Monday, 25 October 2010


On 25th October 1970, 10,000 English and Welsh pilgrims converged on Rome. They had come for the canonisation of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. During the dark days of the 16th and 17th centuries, almost 400 Catholic men and women gave their lives for their faith. On that wonderful day forty years ago, Pope Paul VI canonised forty of those courageous and faithful Catholics. The Last Welsh Martyr, Fr David Lewis S J, was among the forty.

For that joyful occasion, Sister Canisius, a Sister of St Joseph of Annecy at Llantarnam Abbey, composed a hymn in honour of St David Lewis. St David Lewis had lived for awhile at Llantarnam Abbey and from this base he ministered to the persecuted Catholics in the area. Llantarnam Abbey is near the site of the arrest of St David Lewis.
Here are the words of the hymn, sung to the tune of Hyfrydol. (You can even sing along with the video!)


Holy Martyr, David Lewis,
Monmouth County's glorious Saint.
Father of the Poor they named you,
When you lived and toiled in Gwent.
Priestly work was undertaken,
Danger-fraught from dawn till dusk.
Gladly still you served your people,
Till you died for them at Usk.

From your capture at Llantarnam,
Through your time in Monmouth Gaol,
Threats and tortures could not shake you,
For your faith would never fail.
Bravely then you faced the gallows,
Crudely fashioned for your death,
Further torment someone spared you,
Till you drew your latest breath.

Great and glorious David Lewis,
Staunch and steadfast in the strife,
Bless your people here in Monmouth,
Those for whom you gave your life.
Help us to be strong, courageous,
Loyal to our loving God,
To Him then will glory flourish,
In the places you have trod.

To mark the fortieth Anniversary of the canonisation of St David Lewis and the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, a very special ceremony took place yesterday 24th October 2010, at Usk, near the spot where Fr Lewis was martyred in 1679. After 10:00 a m Mass at the Church of St Francis Xavier and St David Lewis, Sr Celsus SSJ of Llantarnam Abbey unveiled a plaque which was then blessed by Fr Richard Reardon, the Parish Priest. The plaque, which was erected by the group Friends of St David Lewis, is at the side of the church on Porth-y-Carne Street and it marks the original stone which lay on the grave of the martyr. After the canonisation of Fr David Lewis, this old and broken stone was removed and a new one placed on his grave in the churchyard of St Mary’s Priory Church. The old stone was reassembled by the side of the Catholic Church where it remains to this day.

Thursday, 21 October 2010


This year, the month of October is special for Sisters of St Joseph around the world. They are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the birth of their founder, Jean Pierre Médaille. Jean Pierre Médaille was born in Carcassonne in the south-west of France. According to the parish registers, Jean Pierre was born on 6th October 1610, to Phelippe and Jean Médaille. Jean Pierre was the eldest of three brothers. Jean Pierre was not quite sixteen when, on 15th September 1626, he entered the Jesuit Novitiate at Toulouse. While studying humanities and philosophy here in 1629, Jean Pierre became acquainted with a fellow student, Fr Francis Regis, who had been sent to the College in 1628. Fr Regis is better known to us today as the great Jesuit saint, Saint John Francis Regis. In 1637, at the age of 27, Jean Pierre was ordained priest. He was assigned to the Jesuit College in Aurillac as assistant to the rector.

In 1642, Fr Médaille returned to Toulouse for his final formal period of formation. A colleague at that time was Fr Noël Chabanel. At the end of this year of formation, Fr Chabanel was sent on mission to Canada where he was martyred in 1649. The youngest of the Canadian Martyrs, Fr Noël Chabanel was canonised in 1930.

About 1646 Fr Médaille formed an association of six women which was called the ‘Little Design’. This group of women, filled with love of God and neighbour, was dedicated to working for the disadvantaged and neglected. The group officially became known as the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph in 1650. On 15th October of that year the Bishop of LePuy gave them canonical status.

The French Revolution dealt a blow to the rapidly growing congregation. The sisters were dispersed, some were imprisoned and some even executed. However, in 1808 Mother St John Fontbonne, who had narrowly escaped execution, began the re-formation of the Sisters of St Joseph. The sisters became know by the Diocese in which they reformed and in 1833 the groups in Annecy Diocese joined with the Sisters from Pignerol, Italy. They became known as the Sisters of St Joseph of Annecy. The Sisters of St Joseph of Annecy came to Wiltshire, England in 1864. From there they spread throughout the country.

In 1946 the Sisters of St Joseph of Annecy moved to Llantarnam Abbey, Cwmbran. Llantarnam Abbey was the site of a Cistercian Abbey which was suppressed during the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII and his lackey, Thomas Cromwell. It eventually came into the ownership of the wealthy Morgan Family. Generations of the Morgans were Catholic and, despite the severe Penal Laws against Catholics, they maintained a chapel in their home where Catholics of the area could attend Mass. The Morgans were instrumental in establishing the Jesuit College of St Francis Xavier at the Cwm, Hereford. One of the Superiors of the College was Fr David Lewis.

Fr Lewis was born in Abergavenny in 1616. A Protestant, he converted to Catholicism and, in 1642, he was ordained priest. Following his uncle, John Pritchard, he joined the Jesuits in Rome and was sent on the English Mission in 1647. Except for a brief period in Rome, Fr David Lewis spent the remainder of his life ministering to the persecuted Catholics of Monmouthshire and surrounding area.

Lady Frances Morgan was an aunt of Fr David Lewis. For a time Fr Lewis lived at Llantarnam with his relatives and regularly celebrated Mass in the chapel there. From this base he administered the Sacraments and tended to the needs of the Catholics. During the alarm caused by the false Oates Plot, Fr Lewis wished to protect his relatives from danger so he moved to a cottage opposite.

One Sunday morning, 17th November 1678, Fr Lewis was preparing to celebrate Holy Mass. A group of armed dragoons arrived and arrested the priest. After months in prison, the Jesuit was tried and convicted of being a Catholic priest and celebrating Mass. This was deemed High Treason so Fr Lewis was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, the usual sentence for High Treason. On 27th August 1679, Fr David Lewis S J was martyred at Usk. His remains were interred in the churchyard of the priory Church at Usk. On 25th October 1970, David Lewis was canonised as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

The Sisters at Llantarnam Abbey have continued to honour his memory and a portrait of the Saint who once lived there hangs in the hallway. Several years ago one of the Sisters from the Abbey founded a group, Friends of Saint David Lewis, which aims to spread devotion to St David Lewis. This Sister was also the driving force behind the installation of a plaque at the Old Post Office, Llantarnam, Cwmbran. The plaque marks the site of the arrest of St David Lewis.

Fr Jean Pierre Médaille died in the College of Billom on 30th December 1669. He was 59 years old. Fr Médaille could never have imagined the far reaching consequences of his work with that little band of women. The ripples have spread out to embrace the world and the good work started by Fr Medaille continues today through the dedicated and outstanding Sisters of St Joseph.

Friday, 15 October 2010


To continue our posts on the eight Jesuits who fell victim to the false Oates/Popish Plot, we come to Blessed William Harcourt S J.

William Barrow was born in Lancashire in 1609. He studied at St Omer and entered the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1632 at Watten. In 1644 Fr William Barrow S J returned to England to work in the London district. Using the aliases of Waring and Harcourt, he spent thirty-five years labouring in dangerous conditions.

In the late summer of 1678 Titus Oates set off a frenzy of fear, suspicion and hatred that resulted in the deaths of many innocent Catholics. Oates fabricated a story, remembered in history as the Oates Plot or the Popish Plot, in which Catholics, led by the Jesuits, were planning to restore the country to Catholicism by murdering the King and bringing down the Protestant Establishment. As the fury grew, Oates found others willing to join him in his heinous deception, notably William Bedloe and Stephen Dugdale. Of course, money was also a great incentive as the Government offered a reward for the capture of any priest. As expected, this brought in many a rogue who was willing to perjure himself.

Through all this, Fr Harcourt urged his fellow Jesuits to flee abroad. However, he remained in London and did his utmost to care for his imprisoned brethren. The priest changed his residence daily but he was betrayed by a servant at one of the houses and, on 7th May 1679, he was arrested. He was thrown into Newgate Prison, joining fellow Jesuits Thomas Whitbread, John Fenwick, John Gavan and Anthony Turner. With the others, Fr Harcourt came to trial on 13th June.

Chief Justice Scroggs presided at the trial and the abhorrent trio of Oates, Bedloe and Dugdale were the chief witnesses against the priest. It was a surprise to no one that the Jesuit was found guilty and condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered, the usual sentence for High Treason. The gruesome execution was carried out at Tyburn on 20th June 1679. His martyred remains were claimed by friends who interred them in the Churchyard of St Giles in the Fields.

Although his real name was William Barrow a Papal Decree of 4th December 1886 introduced his cause for canonisation under the name of William Harcourt. It was under the name of William Harcourt that he was beatified in 1929.

(PART 2) (PART 3) (PART 4) (PART 5) (PART 6)

Saturday, 9 October 2010


The last Welsh Martyr, St David Lewis, comes from an old and respected Abergavenny family and there are many prominent, even famous, people in his family tree. One of them is Dr David Lewis.

Dr David Lewis was born in Abergavenny around 1520. His father was Lewis ap John (Wallis), Vicar of Abergavenny and Llandeilo Bertholau. Following the Welsh custom, David took his father’s Christian name as his surname. He was educated at Oxford and went on to a very distinguished career. Among his achievements, Dr David Lewis was a lawyer, close advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, a Member of Parliament for Monmouthshire, and a Judge of the High Court of Admiralty. He was one of the founding members of Jesus College, Oxford and, on 27th June 1571, Lewis became its first Principal. It is probably in this capacity that Dr David Lewis is best remembered.

Dr David Lewis never married. He died in London on 27th April 1584. His remains were brought back to his hometown, Abergavenny, to be interred in St Mary’s Priory Church. He is buried beneath a tomb which he himself had commissioned. His tomb, showing its age now, can be seen in that part of the church which is known as the Lewis Chapel.

How is David Lewis, first Principal of Jesus College, Oxford, related to David Lewis, last Welsh Martyr? Saint David Lewis, through his mother, Margaret Pritchard, is the great-great nephew of Dr David Lewis. The Saint’s mother was MARGARET PRITCHARD, daughter of MARGARET BAKER, who was daughter of MAUD LEWIS, sister of DR DAVID LEWIS and the daughter of LEWIS WALLIS. That also makes St David Lewis the great-great grandson of the Vicar of Abergavenny and Llandeilo Bertholau, Lewis ap John, known as Wallis.

(1)Lewis Wallis m Lucy

Dr David Lewis (2) Maud Lewis m William Baker

(3) Margaret Baker
m Henry Pritchard

(4) Margaret Pritchard
m Morgan Lewis

(5) St David Lewis

Thursday, 7 October 2010


Today we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. On this day in 1571, the great naval Battle of Lepanto was fought between an alliance of Christian Countries and the Ottoman Empire. Our Lady’s intercession had been invoked and a Rosary Procession had taken place that day in Rome. In thanksgiving to the Virgin Mary, Pope Pius V instituted the Feast of Our Lady of Victory. In acknowledgement that the victory was the fruit of the Rosary, Pope Gregory XIII, in 1573, changed the name to the Feast of the Holy Rosary. The Feast was kept on the first Sunday of October but, in 1913, Pope Pius X changed the date of the celebration to 7th October. Another change came in 1969 when Pope Paul VI changed the name to Our Lady of the Rosary.

Although there have been changes to the name and date of the Feast of the Holy Rosary, one thing has remained constant. That is the sincere devotion to Mary and the Holy Rosary. Through the centuries, Catholics have turned to Mary in times of joy and times of sorrow. In the Mysteries of the Rosary, and accompanied by Mary, they have walked with Jesus from Bethlehem to Calvary and beyond.

Even during the life of King Henry VIII, those who clung to the Old Faith also clung to Mary. Ten years after the bloody martyrdoms began, Henry’s famous flagship, ‘Mary Rose’, went down off the Isle of Wight in 1545. In the early 1980s ‘Mary Rose’ was raised and many well preserved items were recovered. Among the recovered items was a wooden Rosary! Some long ago Tudor sailor’s love of Mary and the Rosary was stronger than all the King’s wrath.

In Penal times, both in England and its overseas colonies, the Rosary helped keep the faith alive. With no priest available to celebrate Mass and the Sacraments, Catholics would gather in secret to recite the Rosary. In Penal Days in Ireland, the Penal Rosary, a string of ten beads designed to be used discretely up a sleeve or in a pocket, was widely used. Not many original Penal Rosaries survive, but modern versions are readily available.

The martyrs too were devoted to Mary and the Rosary. St Henry Walpole, St Luke Kirby, and St Thomas Garnet, to name but a few, mounted the gallows steps with the ‘Hail Mary’ on their lips. Some sources say that St John Boste was saying the Angelus as he mounted the gallows while other sources state that he was praying the Rosary. Angelus or Rosary, John Boste sought the assistance of the Mother of God!

Shortly before his execution, twenty-five year old St Alexander Briant wrote to the English Jesuits; “The same day that I was first tormented on the rack, before I came to the place, giving my mind to prayer, and commending myself and all mine to Our Lord, I was replenished and filled up with a kind of supernatural sweetness of spirit; and even while I was calling upon the name of Jesus and upon the Blessed Virgin Mary (for I was saying the Rosary), my mind was cheerfully disposed, well comforted, and readily prepared and bent to suffer and endure those torments which even then I most certainly looked for."

St John Ogilvie was martyred at Glasgow Cross on 10th March 1615. He had secreted on his person his treasured Rosary beads and, after he was pushed off the gallows steps, he triumphantly flung his beads into the crowd. It was said that the beads were caught by one of his enemies who eventually became a Catholic.

The Blessed Virgin Mary herself has asked us to pray the Rosary daily. On this beautiful Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, let us be diligent in responding to her plea.

Monday, 4 October 2010


Today is the Feast of St Francis of Assisi. To celebrate this important Feast Day, I am posting about a worthy son of St Francis, the courageous Martyr, St John Wall. The photo is of the beautiful plaque which is in the Catholic Church at Harvington Hall. It depicts St John Wall in the guise of a gentleman of the period. At that time, priests worked covertly so it was not a good idea to advertise the fact that you were a priest. John’s Franciscan identity is evoked by the animals and birds which surround him. Of all the portrayals I have seen of St John Wall, I think this is my favourite. (Click on the picture to enlarge it for a better view.)

John Wall was born in Lancashire in 1620 into a pious Catholic family. He was baptised by Edmund Arrowsmith, who would suffer martyrdom in 1628. John was still quite young when his parents sent him to the English College at Douai. In those days of Penal Laws and harsh persecution of Catholics, there was always the risk of Government spies infiltrating the Colleges. For this reason, it became the practice for students to assume an alias in the slim hope of affording a little protection to themselves and to their families at home. At Douai, John adopted the alias of John Marsh.

On 5th November 1641, John enrolled at the English College in Rome where he continued to use the alias of John Marsh. At the English College he met the Welshman, David Lewis, and the two became firm friends. John, it is thought, was one of the students present in the Lateran Basilica on St Stephen’s Day, 26th December, 1642, when the recently ordained Fr David Lewis preached a short homily before Pope Urban VIII. John Wall was ordained on 3rd December 1645. He returned to England in 1648 but in 1651 he was back in Douai where he joined the Franciscan Friars Minor. He was professed the following year and took the name of Joachim of St Anne.

In 1656, Fr Joachim of St Anne, O F M, was sent upon the perilous English Mission. He spent the rest of his life diligently labouring in Worcestershire and neighbouring counties. In England, John used the aliases of Francis Johnson, Francis Webb and Francis Dormore. Harvington Hall, near Kidderminster, Worcestershire, was his base for about 12 years and during this period he was known as Francis Webb.

In late summer of 1678, the fictitious Oates/Popish Plot spewed across the land. Priests were ruthlessly hunted down. With the Government incentive of a reward of £50 for the apprehension of any priest, there was no shortage of informers! John Wall, however, was apprehended by an unfortunate accident. In December 1678, John was seized at Rushock Court near Bromsgrove when the Sheriff’s Deputy was searching for a debtor. John refused to take the Oath of Allegiance and was immediately imprisoned in Worcester Gaol. From prison he wrote; “Imprisonment, in these times especially, when none can send to their friends, nor friends come to them, is the best means to teach us how to put our confidence in God alone in all things ....”

On 25th April 1679, John Wall came before Judge Atkins for trial. He was indicted for high treason for being a priest and remaining in the country. Predictably, the Franciscan was found guilty and sentenced to death. When the verdict was delivered, John replied “Thanks be to God; God save the King; and I beseech God to bless your lordship, and all this honourable bench.” He was returned to prison to await his execution.

At the beginning of May 1679, John was taken to London to be examined by the plotters and perjurers, Titus Oates, William Bedloe, Stephen Dugdale and Myles Prance. Here again he met with his old friend, the Welsh Jesuit, Fr David Lewis. Fr Lewis, 80 year old Fr John Kemble and Fr Roger Hanslip had also been summoned to London and all four were lodged together in Newgate Prison. The four were detained in Newgate for about a month and each examined by Oates and his co-plotters in an attempt to implicate them in the non-existent Popish Plot. No evidence could be found against the priests, they could not be enticed or coerced into lying or apostatising to save their lives so, early in June, they were all sent back to their respective prisons to await their grim fate.

Fr Wall’s time came on 22nd August 1679. The Sheriff offered John the opportunity of dying the following day so that he would not have to endure the humiliation of dying with two common criminals! John gratefully declined, telling him that if it was good enough for Jesus, then it was good enough for him. Thus, John Wall, O F M, was hanged, drawn and quartered at Red Hill, Worcester. The Catholics of the town boldly accompanied his remains to St Oswald’s Churchyard where he was buried.

A fellow Friar, William Leveson, visited Fr Wall during his imprisonment. The English Franciscans at Douai are in possession of a letter written by Fr Leveson. In this letter, dated 25th August 1679, Fr Leveson wrote: “I found, contrary in both his and my expectation, the favour of being with him alone; and the day before his execution, I enjoyed that privilege for the space of four or five hours together; during which time I heard his confession, and communicated him to his great joy and satisfaction. I ventured likewise, through his desire, to be present at his execution, and placed myself boldly next to the Under-Sheriff, near the gallows, where I had the opportunity of giving him the last absolution, just as he was turned off the ladder.”

One week later, on 27th August, Fr John Wall’s classmate and good friend, Fr David Lewis, suffered martyrdom at Usk. On 15th December 1929, the Franciscan and the Jesuit were beatified by Pope Pius XI. Forty-one years later, on 25th October 1970, Pope Paul VI canonised the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. Fr David Lewis S J and Fr John Wall O F M were among the Forty.

On the beautiful feast of St Francis of Assisi, 4th October 2009, I timidly ventured into an unknown country. Blogland! So, today is my First Anniversary as a blogger. How has it been? Well, I am still finding my way around this vast cyber territory but I am no longer timid and I think I have learned a lot. I know that out there in Blogland there are so many, many great people and, to my own wonder and surprise, quite a few of them I regard as dear friends. A year ago I was of the opinion that calling someone you hadn’t actually met a “friend” was a seriously foolish notion. How wrong I was! Here we are, my blog and I, a whole year older and I am so pleased to call you friends. For me, as you know, this has been a year of more “downs” than “ups” and that is where you bloggers have shown real friendship. For that I thank you all. As I begin my second year of blogging to promote our wonderful Welsh Jesuit Martyr, St David Lewis, I look forward to your visits and comments and to visiting all of you. While cherishing the old friends, I welcome the new. Thank you, my friends, and may God bless you all.
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