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!)
HYMN IN HONOUR OF SAINT DAVID LEWIS
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.