Early in the 17th century, with the financial backing of the Somersets of Raglan Castle and the Morgans of Llantarnam, the Jesuit College of St Francis Xavier was established at a place called the Cwm, on the Monmouth/Hereford Border. The selfless and heroic priests there ministered to the Catholics in that area and for many years, despite the severe anti-Catholic Laws, went about their work unmolested. For the most part, the authorities were content to turn a blind eye to the practices of their Catholic neighbours, the “plant Mair” as they were sometimes called. There were, however, some who harboured such fierce hatred of Catholics that they would stop at nothing in their efforts to eradicate every last vestige of the Old Faith. One such was John Arnold of Llanvihangel Court. Arnold was a Justice of the Peace and Member of Parliament whose main ambition in life appears to be the rooting out and elimination of all things Catholic. In this ambition Arnold was wholeheartedly supported by John Scudamore of Kentchurch and Charles Price of Llanfoist.
John Arnold and a number of like minded Protestants presented to Parliament a detailed account of Catholic activities in Monmouth and Hereford. They claimed to be alarmed at the growing strength of popery in the region. Arnold and Scudamore appeared before the House of Commons to expound their already wide-ranging account of Catholic activities. Of course, the Cwm was mentioned but there was no suggestion of any political activity there. Then Titus Oates and his Popish Plot burst onto the scene! Originally, Fr David Lewis was the only Jesuit at the Cwm who was mentioned in the Plot. Later, when Chepstow born William Bedloe was inspired by monetary gain to throw in his lot with the perjurer Oates, Fr Charles Pritchard was accused of being one of the murderers of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey. Things became very dangerous for the priests at the Cwm so Fr Lewis, who was the Superior, decided to evacuate the College. The priests hurriedly hid books, altar plate, vestments, and anything relating to Catholic service and practice. Then they dispersed, some to the homes of loyal friends but most to battle with the rough terrain and pitiless weather conditions.
In December 1678 the Lords ordered an investigation of the Jesuit College. The Bishop of Hereford, Herbert Croft, was appointed to head this investigation and he was enthusiastically assisted by John Arnold, John Scudamore and Charles Price. By this time, apart from a few servants, the College was deserted. The miscreants gleefully went about their work, removing books and papers from a room which had a hidden entrance. The Government ordered that all Catholic books were to be burnt and, should any be retained, these were to be catalogued. Many books disappeared but more than a hundred still survive in the library of Hereford Cathedral. These stolen books had been taken there by Bishop Croft to replenish the Cathedral’s own depleted library.
A collection of altar plate seized in the raid came into the hands of Charles Price. Despite orders to the contrary, he refused to hand over the ill-gotten loot. The Privy Council commanded that all title deeds to Jesuit property should be sent immediately to Whitehall. However, nothing was forthcoming and Bishop Croft was ordered to appoint someone to administer the Cwm in the interest of the Crown.
The lease on the premises did not expire until 1737 but tragically the Cwm was never again occupied by a Jesuit presence. Most of the original College was demolished and, in 1830, the present house was built. Some oh so appropriate lines of T S Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral” come to mind; “From such ground springs that which forever renews the earth though it is forever denied.”