was martyred at Usk. He was canonised in 1970 by Pope Paul VI.
Tuesday, 15 December 2009
Sunday, 13 December 2009
By now, you have probably sent out most of your cards to family and friends. You probably have received some, too. How many of them are real Christmas Cards? Do they have pictures of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, or any biblical scene associated with the Birth of Christ? Or are they the ‘drunken Robin’ or ‘surfboarding Santa’ type?
Do your cards express wishes for a ‘Merry CHRISTMAS’ or for ‘Season’s Greetings’? Remember ‘JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON’ so why not say so? Perhaps your cards say ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Happy CHRISTMAS. Why leave Christ out of Christmas? After all, CHRISTMAS BEGINS WITH CHRIST!
I know that it is difficult to find cards that convey, in words or pictures, the true meaning of Christmas. To that I say, if you can’t find a Christmas card that calls to mind the ONE whose Birth we are actually celebrating, then DON’T BUY ANY! If enough people left on the shelves those Godless affairs foisted on us by the ‘Politically Correct Brigade’ (modern-day Pursuivants), the card manufacturers would soon get the message. Their goal is to make money so if their product isn’t selling, they will produce what will sell. Meanwhile, the money we save, by not buying those non-Christmas cards, could be given to the Salvation Army or some charity. We, the consumer, wield an awful lot of power.
What else can we do? As well as our Christmas Tree, we can put up a Crib in our home. That humble, holy Saint, Francis of Assisi, was the first to make a Crèche representing the Holy Family at Bethlehem. Why not follow his example? We can greet our friends, family, and neighbours with ‘Happy Christmas’ instead of ‘Happy Holidays’. It is as easy to say ‘Merry Christmas’ as it is to say ‘Season’s Greetings’. Always remember ‘CHRISTMAS begins with CHRIST and it is up to us to ‘Keep CHRIST in CHRISTMAS’!
ST DAVID LEWIS HAD THE COURAGE TO DIE FOR CHRIST!
DO YOU HAVE THE COURAGE TO KEEP CHRIST IN CHRISTMAS?