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.
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