Sunday, 28 November 2010


The generally accepted site of the grave of the last Welsh Catholic Martyr, St David Lewis, is just outside the door of the west porch of the Priory Church of St Mary, Usk. John Hobson Matthews arrived at a different conclusion. This presents another mystery – where is St David Lewis buried?

John Hobson Matthews, solicitor, archivist and historian, was born in 1858. In 1877, aged nineteen, he converted to Catholicism. He became a solicitor in 1889 and practised for many years in Cardiff. He was an accomplished linguist and, although he was born in Croydon, he was fluent in Welsh.

Matthews was archivist for the Cardiff Corporation and one of the original members of the Catholic Records Society. The Catholic Records Society holds valuable information relating to Catholics in south east Wales and much of this was gathered by Matthews. He died at Ealing on 30th January 1914. I have had a rummage through the Catholic Records available on the internet and was intrigued with what I found.

Matthews wrote: “Close to the north-west angle of the west porch is a plain and massive slab of grey stone. No inscription is now visible, and the stone is fractured across the middle. It bears faint traces of ornamental carving, and of the shaft of a long cross. This is traditionally regarded by the local Catholics as the grave of the Ven. David Lewis, S.J., alias Charles Baker, who was executed at Usk in 1679 for alleged complicity in the bogus Popish Plot.

In 1889 I was told that this grave was still cleaned and decorated every year, by an aged Catholic Irishwoman of Usk, on the 27th of August, the anniversary of the martyrdom.

In the year 1904 the tradition had grown faint, and I took steps to renew it before it should expire. The following are portions of letters written by the Rev. Isidore Heneka, priest in charge of the mission of Usk, and the late Rev. Thomas Burgess Abbot, for over 50 years rector of the Monmouth mission.”

The following letter, dated 24th August 1901, supports the accepted position of the martyr’s grave.

On 24 Aug. 1901, the Rev. Mr. Abbot wrote:
“Father Baker (or Lewis), S.J., martyred at Usk in August 1679 and buried in the church yard, where the present gravel walk passes from the street to the church door, and about 10 paces from the door of the church as old Mr. McDonnell of Usk pointed out to me where, as a boy, he had seen the " square stone " marking the grave of the Popish Recusant. He told us also that he was pointed out the part of the “island" on the other side of the Usk, as the place of his martyrdom.”

The following letter from Rev Heneka also supports this.
“USK, 18 Feb. 1904.
Dear Mr. Matthews,
I am afraid that we shall never be at a certainty as to Ven. Father Lewis grave. I have searched the whole churchyard to find a stone with an inscription, without result. We can only go by tradition. The old people of Usk, Catholic and Protestant alike, point out the grave at the left corner next the porch. The stone is broken, but without any sign of inscription, right or left.

However, in April of the following year, 1905, Rev Heneka wrote a somewhat startling letter which could cause us to reconsider. It convinced Mr Matthews!
“USK, 13 April 1905.
Dear Mr. Matthews,
Today I had removed the broken gravestone of the supposed grave of the Ven. David Lewis, S.J., near the west porch of Usk parish church. I found under it some broken pieces of a gravestone with the inscription "April 18 aged 62"; and a full-sized stone halfway under the priest’s, with the words "Mary Low of this town 1721. IHS." I also found in the same spot a small bone which evidently got there when they made some alterations in the church and reburied remains taken from there. Strange that local tradition has not kept up the grave!

Mr Matthews said: “It would appear from the evidence of Father Heneka’s letter of 1905, that the stone traditionally regarded as that of the Ven. David Lewis was removed to its present site some years later than 1721.”

Matthews also quotes Brother Foley who stated that the holy priest’s body was “interred in the porch of the church”. This, claims Mr Matthews, is the statement made by most writers as to Father David Lewis resting-place.

John Hobson Matthews concluded: “After studying the question carefully for years, my own belief is that the martyr lies buried in the west porch, and that his gravestone was ousted from its original site sometime early in the 19th century when the pavement of the porch was repaired.”

The original gravestone, the “plain and massive slab of grey stone”, of which Mr Matthews speaks was replaced after the canonisation of Saint David Lewis. This old stone now lies at the side of the Catholic Church of Ss Francis Xavier and David Lewis, in Usk. On 24th October 2010, in commemoration of the fortieth anniversary of the canonisation of St David Lewis and the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, a new plaque beside the old stone was unveiled and blessed.

Despite the very interesting findings and conclusion of the respected Mr John Hobson Matthews, it is generally accepted that our Saint is buried just outside the west porch. The grave is fittingly marked by a well appointed stone, placed there about 1979. I too accept this commonly held opinion.

Inside or just outside the west porch, does it matter so very much? It is only a matter of a step or two across the path and it is therefore certainly in the right location. As T S Eliot wrote, “Wherever a saint has dwelt, wherever a martyr has given his blood for the blood of Christ, there is holy ground, and the sanctity shall not depart from it though armies trample over it, though sightseers come with guide-books looking over it.........From such ground springs that which forever renews the earth though it is forever denied.”

Sunday, 21 November 2010


Is martyrdom a thing of the past? Unfortunately it is not! This beautiful, innocent little boy, named Adam, is a recent Christian martyr. For more information on the horrific story of this dear little boy, go to Richard's excellent blog, LINEN ON THE HEDGEROW, where I found it. You will be horrified and disturbed by Richard's post. It is right that you and I, who sit here all snug and comfortable taking our religion and all its gifts very much for granted, should be horrified and disturbed by it. We can and must pray for our persecuted Christian brethren but is there something else that we can do? Is anyone acting to help them? If you know of a group, government, or organisation who is trying to help, I would be pleased to hear about them and post the information for all to see.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


In 1678, the Popish Plot, also known as the Oates Plot, was spawned in the perverted mind of Titus Oates, who was encouraged and spurred on by his friend, Israel Tonge. It wasn’t long before the country was engulfed in the tide of anti-Catholic passion which it engendered.

The Superior of the Jesuit College of St Francis Xavier at the Cwm, Fr David Lewis (alias Charles Baker), had been living with relatives, the Morgans, at what is now Llantarnam Abbey. From here Fr Lewis ministered to the needs of the people, celebrating Mass in the Morgan’s chapel and administering the sacraments. Realising the danger of the Plot and fearing to put the family in jeopardy, the priest moved out of their home and into a cottage nearby. The cottage was adjoining the blacksmith’s forge opposite the Parish Church of Llanfihangel Llantarnam.

The Government offered a reward of £50 for the apprehension of any priest and to this John Arnold of Llanvihangel Crucorney added his own reward of £200. Arnold, a Justice of the Peace and Member of Parliament, was a fanatical priest hunter but he had always feigned friendship for Fr Lewis. Three hundred and thirty-two years ago today, 17th November 1678, Arnold’s true nature was revealed and Fr David Lewis S J took his first steps on the road to martyrdom.

It was a Sunday morning, about daybreak, and the Jesuit was preparing to celebrate Holy Mass. Six armed dragoons, sent by John Arnold, burst into the little cottage and arrested Fr Lewis. They confiscated all the altar furnishings and anything which they considered ‘popish’. With the prisoner, they set out for Monmouth, stopping first at the house of Charles Price at Llanfoist, where Price, John Arnold and Thomas Lewis, another J P, awaited their arrival.

Of his arrest Fr Lewis wrote: “After my full thirty years poor missionary labours in South Wales, on Sunday morning, a little before day, being the 17th November 1678, I was taken by six armed men sent by Mr John Arnold and Mr Charles Price, until then my two very good friends and acquaintances. I was taken in a little house in the parish of St Michael-Llantarnam in the County of Monmouth. From thence by the soldiers, together with such church stuff of mine they there found, carried I was to the house of Mr Charles Price in Llanfoist”

At about two o’clock in the afternoon Arnold and his clique led the priest away. Guarded by twelve armed men, Fr David Lewis was taken to Abergavenny and then on to Arnold’s house, Llanvihangel Court. Here they spent the night. Early the next morning Fr Lewis was taken, again under armed guard, to Monmouth Gaol where he was incarcerated.

The horror was just beginning!

Sunday, 7 November 2010


One of nine children of a Protestant Headmaster and his Catholic wife, David Henry Lewis was born in 1616 at Abergavenny. David’s father, Morgan Lewis, saw to it that David was brought up in the Protestant religion although his other children were brought up Catholics. The young David attended King Henry VIII Grammar School, where his father was Headmaster, and then went on to London to study Law. David went on a trip to Paris and, while there, he converted to Catholicism. In 1636 he returned to Abergavenny and lived with his parents for two years. Whether Morgan Lewis was a Protestant through conviction or expediency one cannot say but about that time, 1636, Morgan Lewis also converted to the Catholic Faith.

In 1638, Morgan and Margaret (Pritchard) Lewis died of fever. David decided to beco
me a priest and, after his parent’s death and with the financial assistance of Fr Charles Gwynne (alias Brown), he entered the English College in Rome. Fr Gwynne, Rector of the Jesuit College at the Cwm, had obtained from his uncle, Hugh Owen, funds for maintaining a Welsh Scholar at Rome. David Lewis was ordained priest in July 1642 and in April of 1645 he entered the Jesuit Novitiate at Sant’ Andrea. Fr Lewis was sent to Wales in 1647 but was soon recalled to Rome to become Spiritual Director at the College there. However, in 1648 he returned to his homeland and the College of St Francis Xavier at the Cwm. For more than thirty years Fr David Lewis laboured for the people of Monmouthshire and the Welsh Marches. He served two terms as Rector of the College, commonly known as ‘The Cwm’.

Under the anti-Catholic laws of the time, being a Catholic was dangerous and being a Catholic priest was even more dangerous! The Welsh were, for the most part, tolerant of their Catholic neighbours, friends, and, in many cases, family members, who tenaciously clung to ‘the Old Faith’. The Catholics were commonly known by the lovely name of the ‘plant Mair’, that is ‘children of Mary’. However, there were those who, harbouring fierce hatred of Catholics, sought to eradicate them entirely. Consequently, the priests had to be very careful so as not to bring suffering on themselves or those who aided them. For this reason, Fr Lewis was in the habit of making dangerous journeys in the dead of night in order to care for his flock. The compassion and goodness of Fr David Lewis was not limited to Catholics only and his great kindness to all earned for him the name ‘Tad y Tlodion’, ‘Father of the Poor’.

For many generations the wealthy Morgans of Llantarnam were loyal Catholics. They were instrumental in the establishment of the Jesuit College at the Cwm and, as recusants, regularly paid heavy fines for themselves and others of their household who were fined for non-attendance at Protestant Services. They also maintained a Catholic Chapel in their home. Lady Frances Morgan was an aunt of Fr David Lewis and for a time he lived with the family at Llantarnam. From this base he brought the comfort of religion to the careworn Catholics of the area and regularly celebrated Holy Mass for them in the Morgan Chapel.

The Popish Plot was first brought to the attention of the King, Charles II, on 13th August 1678. The Popish Plot, also known as the Oates Plot, was the invention of a reprobate, the convicted perjurer Titus Oates. Charles did not believe a word of the so called ‘plot’ but certain politicians seized upon this opportunity to enforce the anti-Catholic Statutes and Laws which were still in force but not always acted upon. Considering the excommunication of Queen Elizabeth I, ill-advised Papal involvement with planned attacks upon England, and the failed Catholic plots of recent memory, it was not difficult for Oates and his partners in crime to convince the populace that King, country and the Protestant religion were endangered. It was easy to convince them that Catholics, led by the Jesuits, were plotting to kill the Protestant King and replace him with his Catholic brother, James. The Government offered a reward of £50 for the apprehension of any Catholic priest. By autumn 1668 the terror had begun. It spread throughout England and its foul fingers soon clutched at the ‘plant Mair’ in Wales.

Perceiving the danger in which he placed the Morgans, Fr Lewis moved out of their home to a cottage nearby. It was at this cottage at Llantarnam that Fr Lewis was arrested on 17th November 1678. It was a Sunday morning and the priest had been preparing to say Mass. He was arrested by armed dragoons, sent by the uncompromising and fanatical hater of Catholics and persecutor of priests, John Arnold of Llanvihangel Crucorney. Arnold, a Member of Parliament and Justice of the Peace, offered his own reward of £200 for the capture of any priest. Arnold had always shown friendship to Fr Lewis and right up to his imprisonment, the Jesuit believed Arnold to be a friend. Sadly, bigotry is without honour.

Fr David Lewis was imprisoned at Monmouth until January 1679. He was then moved to the new County Gaol at Usk. After a fixed trial at Monmouth Assizes, David Lewis was found guilty of being a Catholic priest and of saying Mass. He was condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered. This was the usual sentence meted out to traitors and to be a Catholic priest was considered High Treason. In the spring, Fr Lewis, along with several other priests, was ordered to London to be examined by the despicable Oates and his equally despicable co-conspirators. No evidence could be found to implicate Fr Lewis in the imaginary plot so he was sent back to Usk to await his execution.

On 27th August 1679, Fr David Lewis was taken from Usk Gaol, tied to a hurdle, head towards the ground, and dragged along the river path to the place of execution. Fr Lewis was hanged but, mercifully, allowed to die before he was cut down and his body mutilated and decapitated. He was not quartered. It is an indication of the love the people had for the martyred priest that the authorities permitted his remains to be reverently carried to the churchyard of the Priory Church of St Mary. Here he was interred near the door of the west porch of the church.

The Popish Plot resulted in the deaths of many innocent Catholics, both priests and lay people. Some were executed, some died in prison and some died on the run, hunted like animals in the bitter winter weather. The eighth and final Jesuit to be executed as a direct consequence of the warped and evil mind of Titus Oates, Fr David Lewis S J, was beatified in 1929. On 25th October 1970 he was canonised by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. An annual pilgrimage to the grave of St David Lewis, the Last Welsh Martyr, takes place on the Sunday nearest to 27th August.

LINKS TO THIS POST: The Perjurer Titus Oates and Eight Jesuits (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3); (Part 4); (Part 5); (Part 6); (Part 7); (Part 8)

Wednesday, 3 November 2010


The month of November is dedicated to the Holy Souls. It is a time to remember our departed loved ones and to pray for them. A time, too, to pray for all who have gone before us be they know to us or not. In the Communion of Saints, we are all one.

This beautiful prayer in song is dedicated to all the Holy Souls and I thank Helen at Catholicseeking where I spotted this lovely video. Helen's blog is well worth visiting so click on the link and see for yourself.

Monday, 1 November 2010


Philip Evans was born at Monmouthshire in 1645. He was the son of Winifred Morgan of Llanvihangel Crucorney and William Morgan of Llangattock Vibon Avel. Philip was educated at St Omer in Flanders and, on the 7th September 1665, he entered the Jesuit Novitiate at Watten. Ordained at Liege in 1675, Fr Philip Evans S J was sent on the English Mission to work among the Catholics of his native Wales. He was a diligent and tireless worker, preaching in both Welsh and English, administering the Sacraments and celebrating Mass.

It is known that the young Jesuit, along with Fr David Lewis, regularly stayed at the home of Thomas Gunter of Cross Street in Abergavenny. Here he celebrated Mass and tended to the needs of Catholics of the area. He also stayed at the homes of Charles Prodger of Wernddu and Christopher Turberville of Sker House and cared for Catholics in these locations.

As the sinister tendrils of the Oates Plot snaked across the country in the autumn and winter of 1678, friends advised Fr Evans to flee and to go into hiding. This he refused to do, preferring to continue with his work among the oppressed and abused Catholics. The Government offered a £50 reward for the apprehension of any priest or Jesuit. To this £50 reward a local magistrate and bitter anti-Catholic, John Arnold of Llanvihangel Court, added an extra incentive of £200. To be sure, there was no shortage of willing informers so time was running out for the courageous priest.

The arrest of Fr Philip Evans at Sker House of 4th December 1678 was brought about by the quisling, Edward Turberville. Edward Turberville was a lapsed Catholic and the younger brother of Christopher Turberville. Philip Evans was imprisoned in Cardiff Castle and spent several weeks in solitary confinement. Eventually he and Fr John Lloyd, a secular priest who had been arrested in November, shared a cell. In May 1679, Fr Evans was brought to trial at Cardiff Assizes. He was found guilty of being a Catholic priest and of saying Mass. This was, under the Penal Laws of the time, considered High Treason so Philip Evans was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, the usual sentence for treason.

The sentence was not immediately carried out and, strangely, Fr Evans was even allowed out of prison for recreation! On 21st July, the gaoler received orders that the priest was to be executed the next day. Fr Evans was playing tennis so the Gaoler went to return him to his cell and to tell him the sad news. Fr Evans was unperturbed and asked, “What haste is there? Let me first play out my game.”

When Philip was returned to prison, his legs were bound in chains. His spirit was unquenchable and, a skilled harpist, he took up his harp and played. The next morning when the authorities came to take him to the place of execution, they were astounded to find Fr Evans joyfully playing the harp. The chains on the priest’s legs were so tight that it took over an hour to remove them. Their removal caused a great deal of pain to the prisoner. Finally he and Fr Lloyd, who was to die that day too, were taken to the place of execution, Gallows Field, outside Cardiff. When he mounted the gallows Fr Evans said, “This is the best pulpit a man can have to preach in, therefore, I cannot forbear to tell you again that I die for God and religion’s sake.” He addressed the crowd in English and Welsh, then turning to Fr Lloyd he said, “Adieu, Mr Lloyd! Though only for a little time, for we shall soon meet again”.

Thirty-four year old Fr Philip Evans, joyful to the last, was martyred at Gallows Field, Cardiff (the northern end of Richmond Road) on 22nd July 1679. He was the seventh Jesuit to be executed due to the evil scheming of Titus Oates and his lying henchmen. On 15th December 1929 Pope Pius XI beatified Philip Evans. On 25th October 1970 this Welsh martyr was canonised by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.
Related Posts with Thumbnails