Thursday, 29 December 2011



The second of the two English Martyrs depicted in Durante Alberti’s painting is St Thomas Becket whose feast is kept today, 29th December.

Becket, portrayed in the left side of the painting, was the son of a wealthy Norman merchant. Thomas was born in London in 1118. He became acquainted with the young King, Henry II, and the two became close friends.

The King appointed his friend as Chancellor and, upon the death of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1161, Henry pressed him to accept the bishopric. Thomas was not in favour and strongly argued against it but, nevertheless, the King appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury. It has been suggested that the King’s reason for appointing his friend was to have a ‘yes-man’ at Canterbury. If this was the case, Henry had sadly misjudged his friend for Becket was nobody’s flunky! Thomas was genuinely devout and, knowing the King’s mind, warned him; “I know your plans for the Church and that you will put forth claims which I, as Archbishop of Canterbury, must necessarily oppose”.

To be free of all civil ties, Thomas displeased the King further by insisting on resigning his chancellorship. This led to open hostility between the former friends. Because of the Archbishop’s resistance to the “Constitutions of Clarendon”, the King implemented a policy of financial persecution, imposing upon the See of Canterbury huge monetary fines. Realizing the danger he was in, Becket fled to France. All of the Archbishop’s property was confiscated and his family and friends persecuted or exiled.

In 1170, King and Archbishop seemed to have been reconciled and Thomas Becket returned to England. It wasn’t very long before Becket realized that he was in mortal danger. We don’t know the exact words of the infuriated King but Shakespeare’s are the ones most often quoted; “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” Whatever the rash words uttered by Henry, four of his knights, perhaps hoping to curry favour with their King, hastened to England to kill Becket. They found him in the cathedral and murdered him at the foot of the altar steps. As the Archbishop lay on the floor and the assassins carried out their foul deed, Becket was heard to say “For the name of Jesus and the defence of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.” The four, Reginald FitzUrs, William de Tracy, Richard le Breton and Hugh de Moreville, fled north to Knaresborough Castle, which was held by de Moreville, where they remained for about a year.

The despicable act was met with shock and outrage. The martyr’s shrine became a place of popular pilgrimage. On 21st February 1173, Thomas Becket was canonised by Pope Alexander III. In 1538, on the orders of King Henry VIII, the shrine was destroyed and the Saint’s relics scattered. A simple candle marks the place where it once stood and a modern memorial marks the place where he was martyred. St Thomas Becket is venerated in both the Catholic and Anglican Churches and - the pilgrims still come!


Monday, 26 December 2011



The English College gained a reputation as a nursery of martyrs. Owing to the number of its martyred students, the custom arose of a student of the college preaching, on the theme of martyrdom, before the Pope on St Stephen’s Day.

On St Stephen’s Day, 1581, Blessed John Cornelius, who had entered the English College, Rome, in April 1580, preached before Pope Gregory XIII. (Pope Gregory XIII is best remembered for producing, with the help of Christopher Clavius S J, the Gregorian calendar.) In his sermon, John called the College the “Pontifical Seminary of Martyrs”. Thirteen years later, on 4th July 1594, John Cornelius was martyred at Dorchester, Oxfordshire. He was beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1929.

On St Stephen’s Day 1642, the recently ordained Welshman, David Lewis, preached before Pope Urban VIII in the Lateran Basilica. He preached in Latin and his sermon, entitled “Corona Christi pro spinis gemmea was on the Martyrdom of St Stephen, the first Christian Martyr. David Lewis was martyred at Usk on 27th August 1679. He was canonised in 1
970 by Pope Paul VI.


St Ralph Sherwin, 1581
St Luke Kirby, 1582
Blessed John Shert, 1582
Blessed William Lacey, 1582
Blessed Thomas Cottam, 1582
Blessed William Hart, 1583
Blessed George Haydock, 1584
Blessed Thomas Hemerford, 1584
Blessed John Munden, 1584
Blessed John Lowe, 1586
Blessed Robert Morton, 1588
Blessed Richard Leigh, 1588
Blessed Edward James, 1588
Blessed Christopher Buxton, 1588
Blessed Christopher Bales, 1590
Blessed Edmund Duke, 1590
St Polydore Plasden, 1591
St Eustace White, 1591
Blessed Joseph Lambton, 1592
Blessed Thomas Pormort, 1592
Blessed John Cornelius S J, 1594
Blessed John Ingram, 1594
Blessed Edward Thwing, 1594
St Robert Southwell S J, 1595
St Henry Walpole S J, 1595
Blessed Robert Middleton, 1601
Blessed Robert Watkinson, 1602
Venerable Thomas Tichborne, 1602
Blessed Edward Oldcorne, 1606
St John Almond , 1612
Blessed Richard Smith, 1612
Blessed John Thules, 1616
Blessed John Lockwood, 1642
Venerable Edward Morgan, 1642
Venerable Brian Tansfield S J, 1643
St Henry Morse S J, 1645
Blessed John Woodcock O F M, 1646
Venerable Edward Mico S J, 1678
Blessed Antony Turner S J, 1679
St John Wall O F M, 1679
St David Lewis S J, 1679

This blog is dedicated to St David Lewis and the Martyrs of the 16th & 17th centuries. The horrific events of yesterday, Christmas Day 2011, are a stark reminder that being murdered for one's religion is, sadly, not a thing of the past. Today, on this feast of the first Christian Martyr, St Stephen, let's remember Christians everywhere who are suffering for their faith. In particular, those who were murdered yesterday in the atrocities across Nigeria.


Sunday, 25 December 2011


This lovely Christmas Carol was written, in the Huron language, by the French Jesuit, St Jean de Brebeuf who was martyred in Canada in 1649. This version is sung in English by the Canadian Tenors.



Saturday, 17 December 2011


In 1580, Durante Alberti painted “The Martyrs’ Picture” which hangs in the College Chapel. The painting depicts the Holy Trinity with two English Martyrs, St Edmund and St Thomas Becket. A map of the British Isles lies below the crucified Christ and blood from his wounds drops onto the map. Fire springs from the droplets of blood. This echoes the college motto, held by a cherub, “Ignem veni mittere in terram”, “I have come to bring fire to the earth”. (The picture above is a copy which is in the Chapel at Tyburn Convent, London)

Upon receiving news of the martyrdom of one of its alumni, the students began the practice of gathering around the picture to sing a Te Deum. This practice continues still and each year on ‘Martyrs’ Day’, 1st December, the students gather to sing a Te Deum in front of the painting and the relics of the Martyrs, preserved beneath the altar, are venerated by the students.

St Edmund is the English Martyr portrayed on the right. Edmund was King of East Anglia. He was born about 840 and he was a Christian from infancy. Although only about 15 years old when he was crowned, the young King showed himself to be an exemplary ruler, strong in his faith, prayerful, and determined to treat all justly. It is said that he retired to his royal tower at Hunstanton and spent a year in prayer. He learned the whole Psalter by heart so that thereafter he could recite it regularly.

In 870, some say 869, Edmund’s kingdom was invaded by a great Viking army. Edmund marched out at the head of his army and the Danes were repulsed. The invaders soon returned with overwhelming numbers. The King, in order to avert a fruitless massacre, disbanded his troops and he retired towards Framlingham. Unfortunately, he fell into the hands of the invaders. In captivity he was ordered to renounce his faith and become a vassal of the Danes. King Edmund rejected all their wicked demands declaring that his religion was dearer to him than his life!

Infuriated by the King’s fidelity, his cruel captors beat him with cudgels then tied him to a tree where they tore his flesh with whips. Through all his agony, Edmund continued to call upon the name of Jesus. His enraged persecutors next unleashed a hail of arrows upon his tortured body. Seeing that Edmund could not be swayed, they beheaded him.

Edmund’s martyrdom took place in Hoxne, Suffolk, in 870. In 915 his body was found to be still incorrupt and his remains were translated to Bedricsworth, since renamed Bury St Edmunds. His reputation grew and his shrine soon became one of the most famous pilgrimage sites in England. The date of his canonisation is unknown but it is thought to be sometime between 924 and 939. Many churches and colleges were named after St Edmund. He was adopted as the Patron Saint of England and a banner bearing Edmund’s crest was carried at the Battle of Agincourt. Predictably, his shrine was pillaged in 1539 on the orders of King Henry VIII.

Although St Edmund, King and Martyr, has been replaced as Patron Saint of England by St George, this truly English Saint is venerated in the Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican traditions. His feast day, regrettably now relegated to an optional memorial, is 20th November.


Sunday, 11 December 2011


In Penal Times, when Catholicism was outlawed and seminaries closed, it was the intention of the Establishment that Catholicism would die out in this country. They reasoned that if there were no priests to celebrate holy Mass, to preach, and teach the faith, then it would be completely eradicated. Alas, the authorities reckoned without such as Cardinal William Allen!

Cardinal Allen’s solution to the lack of priests in England was to found seminaries on the continent for the education and training of boys and young men from that wounded country. The first of these seminaries was founded at Douai in Flanders in 1568. Then, in 1576, The Cardinal converted the English Hospice in Rome into a seminary and its first students arrived in 1577. Since this was a time of persecution in their homeland, it was expedient that the students assumed an alias. David Lewis entered the English College in 1638, when he was 21 years old, and assumed the alias of Charles Baker. He was ordained there in July 1642.

Many of the students at the English College had volunteered for the ‘English Mission’. After ordination they would return home to minister to their beleaguered Catholic countrymen who, despite Government hopes and penalties, clung resolutely to the Old Faith! The priests undertook this mission in the full knowledge that the rest of their days would be spent in peril, finding shelter where they could and tending to their flocks amid the ever present dangers of betrayal, arrest and execution.

The College produced a long line of priests who, for their faith, suffered imprisonment or exile. More than forty former students were martyred. The first, or protomartyr, was St Ralph Sherwin who was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 1st December 1581. The last alumnus to suffer martyrdom was St David Lewis who was executed at Usk on 27th August 1679. Because of its many martyrs, the College has been known as The Venerable English College since 1818.

Saturday, 19 November 2011


This is a video of St David Lewis which can now be found on Youtube. It is short but it gives a little insight into the life of the last Welsh martyr. Feel free to copy this video to your blog if you wish.

Sunday, 13 November 2011


On 1st November, I and six other members of Friends of Saint David Lewis had the privilege of visiting Trivor, at St Maughans near Monmouth. Because it was All Saints Day, some members of Friends of Saint David Lewis had other commitments and were unable to join us. However, we set off in two cars and indeed the saints smiled on us, for the weather was glorious with the sun accentuating the autumnal glory of the countryside.

When we arrived at Trivor, we were met by the owner, Mr Iorwerth Harries. As well as a pleasant and friendly host, Mr Harries proved to be a knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide! After greetings and introductions, Mr Harries showed us around the outside of the house, pointing out the various features. He told us that there had been a house on the site since the 1200s but, in the early 1400s, during Owain Glyndwr’s rebellion, the whole area was devastated. The present house is a mixture of periods with the oldest part being 17th century. Traces of the original limewash, on the outside front of the house, are still visible.

Construction of the oldest part of the property was begun in 1625 by the prosperous James family and completed about five years later. Generations of the James family were staunch Catholics and, like many other prominent Catholics in Penal Times, they suffered hardship in the practise of their religion. Walter James was one of those mentioned by William Bedloe when Bedloe perjured himself giving evidence about the nonexistent Popish Plot. Bedloe accused James of being secretary to the great Catholic Army supposedly mustering in the remote parts of Wales. Walter James was summoned to London for questioning but was allowed to return home on his own recognizance of £1,000. Fortunately for James, nothing more was heard of the matter.

A secular priest, Fr John Lloyd, the brother of Fr William Lloyd, frequently stayed at Trivor while tending to the spiritual needs of the persecuted local Catholics. At Trivor, the Jameses maintained a Catholic chapel on the second floor and Fr John Lloyd regularly celebrated Mass and administered the sacraments to the Catholics who assembled there. We were taken into the room that was once the chapel and shown a niche high on the wall. The altar is thought to have been below this recess, which would have held a crucifix or a statue. Being in the room where St John Lloyd had said Mass three centuries ago was an awe-inspiring experience. On the third floor there are two attic rooms which were the priest’s rooms. A spy hole from there into the chapel is still visible. We were also shown an ancient door which opened onto what some believe was a priest hole but our guide thought more likely to be an escape route. From its location, we were inclined to agree with him!

We learned that Fr John Lloyd was one of the itinerant priests of South Wales who was caught up in the horror spawned by the fabricated Popish Plot. As historians now agree, the Plot existed only in the perverted minds of Titus Oates and his henchmen. Fr John Lloyd, like his brother Fr William Lloyd, was arrested. William was sentenced to be hung drawn and quartered but, a few days before the execution was to be carried out, the innocent priest died in prison from abuse and maltreatment. Fr John Lloyd was also sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered and the sentence was carried out at Cardiff on 22nd July 1679. Fr John Lloyd suffered the added agony of having to watch his fellow priest, Fr Philip Evans, suffer the same butchery that he himself was to undergo. Fr John Lloyd was canonised in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

One of the myriad interesting facts about Trivor is that in 1845 it was sold to the Rolls family and it became part of the Hendre Estate. This is worthy of note because one of the Rolls family, Eliza, married John Francis Vaughan of Courtfield. The Vaughans were another of the wealthy Catholic recusant families who for generations had clung to the Old Faith. Eliza was from a sincere Evangelical background and shortly after her marriage she converted to Catholicism. She was a devout woman who spent many hours in prayer, tending the sick and distributing food and clothing to the poor. Eliza was the mother of fourteen children. One died in infancy and, of her remaining children, six sons became priests and four daughters became nuns. Eliza’s eldest son, Herbert, became Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, founder of the Mill Hill Fathers, and builder of Westminster Cathedral!

Trivor was purchased by its present owners in 1982 and extensive restoration work has been carried out. However, 17th century features have been maintained in every room of this wonderful house, which looks much as it did in 1690. Original fireplaces, wood panelling, doors, beams, plaster work and much else are all there for the lucky visitor to marvel at and enjoy.

Our visit to Trivor was truly one to remember and we hope to return again in the spring when we will be joined by the friends who were unable to be with us on 1st November. Thank you Iorwerth and Harriet for making our day such a rewarding one. Thank you too for preserving such an important part of the history of Monmouthshire.

Our day wasn’t over yet though. On our way home, we stopped at Monmouth for lunch. Where did we have lunch? Well, in keeping with the theme of our outing, it had to be the Robin Hood Inn. The Robin Hood Inn is one of the oldest buildings in Monmouth and before Catholic emancipation Mass was regularly celebrated there in an upper room. But, that’s another story for another day!

Sunday, 6 November 2011


Well, just as I thought I could get back to some regular blogging my computer decided to go on strike. Fortunately it is still under guarantee so that was a bit of good luck! Anyway, it was taken away for repair or replacement and joy oh joy, it came back late yesterday! In celebration of its return, I am doing this small but important post.

There is a brilliant new blog that I think all readers of LAST WELSH MARTYR will be very interested in. This great blog is called The Cwm Jesuit Library at Hereford Cathedral and you will find it by clicking on the link.

Go ahead, pay Hannah a visit and treat yourself to some excellent reading!

Sunday, 25 September 2011


During the dark days of persecution, many, many Catholics remained faithful to the old faith. Up and down the country Catholics of every class risked fines, imprisonment and even death to attend Mass and receive the Sacraments administered by intrepid priests. Amid all this bravery and faithfulness to the Catholic Faith, nowhere was more staunch than Lancashire and Monmouthshire.

David Lewis was a Monmouthshire man, born in Abergavenny in 1616. David was the son of a Catholic mother and a Protestant father and was brought up in the Established Church by his father. As a young man David converted to Catholicism and, after the death of his parents in 1638, he went to Rome to study for the priesthood. Several years after ordination, Fr Lewis entered the Jesuit Novitiate. In 1648 Fr David Lewis, now a professed Jesuit, returned to Wales and the beleaguered Catholics of his homeland. For more than 30 years this selfless priest laboured in the border areas of Monmouthshire and Herefordshire. He ministered to Catholics all over this part of the country but he frequently stayed in the home of Thomas Gunter of Cross Street, Abergavenny. Thomas Gunter was another of the courageous Catholics determined to remain faithful, whatever the cost. He had a secret chapel in the attic of his home and Fr David Lewis and Fr Philip Evans, also a Jesuit, regularly celebrated holy Mass there.

Although both priests were martyred for the faith in 1679 (they were canonised in 1970) the good people of the area somehow remained steadfast in the faith. Attesting to this loyalty, many objects have survived from this distressing period of history. Chief among these treasures must be the Abergavenny Vestments!

The Church of Our Lady and St Michael, Abergavenny, is in possession of a rare and stunning collection of medieval vestments, worn by the priests who ministered to the people of Abergavenny, and kept safe through the years of persecution and beyond. Today these vestments are valued and protected but are displayed to the public occasionally and sometimes worn on very special occasions.

On 17th September 2011, we had the very great privilege of viewing the medieval vestments. They were displayed in the church that day and the parish priest, Dom Thomas Regan, O S B, was on hand to greet visitors and explain the history and function of the vestments. Fr Regan is extremely knowledgeable regarding Catholic history and his exuberant descriptions of the vestments were peppered with interesting and amazing snippets of information.

Perhaps the most beautiful and most valuable vestment on display was the red chasuble made at the Court of King Henry VII in 1498. It was given as a gift to Abergavenny Church by Henry’s wife, Elizabeth of York. My personal favourite though was the unusual brown chasuble. Father said that this was made about 1500 and is believed to have been made locally. A white chasuble (circa 1505), thought to have its origins in Crickhowell, and a gold chasuble (1521) were also on show.

Completing the display was a beautiful cope. The cope itself is modern but the embroidery is original and from the time of Henry VII. The embroidery was recovered from an ancient cope that had not stood the test of time.

While these vestments form a very important part of our Catholic history, they are also an important part of the history of Monmouthshire in general and Abergavenny in particular. We are indebted to the Catholics who have safeguarded them through the centuries. We also owe a debt of gratitude to the parishioners of Our Lady and St Michael and to Dom Thomas Regan for the continued preservation and protection of these cherished relics.

Sunday, 11 September 2011


The first recorded execution took place at Tyburn field, near the present day Marble Arch, in 1196. In 1571 the Tyburn Tree replaced the original gallows. The Tree was a horizontal wooden triangle supported on three legs. It was designed thus to accommodate multiple hangings at the same time. Although it was done only once, 24 prisoners could be executed simultaneously. The first victim of the Tyburn Tree was Dr John Story, a Catholic who refused to recognise Queen Elizabeth I as head of the church. Thousands had been executed at Tyburn before John Austin, a highwayman, was hanged there in November 1783. That was the last time the Tyburn Tree was used.

Between 1535 and 1681, almost 400 Catholics were executed at Tyburn. The last Catholic Tyburn Martyr was St Oliver Plunkett, executed in July 1681. The Vatican has officially recognised 105 of these as Martyrs and many of them have been canonised.

At the beginning of the last century the Benedictine Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus set up home at Tyburn Convent, just yards from the site of the old gallows. The Sisters pray night and day before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. In recognition of the men and women who gave their lives for the faith, the Sisters maintain the Martyrs’ Shrine. Here are preserved relics of some of the martyrs, and a replica of the three cornered gallows, the Tyburn Tree, forms part of the altar.

Last month Cwmbran based Friends of Saint David Lewis visited Tyburn Convent. At 8 o’clock in the morning our group of 42 pilgrims left Cwmbran and headed up the motorway for London. Several hours later our genial coach driver, Terry from Tryline Travel, deposited us near Tyburn Convent. By now it was almost lunch time so, of course, we set off in search of food! There are restaurants aplenty in that area, Marble Arch, so pretty soon we were all happily catering to the inner man. That taken care of, we made our way down the road to Tyburn Convent.

Our tour was scheduled for 2 o’clock so we had some time to spare. This gave us the welcome opportunity to spend time in the chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed night and day. What a great privilege!

Just before 2 o’clock, a smiling Mother Lioba arrived to escort us to the Martyrs’ Shrine in the crypt. Our parish priest had accompanied us on our pilgrimage and, as he vested for Holy Mass, Mother welcomed the group and briefly outlined the history of the Convent. Then, wearing red vestments, Father celebrated the Mass of the Martyrs. We were privileged to attend Holy Mass where, in days gone by, priests had died for celebrating Mass and for being Catholic priests. Father brought this home to us in his very apt homily.

When Mass was concluded, Mother Lioba recounted the story of the many Catholic martyrs who had been executed at Tyburn for their faith. Although our patron, St David Lewis, did not suffer at Tyburn – he was martyred at Usk – Welshmen, including St John Roberts and Blessed Philip Powell, were among the victims of Tyburn. Mother Lioba held us spellbound with her animated accounts of the lives and deaths of the martyrs. Mother’s knowledge of the martyrs was extensive, her enthusiasm palpable, and her devotion clear to all.

After Mother Lioba’s talk, there was time to wander around the crypt at leisure and to view the many treasured relics housed there. Mother was on hand to answer any questions or just to chat.

Our visit to Tyburn Convent was not over yet. We were directed to an adjoining room where pretty young Novices served refreshments to the pilgrims. Alas, it was time to leave. Mother Lioba, still smiling, saw us off with a handshake and a “God bless you”. Then it was back down the M4 to Wales.

It had been a memorable day and a happy yet humbled and thoughtful group arrived back in Cwmbran. All marvelled at the courage and faith of those holy men and women who had died for their faith. The experience certainly gave us food for thought and, hopefully, a greater appreciation of our Catholic faith and of the freedom we have to practise it. Remember, there are still countries in which Christians are dying for their faith.

Father, in your mysterious providence, your Church is called to share in the sufferings of Christ, your Son. Give the spirit of endurance and love to those who are persecuted for their faith in You. May they always be true and faithful witnesses to your promise of eternal life. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011



On 27th August 1679, the Abergavenny born Jesuit, Fr David Lewis, was taken from Usk Gaol and conveyed to the site of his execution. The previous November he had been arrested as he prepared to say Mass at Llantarnam. In March 1679, at Monmouth Assizes, Fr Lewis had been condemned to be hanged drawn and quartered. His crime? He was a Catholic priest! In those dark times of suspicion and fear, the harsh Penal Laws against Catholics deemed it High Treason to be a Catholic priest, to celebrate Mass, and to carry out the duties of a priest. Having been found guilty of being a priest and saying Mass, Fr Lewis received the usual sentence handed out to traitors.

On that calamitous August day, Fr Lewis was tied to a hurdle, with his head at ground level, and dragged along the river path to a place known as the Island or the Coniger. The actual site is believed to be within the grounds of what is now Porth-y-Carne House, opposite the Catholic Church of St Francis Xavier and St David Lewis. Such was the love and respect of the people for Fr Lewis, known affectionately as "Tad y Tlodion", "Father of the Poor", that the executioner ran away and no one could be found to carry out the execution. Eventually, a miscreant was bribed to do the evil deed.

Usually, the condemned man would be hanged, cut down alive, his body ripped open and his entrails torn out and burnt before his eyes. His body would then be quartered and sent to be displayed in various prominent positions as a warning to others who might have the temerity to cling to the Old Faith. Fr Lewis was spared some of this agony because a Protestant man in the crowd held his hand and refused to allow him to be cut down until he was dead. When the priest was dead, he was cut down, drawn, and his body dismembered but not quartered.
An anonymous poet left an account of the execution in the local Welsh dialect. The following is an English translation.

Creatures of heavenly God,
And all others on earth,
Listen to me now
Giving voice to my lament
For the loss we have suffered
With the destruction of that innocent man
Under the crown. None was gentler
When he preached,
Both Welsh and English
All were filled with wonder
At the courage of the saint
Never faltering or once missing
A word of his entire sermon.
Tears flowed from men, women and children.

The martyred Fr David Lewis was permitted a decent burial. He was reverently carried in procession to the Priory Church of St Mary, Usk, and interred in the Churchyard. His grave is the nearest one to the main entrance of the church and there is an annual pilgrimage to this holy site. This year’s pilgrimage will take place on Sunday, 28th August. Holy Mass will be celebrated at 3:00 pm at the Catholic Church, Porth-y-Carne St, followed by the procession to the Saint’s grave.

Saturday, 28 May 2011


A very big Thank You to those who took part in our latest Book Giveaway.

The books have now been claimed but watch for the next book giveaway. We will have another giveaway soon with some more interesting and informative little books. As always, the books are absolutely free and there are no strings attached. Our aim is simply to spread knowledge of and devotion to St David Lewis, the Last Welsh Martyr.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011





Monday, 11 April 2011


This old video provides us with a wonderful opportunity to see young Joseph Ratzinger's ordination ceremony. The young priest who was to become Pope Benedict XVI was ordained on 29th June 1951. If you pause the video at the precise mark of 4:52-4:55, Fr Ratzinger can be clearly seen.

Sunday, 3 April 2011


Morgan Lewis and his wife, Margaret Pritchard, were the parents of nine children, four girls and five boys. Margaret was a Catholic and she reared eight of the children as Catholics. Morgan, a Protestant, saw to it that their youngest child, David, was brought up in the Protestant religion.

David Henry Lewis was born in late 1616, at Abergavenny, Monmouthshire. He attended King Henry VIII Grammar School where his father was headmaster. When he was sixteen, David went to London to study law. It would appear that the boy’s heart was not in it for he soon availed of an opportunity to visit Paris. It was while he was in Paris that David was received into the Catholic Church. In 1636 David returned to Abergavenny and lived with his parents until their deaths in 1638. Deciding to become a priest, David then entered the English College in Rome. This was made possible by the financial assistance of Fr Charles Gwynne (alias Brown), the Superior of the Jesuit College of St Francis Xavier at the Cwm. After ordination, David Lewis joined the Jesuits. He was sent to work among the beleaguered Catholics of his homeland. With the exception of one year in Rome, Fr Lewis spent the rest of his life labouring among his countrymen in Wales. During the mad frenzy fomented by the Titus Oates Plot, Fr David Lewis was arrested at Llantarnam in 1678. In March 1679 he was tried and convicted of the crime of being a Catholic priest and of saying Mass. High Treason! Although the Titus Oates Plot was the impetus for his arrest, David was never implicated in the Plot and he was executed solely for his religion. This was made abundantly clear when, at the trial the Presiding Judge, Robert Atkins, stated, “He that uses to read Mass commits treason”. On 27th August 1679, Fr David Lewis S J was executed at Usk. Beatified in 1929, he was canonised in 1970.

From just a cursory look at the family of St David Lewis one can see that his was a family not lacking in men of the cloth.

David’s Great-great-grandfather was Lewis ap John (Wallis) who was Vicar of Abergavenny and Llandeilo Bertholau. Lewis ap John was Vicar of St Mary’s Priory Church where the tomb of his son, Dr David Lewis, can be seen today. Since Morgan Lewis had his son David brought up in the Established Church, David would have been baptised in the Priory Church where once his great-great-grandfather had been the vicar.

Lewis ap John’s grandson, David Baker, became a Benedictine. As Dom Augustine Baker, David Baker is famous as a mystic and writer. He was also instrumental in re-establishing the Benedictines in England. Dom Augustine Baker O S B was the great uncle of St David Lewis and the Benedictine and the future Jesuit Martyr would have met on the Benedictine’s last visit to Abergavenny in 1620. On his last visit to his hometown, Augustine Baker stayed with his sister, Margaret (Baker) Pritchard. Margaret Pritchard was the grandmother of St David Lewis.

As well as being the sister of a priest, Dom Augustine Baker, Margaret Pritchard was also the mother of a priest. Her son John became a Jesuit and, being just six year older than his sister’s son David, may have been the stimulus for his nephew’s decision to join the Jesuits. David Lewis himself states that he numbered among his closest friends his uncle, Fr John Pritchard who was a Jesuit. Dom Augustine Baker maintained at Douai a nephew who later became a Jesuit. It is widely held that this nephew was indeed Fr John Pritchard S J (alias Lewis).

A nephew of St David Lewis became a priest. His nephew, also named David Lewis, was the son of the Saint’s brother, Richard. Born in Monmouth, Richard’s son was educated at St Omer and entered the English College in Rome in 1690. The young man followed in the footsteps of his uncle, St David Lewis, and his great uncle, Fr John Pritchard and, in 1707, he was professed as a member of the Society of Jesus. This Fr David Lewis S J lived and worked in Rome where he died in 1741.

Although Morgan Lewis was a Protestant, he was from an old Catholic family and a relative of the Morgans of Skenfrith. St John Kemble’s mother, Anne, was one of the Skenfrith Morgans, thus through Morgan Lewis and Anne Kemble, the two Saints were cousins. Anne Morgan and her husband, John Kemble, were the parents of at least two priests.

Not a lot is known about their elder son, William Walter Kemble. We do know that he was born in Herefordshire and studied at Douai. He entered the Benedictine Order in 1619 and was professed on 1st October 1620. After ordination he was sent to the south of England to work. On 23rd October 1633 he died at Fownhope, Herefordshire.

More is known about Anne and John’s other priest son, St John Kemble. John was born at Rhydicar Farm, St Weonard’s, Herefordshire in 1599. Following his brother, William Walter, he began training for the priesthood. He went to Douai, adopted the alias of “Holland”, and was ordained on 23rd February 1625. Later that year, on 4th June, he was sent on the English Mission. For 54 years this humble and good man laboured for the people of Herefordshire and Monmouthshire. He was loved and respected by all. It was said of him that “He gave offence to none”. However, in 1678 the poisonous tentacles of the Oates Plot wrapped themselves around Fr John Kemble. He was arrested at Pembridge Castle, the home of his relatives, and on 22nd August 1679, the eighty year old secular priest was martyred at Widemarsh Common, Hereford.

As well as the same bloodline, Fr David Lewis and Fr John Kemble shared the same fate. They were executed within days of each other and both were beatified in 1929. In 1970, Pope Paul VI canonised the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. Among the Forty were the cousins, St David Lewis and St John Kemble.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011


The trials and executions, if not the lives, of most of our martyrs are well documented. However, there are many who, though not actually put to death for the faith, nonetheless died heroically for their faith and for their loyalty to their Catholic priesthood and the holy Mass. I refer to the many unheralded and possibly unknown priests who died in prisons up and down the country and to those who died on the run, hunted like wild beasts!

Fr Edward Turner S J was the brother of Blessed Anthony Turner. They were the sons of a Protestant minister. The brothers converted to Catholicism, studied at the English College in Rome and eventually returned to England to minister to their persecuted Catholic brethren. Fr Edward Turner was arrested and died in Gatehouse Prison in 1681, two years after Anthony’s execution at Tyburn.

Fr William Lloyd was the brother of Welsh Martyr, Saint John Lloyd. St John Lloyd was a secular priest who was executed in Cardiff in July 1679. Fr William Lloyd was in charge of the Secular clergy in South Wales. Like his martyred brother, he too was apprehended and imprisoned. Found guilty of being a Catholic priest and celebrating Mass, which was considered treason, he was sentenced to be hanged drawn and quartered. This was the usual punishment meted out for treason. Harshly treated in prison, Fr William Lloyd died in Brecon Gaol just days before his scheduled execution.

The Jesuit College of St Francis Xavier at the Cwm, Herefordshire, was sacked in December 1678. With the fury of the Oates Plot spreading over the country, the Superior of the College, Fr David Lewis, decided that the College should be evacuated and the priests hid as much property as they could. Books, vestments, altar plate, etc, were hidden in outbuildings and the priests were dispersed with the hopes of one day returning to the Cwm. Unfortunately that was not to be. Some of the priests found shelter with Catholic families while others took to the hills and woods of their beloved Wales. Under cover of night they traversed the countryside bringing the comforts of religion to the harried Catholics of the area.

Fr Charles Pritchard found shelter in the home of a friend. By day he hid and at night he went forth to attend to the needs of his flock. His health broke down and one dark night he suffered a severe fall. He managed to return to his friend’s house but he never recovered and, on 14th March 1680, he died. His unnamed friend secretly buried the 43 year old Jesuit in the garden.

There are many sad tales to be told of the sufferings of priests and laypeople alike during the times of persecution. One of the most poignant is that of Fr Ignatius Price S J, another of the priests from the Cwm.

Fr Ignatius Price was born in Monmouthshire in 1610. Working under the alias of Walter Price or Harries, he served the Jesuit Welsh Mission from 1644 until his death in 1679. The following is an account of the tribulations of Fr Price: “For nearly two months in the depths of winter, scarcely a night passing in which he was not sought for in the houses of Catholics, flying from cottage to cottage, sometimes barefoot through heavy snow and deep water, clad for the most part in linen, the aged priest, had no place that could offer him any real shelter. Catholics even, through fear of the terrible laws, sometimes denied him hospitality, while he avoided their houses lest he involve his host in the punishment of death for harbouring a Jesuit. In order to avoid the snares laid for him, Fr Price had been compelled to fly by night from barn to barn, from cave to cave, even from hog sty to hog sty. At length he contracted a violent fever from which he would soon die.”

Fr David Lewis had been arrested at Llantarnam on 17th November 1678 and imprisoned in Monmouth Gaol. On 13th January 1679, a snowy and freezing cold day, Fr Lewis was moved to the County Gaol at Usk. On that snowy January day in 1679, Fr Lewis and his guards stopped at an inn in Raglan. While there a messenger came with a heartbreaking request for Fr Lewis. Father Lewis wrote: “Whilst I was in Raglan, a messenger came to the door of the inn, desiring to speak with me on urgent business. A very good friend of mine, one Mr Ignatius alias Walter Price, lay dying about half a mile away. He had undergone much hardship from hunger and cold and lay dying. He desired to see me. But I was quite unable to perform the friendly duty, as I was under the actual custody of the officers. So I only sent him my true and best wishes for his soul’s happy passage out of this turbulent world to an eternity of rest.” Three days later Fr Ignatius Price died.

Fr David Lewis himself was martyred at Usk on 27th August 1679. Beatified in 1929, Saint David Lewis was canonised by Pope Paul VI on 25th October 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

Thursday, 17 March 2011


Last St Patrick’s Day I wrote about St Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh, who was executed at Tyburn in 1681. Another innocent victim of the Oates Plot, Oliver Plunkett was the last Catholic executed for his faith in this country.

On this St Patrick’s Day, let’s remember a kinsman of St Oliver Plunkett, Blessed Charles Mahoney. This Irish Franciscan was another victim of the evil Titus Oates.

Charles Mahoney (alias Meehan) was born in Ireland around 1639/40. He and his three brothers, James, Terence and Christopher, were educated by their uncle, Fr Bonaventure O S F, who was guardian of St Anthony’s College in Louvain. Three of the boys, Charles, Terrence and James, followed in their uncle’s footsteps and became priests.

In 1674, several years after his ordination, Charles was sent to Germany to study theology. He remained there for two years then spent another two years in Rome, preaching and teaching at the Irish Franciscan College of St Isadore. Then, in 1678, Charles was sent back to Ireland. Charles was aboard a ship heading for home when disaster struck. In a raging storm his ship was wrecked off the coast of Wales. With some of his belongings, he managed to swim ashore near Milford Haven in West Wales.

The plucky Franciscan decided to travel North, on foot, in the hope of finding a ship bound for Ireland. Unfortunately, Charles didn’t get very far. In June 1678 he was arrested not far from Denbigh and imprisoned in Denbigh Gaol. In the spring of 1679, Charles Mahoney was tried, found guilty of being a Catholic priest, which was considered treason, and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, the usual punishment for treason.

On 12th August 1679, Fr Charles Mahoney was taken from his prison, tied to a horse-drawn hurdle and dragged to a spot outside the town. Here the awful sentence was carried out.

The months of July and August 1679 were busy ones for the anti-Catholic authorities. Titus Oates and his fellow perjurers must have been smugly satisfied too. Executions of Catholic priests were being carried out in various parts of England and Wales. In Wales, Fr Philip Evans S J and a secular priest, Fr John Lloyd, were barbarously executed in Cardiff on 22nd July. Just over the border, in Hereford, eighty year old Fr John Kemble, another secular priest, met his fate on 22nd August. Fr Kemble, a cousin of St David Lewis, had spent fifty-four years ministering to the Catholics of Herefordshire and Monmouth. On that same day Fr John Wall, a Franciscan, was executed at Red Hill, Worcester. Fr Wall, who ministered mainly in the Worcester area, was a classmate and friend of our Last Welsh Martyr, St David Lewis. Fr David Lewis S J followed his friends and fellow priests to martyrdom on 27th August at Usk. All five were canonised in 1970 when Pope Paul VI canonised the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

The British Museum is in possession of a one page document entitled “The Last Speeches of Three Priests that were executed for Religion, Anno Domini 1679”. The document reads; “An Account of the words spoken by Mr Charles Mahony, an Irish priest of the holy Order of St Francis, who was executed in his Habit at Ruthin in North Wales, August 12, 1679. Now God Almighty is pleased I should suffer Martyrdom, His Holy Name be praised, since I dye for my religion. But you have no right to put me to death in this country, though I confessed myself to be a priest, for you seized me as I was going to my native country, Ireland, being driven at Sea on this coast, for I never used my Function in England before I was taken, however, God forgive you, as I do and shall always pray for you, especially for those that were so good to me in my distress. I pray God bless our King, and defend him from his enemies, and convert him to the Holy Catholick Faith. Amen. His age was under forty. He was tryed and condemned at Denby confessing himself to be a priest.”

With 129 other martyrs of England and Wales, Charles Mahoney/Meehan was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 22nd November 1987.

Sunday, 13 March 2011


This film 'Of Gods and Men' tells the true story of the French monks of the Algerian Monastery, Our Lady of Atlas. For years they lived and worked in peace and friendship with their Muslim neighbours. Then things went terribly wrong. This acclaimed film is about modern martyrs, martyrs of our time. Sometimes we need to be reminded that in some countries our fellow Christians are still being persecuted, still being martyred. We should never take our religious freedom for granted.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011


I don't know how much of this is fact and how much is fiction. I think it is a nice story so I will let you decide for yourself. In any case, have a Happy St David's Day!

Friday, 25 February 2011


Morgan Lewis was the father of St David Lewis. Although he was of an old Catholic family, Morgan was a Protestant. He was a kinsman of the Morgans of Skenfrith in Monmouthshire. St John Kemble’s mother, a Catholic, was one of the Skenfrith Morgans, as was her relative, Fr William Morgan S J. Fr Morgan, who died in 1667, succeeded Fr John Salisbury (John Parry) as Superior of the Jesuit Mission in Wales.

Morgan Lewis and his wife, Margaret Pritchard, had nine children. Margaret was a devout Catholic and she brought eight of their children up as Catholics. However, Morgan had his youngest son, David, brought up in the Protestant religion. Morgan’s adherence to the Established religion may have been quite genuine and it is not for us to judge a man’s conscience. On the other hand, it could have been for practical purposes.

Morgan was the headmaster of the Royal Grammar School (King Henry VIII School) in Abergavenny. During his father’s headship, David was educated there. It certainly would have been advantageous, if not downright necessary, for Morgan and young David to follow the Protestant religion.

King Henry VIII Grammar School was one of many founded from property seized from monasteries and religious houses during the Reformation. Before King Henry’s break with Rome, the Royal Grammar School had been the Parish Church, St John’s. With the King’s sweeping changes, the Priory Church became the Parish Church and in 1542 the old St John’s Catholic Church became the town’s Grammar School.

Dr David Lewis, whose tomb is in the Priory Church, was a great great uncle of St David Lewis. Dr David Lewis, a former pupil of King Henry VIII Grammar School, went on to become an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, a Judge of the High Court of Admiralty, an M P, and the first Principal of Jesus College, Oxford.

The esteemed Benedictine writer, Dom Augustine Baker, was the nephew and Godson of Dr David Lewis and the great uncle of St David Lewis. Augustine (David) Baker recommended many Catholic children to King Henry VIII Grammar School under the headship of his niece’s husband, Morgan Lewis.

In 1898, a new school was built in Penypound. The Grammar School that had been a Catholic Church then became a Freemasons’ Lodge!

The altar stone of St John’s Church was discovered by Fred and Iltyd Gardner walled up in a chimney breast of the “Cow Inn” in Neville Street, Abergavenny. They presented it to Holy Trinity Church in Baker Street where it was incorporated into the altar. An ancient piscina was found in the wall of the north transept of the old St John’s Church. The piscina was presented to Holy Trinity Church by the Worshipful Master and Brethren of the St John’s Lodge of Freemasons.

Catholic Church, Royal Grammar School, Freemasons’ Lodge, this storied old building still stands. I can’t help but wonder what Morgan Lewis, who converted to Catholicism before his death in 1638, would make of it all?

Friday, 7 January 2011


A copy of "In Thoroughgoing Service, The Life of Saint David Lewis" by Fr Gareth A Jones has gone out to diddleymaz over at Fiftysomething. If you aren't yet familiar with Fiftysomething, just click on the link and get acquainted with another excellent blog. The second book goes to Anonymous. I thank all of you for leaving comments. The comments and your participation are welcome and appreciated. Watch out for future little book giveaways which, in an effort to spread the word about St David Lewis, I like to do from time to time.

As I said in my previous post, my present circumstances force me to curtail my blogging for awhile. So, please, don't forget St David Lewis, the Last Welsh Martyr, and keep looking in and leaving your comments. I will be back asap! In the meantime, if ANYONE, ANYWHERE, would like to have a FREE picture card of St David Lewis, just leave your details in the comments section of this post. (AS USUAL, I HAVE ACTIVATED COMMENT MODERATION TO KEEP YOUR DETAILS STRICTLY PRIVATE.) These laminated cards are approximately 15.5 cm x 11 cm (5.5 in x7 in) and have the martyr's picture on the front with brief details of his life on the reverse. They are very nice cards and I would be more than happy to send them out to anyone who would like to learn about this heroic Jesuit martyr.

Thursday, 6 January 2011



However, because of present circumstances, I will have to curtail blogging for awhile. I am not giving up and I will be back as soon as possible. I have TWO copies of "In Thoroughgoing Service, The Life of Saint David Lewis" by Fr Gareth A Jones. I will send them to the first TWO readers to leave their names & mailing addresses in the comments section of this post. I will post the books ANYWHERE, so if you would like to learn more about our wonderful Welsh Martyr, St David Lewis, get your details in asap. To keep your details strictly private, I have activated comment moderation.
Related Posts with Thumbnails