Saturday, 30 January 2010


Now that the snow has gone (we hope) and everyone is able to get out and about again, I thought I would do some posts on places associated with St David Lewis. If you are in the area, you might like to visit the sites and see them for yourself. If that isn't possible, then I hope you will enjoy seeing them in photographs. I will start with some lovely stained glass windows which commemorate St David Lewis.
This beautiful window is in the Catholic Church of Our Ladye and St Michael, Abergavenny. In the window, St David Lewis is referred to as 'Charles Baker S J'. In those extremely dangerous times, it was the prudent custom of Catholic priests to work under an alias. 'Charles Baker' was the alias used by Fr David Lewis. St David Lewis was born in Abergavenny in 1616. He was the son of Morgan Lewis and Margaret (Pritchard) Lewis.
This colourful window is in the Baptistry of the Catholic Church in Usk. In 1679, St David Lewis was executed on or near the site of this church. He was canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970. The church was originally dedicated to St Francis Xavier but in 1974 it was rededicated and it now bears the name of 'St David Lewis and St Francis Xavier'. This beautiful window honours these two Jesuit Saints.
This window is in the Catholic Church in Tenby. As well as honouring St David Lewis, it also commemorates two other Welsh priests, Fr John Lloyd and Fr Philip Evans, who were martyred as a consequence of the fabricated Popish Plot. The fourth person depicted is St Stephen, the very first Christian Martyr.


Wednesday, 27 January 2010


St David Lewis (Photo J D Smith)

The purpose of this Blog is to disseminate knowledge of the Last Welsh Catholic Martyr, St David Lewis, and consequently increase devotion to this faithful and brave Welsh Jesuit. For those who are new to this Blog, I give again a synopsis of the life of St David Lewis.

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” but Oates and his henchmen 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 St Mary's Priory Church, Usk, 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.

Grave of St David Lewis (Photo J D Smith)

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.

Friday, 22 January 2010


This old Irish Hymn is a favourite of mine. It is also a beautiful prayer. Our Patron, St David Lewis, may never even have heard of the hymn. By laying down his life for his faith and the Mass, the martyr showed that Christ certainly was his vision and Lord of his heart. There are many versions of this lovely hymn. Some are beautiful and some not so beautiful. It took me ages to choose from the many nice ones available so I hope you approve of my choice. May Christ be our vision, always and in all ways!

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Stories of Hope and Sadness amid earthquake ruins

I am certain that at this time we are all praying for the people of Haiti. For a thoughtful post on this terrible situation, I direct you to the excellent Blog of E F Pastor Emeritus. (Click on the link below)
I would also like to thank Shadowlands for drawing our attention to this post.


The word “relic” comes from the Latin “reliquiae” and it means “remains”.

Saint Jerome said, “We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore Him whose martyrs they are.”

In August 1679, at the execution of the Welsh Jesuit Martyr, Fr David Lewis, many Catholics were busy dipping cloths in the martyr’s blood. Within a short time of the martyrdom, cures were reported in Monmouthshire. These cures were attributed to the effectiveness of relics of the martyred priest.

There are many known relics of St David Lewis still in existence. At Stonyhurst, there are several small unidentified relics of David Lewis. A small travelling chalice owned by St David Lewis is kept at the Catholic Church in Abergavenny, the saint’s birthplace.

Pieces of the rope with which Fr David Lewis was hanged are in the possession of several churches in this country. The Jesuit house in Farm Street, London, is said to have two pieces, a church at Roehampton has a piece and the Church of St David Lewis and St Francis Xavier, Usk, also has a piece.

The most numerous relics of St David Lewis seem to be cloths stained with his blood. Erdington Abbey has large pieces of linen soaked in his blood. The Church at Usk, as well as its fragment of rope, has a piece of linen stained with his blood. The Carmelite Convent at Lanherne, Cornwall, has a piece of blood stained linen. The Sisters of St Joseph of Annecy at Llantarnam Abbey also treasure a piece of linen stained with the blood of the martyr.

At one time, when Llantarnam Abbey was a private house, it was owned by Lady Frances Morgan, an aunt of Fr David Lewis. For a time, the priest lived with his relatives and regularly said Mass in the chapel there. The spot where he was arrested is opposite the Abbey. The Catholic Church of St David Lewis and St Francis Xavier, Usk, is either on or directly opposite the site of the martyrdom of St David Lewis. It seems appropriate then that relics of St David Lewis are in the safe keeping of the Catholic Church in Usk and Llantarnam Abbey in Cwmbran.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010


Fr Ignatius Price was born in Monmouthshire in 1610. Based at the Jesuit College of St Francis Xavier at the Cwm and working under the alias of Walter Price or Harries, he served the Jesuit Welsh Mission from 1644 until his death in 1679. Because of the tolerance of many of the Monmouthshire magistrates and officials, who turned a blind eye to the practise of the Old Faith, the diligence and hard work of the priests based at the Cwm was very productive.

However, there were those, notably John Arnold, a Justice of the Peace and Member of Parliament for Monmouthshire, Charles Price of Llanfoist and John Scudamore of Kentchurch, who were less than happy with their fellow magistrates and officials. In 1670 they informed the House of Lords that “there were still six priests living at the Cwm, a place which had been a centre for nearly forty years.” In 1674, as a result of such reports, Parliament ordered the arrest of the priests who lived at the Cwm and threatened to punish all Catholics with the immediate seizure of two-thirds of their lands. Thanks to the support amongst local magistrates, some of whom had Catholic relatives and friends, these orders were not obeyed and nothing was done.

Early in 1678, Arnold and Price presented the House of Commons with a printed document named an “Abstract of Examinations”. Arnold and Price were unflagging in their efforts to have the anti-Catholic Laws enforced and this document gave an account of the work of the Church as seen by the informers. By that time, Parliament had grown increasingly alarmed by its inability to root out and destroy the Old Faith and its apparent growth and revival in Monmouthshire and Hereford. There was also much talk of dark plots. In this atmosphere, Titus Oates, bolstered by the support of Chepstow born William Bedloe, had little trouble spreading his poisonous fabrication, “The Popish Plot”. The effects of this evil hoax spread into Monmouthshire about October 1678.

Fr David Lewis was Rector of the Cwm from 1667-1672 and again from 1674 until its sacking in 1679. Fr Lewis, realising the danger of their situation, quickly evacuated the Cwm. The priests were scattered. A few found shelter with courageous Catholic families but most of them were forced, in harsh winter weather, to hide in woods and cave, wherever shelter could be found. Fr Ignatius Price was one who took to the hills and died, harried and hunted like an animal! Fr Lewis and Fr Ignatius Price were friends as well as colleagues and Fr Lewis referred to Fr Price as his “very good friend”.

Fr David Lewis had been arrested on 17th November 1678 and incarcerated in Monmouth Gaol. On 13th January 1679, in atrocious weather and under guard, he was transferred to the new County Gaol at Usk. On the way, the group stopped at an Inn in Raglan for a brief respite from the cold and snow. While there Fr Lewis received a heartbreaking message. Fr Lewis wrote:
“Whilst I was in Raglan, a messenger came to the door of the inn, desiring to speak with me on urgent business. A very good friend of mine, one Mr Ignatius alias Walter Price, lay dying about half a mile away. He had undergone much hardship from hunger and cold and lay dying. He desired to see me. But I was quite unable to perform the friendly duty, as I was under the actual custody of the officers. So I only sent him my true and best wishes for his soul’s happy passage out of this turbulent world to an eternity of rest.”
Three days later Fr Price died.

Based on a firsthand account, Brother Henry Foley gives us a vivid and harrowing description of the last days of Fr Ignatius Price.

“For nearly two months in the depths of winter, scarcely a night passed in which he was not sought for in the houses of Catholics, flying from cottage to cottage, sometimes barefoot through heavy snow and deep water, clad for the most part in linen, the aged priest had no place that could offer him any real shelter. Catholics even, through fear of the terrible laws, sometimes denied him hospitality, while he avoided their houses lest he involve his host in the punishment of death for harbouring a Jesuit. In order to avoid the snares laid for him, Fr Price had been compelled to fly by night ‘from barn to barn, from cave to cave, even from hogsty to hogsty'. At length, he contracted a violent fever from which he soon died.”

It is believed that his relative, Charles Price of Llanfoist, the venomous collaborator of John Arnold, was responsible for this relentless pursuit of Fr Ignatius Price. There are even reports that, upon discovering the Jesuit’s grave, he had it opened so that he could remove a cross which had been buried with the priest. It was said that, given the man’s avaricious nature, this was not for love of the cross but for love of the metal!

So died Fr Ignatius Price S J, another brave and selfless priest. Although never brought to trial and not executed on the gallows, Fr Price was another innocent victim of the evil Titus Oates, his fellow liars, the non-existent Popish Plot, the bigoted Arnold, the rapacious Price, and their ilk.

(I think that I should say a special "Thank You" to my long-suffering husband. I wanted a winter photo to go with this post and I didn't have one that I considered appropriate. I didn't want a pretty winter scene or a happy one. It had to be one that conveyed a sense of the cold and dark conditions under which Fr Ignatius Price spent his last months. So, my dear husband, shortly after midnight and with snow still falling, opened our bedroom window and took a couple of photographs! The above photo is one of them and I think it is very apt as well as starkly beautiful. So - "Thank You", long-suffering husband!)

Friday, 8 January 2010


At one time, Pope-burning processions were popular in this country. (Unfortunately, some still take place on Guy Fawkes Night.) The Green Ribbon Club met in the King’s Head Tavern at Chancery Lane End, London. This was the secret headquarters of Shaftsbury’s subversive and venomous anti-Catholic party. The exact date of its founding is not certain but it was well established by 1678 and it was here that the Pope-Burning processions were organised by the club. The processions, which included mock Cardinals, Jesuits, etc, finished with the lighting of a huge bonfire in front of the club windows and, to inculcate in the masses the deeply anti-popish ideological teaching of the state, the burning of the Pope’s effigy. This proved a most effective tool for inflaming their religious hatred and fears.

John Arnold possessed a loathsome effigy of the Pope, and he referred to this as “his baby” or “his doll”. In 1678, he had invited Fr David Lewis to view it but the captive priest had declined the offer.

In November 1679, there was a Pope-Burning procession in Abergavenny, no doubt organised by John Arnold and his anti-Catholic cohorts. The Master of Ceremonies, armed with a firearm, was that repugnant little creature, Mayne Trott. Two robust sow gelders led the procession with a figure of the Pope, “richly adorned with relics, pictures, beads and bells and other superstitious emblems”. There is little doubt that this was the “doll” which Arnold had invited Fr Lewis to see. Since maximum frenzy was the objective, there were also signs and placards reminding the onlookers of the Gunpowder Plot and the murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey. Pope-burning processions always began with a man ringing a bell and bellowing “Remember Justice Godfrey.”

Ironically, the festivities did not prove popular with the good people of Abergavenny. However, its unpopularity was not due to any charitable or conciliatory feelings towards their Catholic neighbours. No, it was unpopular because it interfered with the town’s annual fair!

(A painting of Abergavenny on the outside of buildings in Abergavenny Town Centre)

Tuesday, 5 January 2010


The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was still a vivid memory as word of the fictitious Popish Plot swept the country, and “the whole nation” according to Macaulay, “went mad with hatred and fear”. This enabled the anti-Catholic Parliament to rigorously enforce the brutal laws against Catholics everywhere in the Kingdom. The Government offered a reward of £20 (a goodly sum in those far off days) for information leading to the apprehension of any priest. To this, the fanatical priest hunter, John Arnold, added the huge sum of £200!

Of all the people who played a part in the life and times of the Welsh Jesuit Martyr, St David Lewis, Dorothy James and her husband, William, must surely be among the more sordid. Dorothy and William James had been closely associated with Fr Lewis, working for four years as his servants. To their warped minds, £220 was incentive enough to betray the priest. Thereupon, the treacherous pair laid information against Fr Lewis which led to his arrest at Llantarnam on 17th November 1678. It was early on a Sunday morning and a party of armed dragoons, led by William James, Roger Seys and William Bedloe, arrested the priest as he was preparing to celebrate Mass. Later, in a guarded upper room at the Golden Lion, Abergavenny, Fr Lewis was examined by the Recorder of Abergavenny, William Jones. The rapacious and malicious William James swore that he had seen Fr Lewis say Mass at least twenty times.

At the trial of Fr David Lewis, Dorothy James was the foremost witness. She was also the most hostile! It was common knowledge that she had threatened that she would never cease to prosecute Fr Lewis until she had “washed her hand in his blood” and “made porridge of his head”. She swore that, not only had she seen the accused say Mass, but had also witnessed him administering the Sacraments of Eucharist and Penance. She had also seen him anoint, as well as conduct weddings and christenings. She then accused the priest of extorting money from her to free her father’s soul from Purgatory. Fr Lewis exclaimed that he had never received a single coin from either Dorothy or William James. The Judge, Sir Robert Atkins, declared that he himself did not believe this spurious accusation against the priest. Repudiating the charge, Atkins instructed the jury to do likewise.

A further glimpse into the character of this abhorrent little woman is afforded us. When asked by the Judge if she had anything more to say, Dorothy James tossed her head and laughed at Fr Lewis. Judge Atkins was so disgusted by this behaviour that he rebuked her, “Carry yourself more modest, woman, the gentleman is for his life; tis no jesting matter!” Even her rapacious husband appears to have been embarrassed by her behaviour for he gave his evidence briefly, simply stating that he had seen the accused say Mass and administer the Sacraments.

Despite the unsavoury characters of Dorothy and William James, Fr Lewis was found guilty of the treason of being a Catholic priest and was martyred at Usk on 27th August 1679. In 1970, he was canonised by Pope Paul VI.

Dorothy and William James were well paid for their foul deeds as William received a further £20 for his part in the arrest of St David Lewis. I wonder if this repugnant pair enjoyed their blood money.
(The photograph, taken in the Catholic Church, Abergavenny, is of a representation of St David Lewis dressed as a gentleman of that period.)

Saturday, 2 January 2010


“We saw His star as it rose and have
come to do the Lord homage”

The Feast of the Epiphany commemorates the coming of the Wise Men to pay homage to the infant Jesus. These affluent, foreign visitors are also variously referred to as “Kings” or “Magi”.

The word “Epiphany” is derived from a Greek word meaning “manifestation”, “showing forth” or “revelation”. Epiphany celebrates the fact that Jesus Christ came for ALL PEOPLE, Jew or Gentile. The coming of the Wise Men, also known as “The Adoration of the Magi”, illustrates this because they were not Jewish and are often portrayed as being of African, European and Asian appearance. The Eastern (Orthodox) Church depicts the Wise Men or Magi, as twelve in number but in the Western Church they are portrayed as being three. The only Biblical mention of the Kings’ visit to the stable at Bethlehem is in Matthew 2:1-12 and he does not give a number. Three was probably arrived at because of the number of gifts Matthew mentions; “Then opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.”

The Feast of the Epiphany was traditionally celebrated on 6th January. It was know by various names, Twelfth Night, Old Christmas Day, Little Christmas Day, etc, and it marked the end of Christmas. All Christmas decorations came down and were put away for another year. Today, the Catholic Church in many countries, including Great Britain, celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany on the Sunday between 2nd and 8th January. Personally, I think that is a great pity, but I accept the Church’s decision on ALL things.

In 1907/08, during renovations to an old property in Cross Street, Abergavenny, a startling discovery was made. In the attic of a house that had once been part of Thomas Gunter’s mansion, workmen discovered a secret room. To everyone’s amazement, on the sloping ceiling of this room in the north end of the house, was a beautiful fresco. The subject of the painting was the “Adoration of the Magi”.

The owner of the property, Mrs Foster, had the good sense to realise that they had stumbled upon something of importance. After consultation with several prominent local historians, it was realized that they had found the secret chapel of Thomas Gunter. Here, in the 17th century, Abergavenny born Fr David Lewis and Monmouth born Fr Philip Evans had said Mass and ministered to the Catholics of the town. (Both priests were martyred for their faith in 1679.) Mrs Foster called in the Photographer, Mr Bailey of High Street, Abergavenny, who took photographs of the ceiling and other paintings and drawings which adorned the walls of the little room. Then, in an attempt to preserve the fresco, Mrs Foster had the painting carefully removed and placed under glass in an oak frame. For many years this treasure was in private hands but, fortunately, it is now on display in Abergavenny Museum where it can be viewed and appreciated by all.

In the fresco, believed to have been the altar piece under which the altar was positioned, Our Lady is wearing a blue dress and her head is encircled with a golden halo. The Child Jesus reposes on her lap and his head too is encircled with a golden halo but one of more elaborate design. The rays of the brightly shining star appear to shine directly towards the Infant. One of the Magi kneels in homage and offers his gift to the Babe. In Bailey’s photograph, which can be seen in the Haines Collection in Newport Library, three Magi are discernable. Unfortunately, only one remains today but, in the bottom right corner of the painting it is possible to see a hand of one of the vanished Magi. The gift the hand is bearing is also visible. On the opposite side of the painting an ox looks over his shoulder at the proceedings.

It is astonishing that this painting, hidden for over two centuries, has come to light and survived in such detail and beauty. The unknown artist has left us a wonderful reminder of the faith and courage of Thomas Gunter, St David Lewis, St Philip Evans, and the people who, in spite of grave danger, came to “do the Lord homage” in that little chapel in Thomas Gunter’s Mansion on Cross Street.

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