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.

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.

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 Jun
e 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.
(The pictures of St Philip Evans and St John Lloyd are taken from a stained glass window in the Catholic Church in Tenby, South Wales.)

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