Sunday, 13 June 2010


The Reformation saw much blood spilled (Protestant as well as Catholic) as many brave men and women were martyred for their faith. The purpose of this Blog, LAST WELSH MARTYR, is to promote devotion to the martyred Welsh Jesuit, St David Lewis. In attempting to achieve this aim, we have posted much about St David Lewis, some of his fellow martyrs, and the circumstances of their lives and deaths. We have never really looked at WHY they died so I will endeavour to show briefly the laws and regulations which placed Catholics in such danger. We will begin with the "Marian Priests" and in a future post, move on to the "Seminary Priests", of which St David Lewis was one.

The term, "Marian Priests", is applied to those English priests who were ordained in or before the reign of Queen Mary (1553-1558) and who survived into the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The term is used to distinguish them from "Seminary Priests”, that is, priests ordained at Douai, Rome, or other English seminaries abroad. Shortly after Elizabeth's accession, ordinations ceased altogether in England because of the imprisonment of the surviving bishops. Without the Seminary Priests to take the place of the older priests who were dying off, the Catholic Priesthood would have become extinct in England. Without priests there would be no Mass and eventually, it was planned, the Catholic Faith would die out entirely in England.

There was an important difference between the Marian priests and the Seminary priests in the fact that the Penal legislation of the brutal statute 27 Eliz. c. 2 only applied to the Seminary Priests, who were forbidden to enter or remain in the realm under pain of high treason. The Marian priests came under the earlier statutes, e.g. 1 Elizabeth c. 1, which inflicted penalties on all who maintained the spiritual or ecclesiastical authority of any foreign prelate, or
5 Eliz. c. 1, which made it high treason to maintain the authority of the Bishop of Rome, or to refuse the Oath of Supremacy.

Many Marian Priests accepted, all be it unwillingly, the new state of things under Elizabeth, and some of them were in the habit of celebrating Mass early and then conducting the Church of England service later on Sunday morning. But the number of Marian priests who refused outright to conform was very large.

As years went on, death reduced the number of these faithful priests. However, as late as 1596, there were about fifty of them still working on the English mission. Because of their marginally less severe legal position, they escaped some of the bloody persecution endured by the Seminary priests. Only one Marian Priest, Blessed James Bell, is known to have suffered martyrdom.

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