Wednesday, 26 December 2012


17th century icon, Madonna and Child
Christmas of 1678 couldn’t have been a joyful one for Fr David Lewis S J.  Details of that Christmas are scant but we do know for certain that it was the priest’s last Christmas on earth!  As he prepared to celebrate Mass on Sunday morning, 17th November, Fr Lewis was arrested at Llantarnam.  He was incarcerated in Monmouth Gaol.  The Justice of the Peace, John Arnold, who had feigned friendship with Fr Lewis, promised that he would not allow him to be treated with “any incivility or severity”.  Alas, the promise proved to be as false as the friendship.  That very same day, the perfidious Arnold had ordered that a strict watch should be kept over the prisoner, who was guilty of high treason, i.e., he was a Catholic priest!

Christmas found Fr Lewis in Monmouth Gaol, where a friend of the Jesuit had paid 14/ a week to provide him with a good lower room, a bed, linen, fire and a candle.  Officially, Fr Lewis was in Solitary Confinement but the Under keeper of the Gaol allowed friends to visit him in his cell by day.

Early in December, the Lords ordered an investigation of the Jesuit College of St Francis Xavier at the Cwm, where Fr Lewis had been Superior.  Just before Christmas, the Bishop of Hereford, Herbert Croft, led a raid on the Cwm.  He had the enthusiastic help of John Arnold, John Scudamore and Charles Price.  The buildings were ransacked and all books, papers and property confiscated.  Some of the books stolen from the Cwm are today in the library of Hereford Cathedral.  Croft reported that he had found “two horse-loads of books in an adjoining Pig Cot covered with straw, also a great store of divinity books (but they are not yet brought to me, it being Christmas holy days, but they remain in a safe hand) many whereof are written by the principal learned Jesuits”.

On 4th December, Fr Philip Evans, the youngest of the Jesuit missioners in South Wales, was arrested.  He was imprisoned in Cardiff Castle where he was kept in Solitary Confinement for three weeks.  After this time, the Governor was persuaded to allow Fr Evans and a secular priest, Fr John Lloyd, to share a cell.  Other priests had been arrested and some had died of hardship and exposure. 

All of this distressing news would have been conveyed to Fr Lewis by the friends who visited him in Monmouth Gaol.

On the Sunday morning of Christmas week, Fr Lewis was visited in his cell by several magistrates who questioned him about William Bedloe’s allegation that he had supplied information about the Marquis of Worcester’s Agent’s complicity in the Popish Plot.  Fr Lewis deposed that he had neither spoken to nor corresponded with the informer.  He further testified that he had never even heard of the Plot until it became common knowledge throughout the land.  His deposition was sent to London but no more was heard of it.

So passed what was to be the last Christmas of Fr David Lewis.  Early in 1679, the new High Sheriff, James Herbert, decided to move the County Gaol from Monmouth to Usk.  On 13th January, a bitterly cold and miserable day, Fr Lewis was transferred to Usk Gaol to await his fate.  Later that year, in the lovely month of August, Fr David Lewis was martyred at Usk.  On 25thOctober 1970 he was canonised by Pope Paul VI  as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales .

Tuesday, 18 December 2012


Many people are sad today at the news of the death of Fr John Edwards S J.   

Fr John, who had been ill for several months, passed away shortly after hearing Mass on 12th December, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

The privilege of knowing Fr John was ours through the many retreats he conducted at Llantarnam Abbey.  The Annual Day in memory of the Holy Souls on 2nd November was always a touching and moving experience. 

It was also our great good fortune to have Fr John with us at the Abbey on the days held in honour of St David Lewis, the Welsh Jesuit who was martyred in 1679.  Fr John’s saintly presence was an inspiration to all in attendance on those occasions.  Fr John Edwards, who counted his lung cancer a gift from God, will surely be remembered with affection and gratitude whenever we gather at Llantarnam Abbey.  

Fr John Edwards S J, conducting a service at
the site of the arrest of St David Lewis
at Llantarnam, Cwmbran

Fr John’s Requiem Mass will take place at Farm St Church, London, at 11 am on Thursday, 20th December.   Fr John, we were honoured to know you.  May your gentle soul rest in peace.

Saturday, 17 November 2012


In the summer of 1678, the contemptible Titus Oates and his friend Israel Tonge hatched the fictitious Popish Plot.  Near the end of September, Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey (sometimes spelled Edmundbury Godfrey) became involved when he took the depositions of the two plotters.  On 17th October Godfrey was found face down in a ditch on Primrose Hill.  He was impaled on his own sword.  Marks on his body indicated foul play.   But, was it murder or was it suicide?  At the time, two committees investigated Godfrey’s death, and many theories have since been expounded, but the mystery has never been solved.  Godfrey’s mysterious death was a boon to the anti-Catholic faction who immediately put the blame on Catholic conspirators.  As Macaulay wrote; “The capital and the whole nation went mad with hatred and fear.  The Penal Laws, which had begun to lose something of their edge, were sharpened anew.  Everywhere, Justices were busied in searching houses and seizing papers.  All the gaols were filled with Papists.  London had the aspect of a city in a state of siege”. 
Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey
It wasn’t long before the venomous tentacles of the Plot reached into Wales.  The Government had offered a reward of £20 for information leading to the apprehension of any priest.  To this sum John Arnold of Llanvihangel Court added a reward of £200 for information regarding any priest in Herefordshire or Monmouthshire.
John Arnold was born in 1634.  A Justice of the Peace and Member of Parliament, Arnold was also a zealous priest hunter and foremost in enforcing the full weight of the Penal Laws against Catholics.  In 1670, John Arnold and John Scudamore informed the House of Lords that “at Llantarnam, an eminent papist’s house in Monmouthshire, there is a room fitted up chapel wise for saying Mass where Fr David Lewis, a popish priest, hath said Mass for many years past” and that there were still six Jesuit priests at the Cwm which “had been a shelter for such popish priests near forty years”.   In 1678 they placed new information before Parliament of “several popish priests and the persons that do countenance them in the county of Monmouth”.   On 20th November 1678 King Charles II, under pressure from Parliament, reluctantly issued a proclamation for the immediate arrest of all priests and Jesuits, who were to be imprisoned “in order to their trial”.
Fr David Lewis, alias Charles Baker, was an Abergavenny born Jesuit.  He was Superior of the Jesuit College of St Francis Xavier at the Cwm on the border of Herefordshire and Monmouthshire.  He spent more than thirty years ministering to the harassed Catholics of the area.  As was the practice in such dangerous times, priests often found shelter in the homes of Catholic recusants and from such safe houses they celebrated Mass and the Sacraments and tended to the many needs of their fellow Catholics.   It is well documented that Fr Lewis stayed in the home of Thomas Gunter of Abergavenny and also at the home of his aunt, Lady Frances Morgan, at Llantarnam.

For some time, Fr David Lewis had stayed with his relatives, the Morgans, at what is now Llantarnam Abbey.   When the storm of the Oates Plot broke, the priest, not wishing to endanger the Morgans, moved into a nearby cottage at Llantarnam.   This cottage, adjoining the blacksmith’s, was opposite the Parish Church of St Michael and All Angels. 
Parish Church of St Michael and All Angels, Llantarnam
Early on Sunday morning, 17th November 1678, Fr Lewis was preparing to celebrate Mass when a party of six armed dragoons burst in.  They were led to the priest by William James, a Catholic who had formerly worked for him.  For this foul act of betrayal, James received the grand sum of £220, the Government reward of £20 plus the additional £200 offered by John Arnold.   It was a cruel betrayal indeed for Fr Lewis considered John Arnold a close friend because Arnold had always feigned friendship for the priest.  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”.
Plaque at the site of the arrest of St David Lewis at Llantarnam
Three Justices of the Peace, Charles Price, John Arnold and Thomas Lewis awaited Fr Lewis at Llanfoist.  The priest was to be taken to Monmouth Gaol and at about 2 o’clock that afternoon, he was led away from Llanfoist by Arnold and his henchmen.   Guarded by twelve armed men, Fr Lewis was taken to his hometown, Abergavenny.  The contingent entered the Golden Lion on Frogmore Street where, in a guarded upper room, Fr David Lewis was examined by the Recorder of Abergavenny, William Jones.   William James swore that he had seen Fr Lewis say Mass at least twenty times.   Asked if he had played any part in the Titus Oates Plot, the priest swore on oath that he had no knowledge of or part in any plot.  Arnold, showing his contempt for all things Catholic, sarcastically remarked that with Catholics it was no oath to swear on the Bible.   
The Site of the Golden Lion, Abergavenny
The little group adjourned to the dining room where they had supper together.  Fr Lewis, committed on a charge of Treason, was given the choice of spending the night in a guarded room at the Golden Lion or of being the guest of Arnold at his home in Llanvihangel.  Arnold assured the priest that he would be “most civilly entertained”.   Fr Lewis left the decision to the others and it was arranged that he should spend the night at Llanvihangel Court.  It was a moonlit night when the party left the Golden Lion at about 10 o’clock.  It would have been between 11 o’clock and midnight when they reached Llanvihangel Court, a fine Elizabethan mansion that had been home to several generations of Arnolds.   The defenceless priest spent the night in a room guarded by two “strong men”. 

The next morning, Fr Lewis arose at 7 o’clock and Arnold paid him a short visit in his room where the two exchanged a few civil words.  When he had finished his breakfast, Fr Lewis came downstairs to find the Magistrate and several constables loading guns in the Great Hall.  Then they set out on the final leg of their journey to Monmouth Gaol. 
John Arnold's Home, Llanvihangel Court
 Upon reaching Monmouth, Fr David Lewis was incarcerated in the town’s gaol.  A friend paid 14/ a week for Fr Lewis to have a good room with a fire, candle, bed and linen!  That morning John Arnold had assured Fr Lewis that he would not allow the gaoler to subject him to “any incivility or severity”.  It must have been a sad shattering of all illusion regarding Arnold’s friendship for him when the gaoler showed Fr Lewis a letter written that very day by Arnold.  The letter, dated 18th November, ordered that a strict watch be kept on the prisoner who was guilty of High Treason!

Fr Lewis was kept a close prisoner and his confinement was so strict that he never left his cell.  However, the Under Keeper allowed friends to visit him during the day.  For almost two months, Fr Lewis was a prisoner in Monmouth Gaol.  On 13th January 1679 he was transferred to the new County Gaol at Usk.  Here, in the Gaol on Bridge Street, this kind and gentle Jesuit awaited his martyrdom.   

Thursday, 25 October 2012




Today we celebrate the Feast of The Six Welsh Martyrs of the Reformation.  The Six Welsh Martyrs, who were canonised by Pope Paul VI on 25th October 1970, are:
St Richard Gwyn was born about 1537 in Llanidloes, Montgomeryshire. He was a teacher and a married man. He and his wife, Catherine, had six children. He was executed at Wrexham on 15th October 1584. St Richard Gwyn is the protomartyr of Wales.
St John Jones O F M was born at Clynog Fawr, Caernarvonshire around the year 1530. He entered the Franciscan Convent at Greenwich and, at its dissolution in 1559, he went to the Continent and was professed at Pontoise, France. He died for the Faith at Southwark on 12th July 1598. At his execution, he had to wait an hour because the hangman had forgotten to bring the rope!

St John Roberts O S B born at Trawsfynydd, Merionethshire, was the first prior of St Gregory’s, Douai. He was sent upon the English Mission in December 1602, arriving in England in April 1603. He was probably the first monastic to enter England since the Reformation. He was executed at Tyburn on 10th December 1610.

St Philip Evans S J was born in Monmouth in 1645. He entered the Society of Jesus on 7th September 1665. He was ordained at Liege and sent upon the English Mission in 1675. He diligently and joyfully served the area of South Wales for four years before his arrest at the house of Christopher Turberville at Sker, Glamorganshire on 4th December 1678. He was martyred at Cardiff on 22nd July 1679. He was thirty-four years old.
St John Lloyd was Brecon born and studied at Ghent and Valladolid. He was ordained a priest at Valladolid in 1653. He returned to Wales and laboured in Brecon and Monmouthshire for 24 years. In November of 1678, he was captured at a house at Penllyn, Glamorganshire. He and St Philip Evans shared a cell at Cardiff Castle until their martyrdom at Cardiff on 22nd July 1679.

St David Lewis S J was born in 1616 at Abergavenny, Monmouthshire. He attended the local Grammar school where his father, Morgan Lewis, was headmaster. Ordained in 1642, David entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1645. He returned to Wales and, based at the Cwm, he served the Catholics of the area for 34 years. He was arrested at Llantarnam on 17th November 1678 and martyred at Usk on 27th August 1679. St David Lewis was the last Welsh martyr.


(Tune Hyfrydol or Blaenwern)
Came a time upon our nation
when the faith of Rome was banned.
Christians found their hearts were broken,
torn apart throughout our land.
Thus a traitor to the nation
anyone who loved the Pope.
Christians stood in condemnation.
Who could bring them any hope?
Men who trained  as priests for Cymru
came from Europe’s shores ere long.
Traversed far and wide our nation,
come to keep the Old Faith strong.
Saying Mass and heard confession,
priests of God , their only crime
was that laws of England’s kingdom
made such treason, at that time.
David Lewis, priest of Monmouth
gladly in Usk met his end.
As at Cardiff, Philip Evans
with John Lloyd, his holy friend.
From the north did Saint John Roberts
die for Christ, a Martyr true,
and Franciscan, Saint John Jones,
from the noose to heaven flew.
With these priests, to Rome so loyal,
one more Saint of Wales did die.
Richard Gwyn, the edict Royal
did at first its ways comply.
But this man, of Wales a teacher,
taught us now the better way.
He renounced the Royal churches,
chose with Rome alone to pray.
Time hath passed upon our nation,
the Old Faith no longer banned.
Other Christians, once oppressive,
now as friends beside us stand.
*This is not a day for gloating,
Or for raising ancient wrong,
but a day for celebrating
loyal Saints whose faith proved strong.*

Monday, 8 October 2012


 This is Part 2 of a two part post about 'The Pot and Pineapple', the Gunters and St David Lewis. Please click here to read Part 1.
The Adoration of the Magi, found in the Gunter Chapel and now on display in Abergavenny Museum
Over the years, the Gunter Mansion was divided into four smaller houses. The location of Thomas Gunter’s Chapel faded from memory.  In 1908 Mr and Mrs Foster, the owners of the end house, were carrying out alterations when an amazing discovery was made.  When the workmen began to demolish the partitions dividing the rooms in the attic, they discovered a secret room behind another room.  On the steeply sloping ceiling was a beautiful fresco depicting the “Adoration of the Magi”.   Mrs Foster had the good sense to realize that they had stumbled upon something of importance.  After consultation with several local historians, it was confirmed that they had found Thomas Gunter’s seventeenth century chapel.  As well as the “Adoration of the Magi”, believed to be the altar piece under which the altar was positioned, other paintings and markings were discovered.  Above the window overlooking Cross St, there was the “mark of the Jesuits”, the letters I H S within rays and surmounted by a cross.   On another wall, a strange drawing of a man and a woman with a heart placed at the feet of the woman and the inscription “T G his mark” were clearly visible.  Mrs Foster engaged the services of the Photographer, Mr Bailey of High St, Abergavenny, to take pictures of the ceiling and other paintings and drawings which adorned the walls of the little room.  In an attempt to preserve the fresco of the Magi, Mrs Foster had the painting carefully removed and placed under glass in an oak frame.  For many years this treasure was in private hands but, fortunately, it is now on display at Abergavenny Museum where it can be viewed and appreciated by all. 
The remains of the entrance to
Thomas Gunter's  attic chapel
At the time of the renovations, the remains of an outside staircase leading from the garden to the chapel were also discovered.  The addition of an adjoining cottage had blocked this entrance.  From the back of the house, it is still possible to see in the pine end of “The Pot and Pineapple” part of the lintel of the door to the attic chapel.
Thomas Gunter's Chapel as it is today
Today history collides at 37 Cross Street!  Downstairs, “The Pot and Pineapple” caters for the discerning sweet tooth while upstairs Thomas Gunter’s chapel languishes almost forgotten.  Previous occupiers of the shop probably used it as a storeroom so now it bears little resemblance to a chapel.   However, one can still see the wall on which Thomas Gunter left his initials.  I said “almost” forgotten because Amanda, the young proprietor of “The Pot and Pineapple”, although not the owner of the building, is very aware of its place in Abergavenny's long history.
The wall on which Thomas Gunter wrote his initials

Amanda kindly allowed us access to the former chapel.  It was an amazing experience just to stand quietly in that room and remember Thomas Gunter, St David Lewis, St Philip Evans, and the brave and faithful people who so long ago risked all for their Catholic Faith. Many words could describe my feelings. Humbled, overawed and overjoyed are just three of them. 
Cautiously we descended the narrow stairway that brought us back to the twenty-first century where Amanda and her son were tending to some customers.  Amanda chatted with us for a short while and, as well as a pleasure, it was enlightening because she is very knowledgeable about the historic location her shop occupies.   


The Pot and Pineapple, 37 Cross St.
Thomas Gunter's Chapel was located
behind the little window in the gable.
We are extremely grateful to Amanda for her kindness to us in the midst of her busy day.  We came away with some interesting facts about the Gunters.  Oh yes, and with some very tasty Liquorice Allsorts and Liquorice Torpedoes!  On my next visit to “The Pot and Pineapple” I think I will try Chocolate, or perhaps Chewing Nuts, or Pontefract Cakes, or Humbugs, or ?????

Sunday, 7 October 2012


This is Part 1 of a two part post about  'The Pot and Pineapple',  the Gunters and St  David Lewis. 


Abergavenny is as pretty as it is historic.  It is indeed a happy pastime to meander along its streets and enjoy the intermingling of old and new – modern shops housed in ancient buildings.  One such shop is the delightful little sweetshop, ‘The Pot and Pineapple’, on Cross Street.

This recently opened establishment, located at 37 Cross Street, is a traditional sweetshop with rows and rows of jars, stuffed with glorious sweets, lining its shelves.  It has the power to make one feel like a child again, clutching a few pence and wondering which treat to purchase!  Well, that is how I felt anyway. 

‘The Pot and Pineapple’ is located in one of the oldest buildings in Abergavenny, the ancient Gunter Mansion.  It is very pleasing to note that the young proprietor has maintained the Gunter connection in her choice of name, thereby keeping alive an important part of Abergavenny history. 

Several shops, numbers 37-40 Cross St, now occupy the Gunter Mansion.   This historic building was originally constructed in the early years of the seventeenth century and it was home to generations of the Gunter Family.  Walter Gunter, who was born around 1717, was the last of the Gunters to reside there.

James Gunter, Walter’s son, left Abergavenny and went to London.  In 1777 James became a partner in a food business named “The Pot and Pineapple” at 7-8 Berkeley Square.  “The Pot and Pineapple” had been established twenty years earlier as a confectioner’s shop by Domenico Negri.  By 1799 James Gunter was sole proprietor and the shop had become a chic Mayfair gathering place where the smart set would stop to eat ices and sorbets.  It must have been quite a sight as the shop’s waiters raced back and forth across the street delivering orders to ladies, who remained in their carriages, while the gentlemen lounged nearby enjoying their confections.  As well as ices and confections, Gunter’s was known for its beautifully decorated cakes.  James Gunter’s son, Robert, took over the business on the death of his father in 1819.  In the mid 1930s, the east side of Berkeley Square was demolished and Gunter’s moved to Curzon Street.  Gunter’s continued to delight its customers until its closure in 1956.
It is now necessary to go back several generations of Gunters to James Gunter’s ancestor, Thomas Gunter.  Thomas Gunter was born about 1627 into the Catholic branch of the Gunter Family.  Thomas, an attorney at law, lived in the mansion on Cross St which now houses “The Pot and Pineapple” and other shops.  He was a Catholic at a time in the history of this country when Catholicism was outlawed.  Those who tenaciously clung to “Yr Hen Ffydd”, “The Old Faith”, were known as “recusants”.  Recusants were subjected to harsh fines, imprisonment and, sometimes, even death.  Thomas Gunter was a staunch Catholic and a fearless man.  He is known to have said, “I kept a priest during Oliver’s time of severity, and I shall keep one now”.  He made good his promise! 
Thomas had an attic room in his house furnished as a Catholic Chapel and here the Catholics of Abergavenny would assemble for Mass and to receive the Sacraments.  Thomas kept two Jesuits, Fr Philip Evans and Fr David Lewis, who celebrated Mass and conducted weddings, baptisms and funerals in the chapel.  A report referring to this chapel said there was at Abergavenny “a public chapel for Papists adorned with the marks of the Jesuits on the outside, and such numbers flocked there that a hundred were seen to come out of it when not above forty attended the parish (Established) church”.  In his deposition to the House of Commons in 1678, the vicious priest hunter, John Arnold, stated that he had seen the “mark of the Jesuits” on the outside of Gunter’s property.  Mr Greenhaugh, the Vicar of Abergavenny, said “there is a publick mark of the Jesuits on the outside of the building, which is directly towards the Parish Church”. 
Fr David Lewis S J was either Thomas Gunter’s uncle or his cousin.  Most historians come down in favour of uncle.   The youngest of nine children, David Henry Lewis was born in Abergavenny in 1616.  David’s mother, Margaret Pritchard, was a Catholic and she raised eight of her children as Catholics.  His father, Morgan Lewis, was a Protestant and head of Abergavenny Grammar School.  Morgan Lewis had his youngest son, David, raised in the Established religion.  As a young man, David visited Paris and while there he was received into the Catholic Church.  In 1638 David entered the English College in Rome to study for the priesthood.  Several years after his ordination, he joined the Jesuits.  Fr David Lewis S J was sent back to his homeland but, after a short time, he was recalled to Rome.  About a year later Fr Lewis was sent again to the English Mission.  He returned to Wales and for more than thirty years he tended to the needs of the beleaguered Catholics in the border areas of Monmouthshire and Herefordshire.   Based at Thomas Gunter’s, he ministered to the Catholics of Abergavenny and the surrounding countryside. 

For a time, Fr David Lewis stayed with his relatives, the Morgans, at Llantarnam.  It was at a cottage in Llantarnam, during the mayhem generated by the Oates’ Plot, that the Jesuit was arrested.   On Sunday morning, 17th November 1678, Fr Lewis was preparing to celebrate Holy Mass when a group of armed dragoons burst in.  Fr Lewis was held first in Monmouth Gaol, then in Usk Gaol.  Convicted of being a Catholic priest and saying Mass (which was considered High Treason), Fr Lewis was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.  The good priest met his fate at Usk on 27th August 1679.  St David Lewis was beatified in 1929 and canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.


Wednesday, 26 September 2012


Recently Belmont Abbey held several open days, one of which we attended.  It was on a lovely autumn day that we wended our way to Hereford and the welcoming Benedictine Abbey. 

It was our good fortune to be guided around the Abbey by the inimitable Brother Bernard.  Brother Bernard’s grasp of the Benedictine history and of the history of Belmont is second to none and he imparted much of interest to his attentive hearers.

The Monastery of St Michael and All Angels at Belmont was begun in 1854 as a common novitiate to train young monks for the Abbeys of Downside, Douai and Ampleforth.  Until the foundation of the Cardiff Archdiocese Belmont Abbey served as the Cathedral for the Diocese of Newport and Menevia.  The professed monks were the Canons of the Chapter, making Belmont the only monastic Cathedral in post-Reformation England.  In pre-Reformation times, monastic cathedrals were a special feature of ecclesiastical life in the country.  Many of the great cathedrals, including Canterbury itself, were Benedictine Cathedrals.

 Although St David Lewis, the Last Welsh Martyr, was a Jesuit, he has a strong connection to the Benedictines.   The famous Benedictine writer and mystic, Dom Augustine Baker, was a great uncle of his.

David Baker was born in Abergavenny on 9th December 1575.  He was the nephew and godson of Dr David Lewis, the first principal of Jesus College, Oxford.  In 1596 David went to London’s Inner Temple to study law where he excelled in his studies.  Upon the death of his elder brother, Richard, David was called home to assist his father and David became the Recorder of Abergavenny.  David’s parents may have been Church papists but, by his mid-twenties, David had completely abandoned religion and was an atheist.  After his return to Abergavenny, David had a near death experience which profoundly changed his life and, in 1603, he was received into the Catholic Church.
At the age of thirty David Baker was clothed with the Benedictine Habit at the Abbey of St Justina in Padua.  He was given the name of Augustine.  In 1613 he was ordained priest by Dr Gifford, the Archbishop of Rheims.  Dom Augustine Baker returned to London and took up residence in the lawyers’ district, Grays Inn Lane, where he assisted Catholics in matters of law.  He also undertook research into the English Benedictines.  It had been claimed by some that an English Benedictine Congregation did not exist before the Reformation.  David’s research cost him two years and £200 of his own funds, but it proved the critics wrong.  About 1625 the results of his research were published in the book, “Apostolatus Benedictinorum in Anglia”.   Augustine Baker is probably best remembered for his treatise on the prayer of contemplation, “Sancta Sophia” or “Holy Wisdom”.

Due to the anti-Catholic feelings in England at that time, many priests left for the continent.  Fr Baker went to Douai, in Flanders.  He was appointed Spiritual Director of the English Benedictine Nuns at the Abbey of Our Ladye of Consolation in Douai, (the Nuns of Stanbrook Abbey).  He remained in that post for nine years then returned to London.

Fr Baker maintained at Douai two young men.  One was Philip Morgan, alias Powell, who was martyred in 1646.  The other was his nephew, John Pritchard, who later became a Jesuit.  John Pritchard’s sister, Margaret, married Morgan Lewis, headmaster of Abergavenny Grammar School.  They were the parents of David Lewis, who also became a Jesuit.  During the furore stirred up by the fabricated Oates’ Plot, David Lewis was martyred at Usk in 1679.  In 1620, on his last visit to Abergavenny, Dom Augustine Baker stayed with his sister who was the grandmother of David Lewis.  It was inevitable that he would have met his four year old great nephew. We can only wonder at such a momentous meeting as the great Benedictine, whose motto was “I am nothing.  I have nothing.  I crave nothing, save Jesus” met the future martyr, Saint David Lewis!

David Augustine Baker O S B, whose health was never good, was stricken with the plague and died in London on 9th August 1641.  He was 65 years old.    

Tuesday, 28 August 2012


Portrait of St David Lewis in the Church of St Francis Xavier and St David Lewis, Usk

Two days ago, Sunday 26th August, the Annual Pilgrimage in honour of St David Lewis took place at Usk.  Despite the very wet summer we have experienced, the sun came out in all its splendour for the procession from Usk's Catholic Church to St Mary's Priory Church where the Martyr's remains are interred.  Below is a short video of the procession.

Mary in Monmouth has a good post about  Sunday's pilgrimage.  Click here to see it.

Monday, 27 August 2012


Three hundred and thirty-three years ago today a Welsh Jesuit priest, Fr David Lewis, was executed at Usk.  His crime was to be a Catholic priest in a time when it was deemed High Treason to be a Catholic priest and to celebrate Mass in England. 
Plaque marking site of execution of St David Lewis
David Henry Lewis was a Monmouthshire man, born in Abergavenny in 1616.  He was the youngest of the nine children of Morgan Lewis and Margaret Pritchard.  Although David's Catholic mother brought up eight of the children in the Catholic Faith, David's Protestant father had David brought up in the Established Religion.
David attended the local grammar school of which his father was headmaster.   Later he went to London to study law.  He travelled to Paris as tutor to a young nobleman and while in Paris David converted to Catholicism.
After the deaths of his parents in 1638 David entered the English College in Rome to study for the priesthood.  He was ordained there in 1642.  Later, following in the footsteps of his Jesuit uncle, David entered the Jesuit Novitiate of Sant Andrea in Rome.  
After profession as a Jesuit, Fr Lewis was sent on the English Mission.  After only a year he was recalled to Rome to take up a position in his old college.  However, he soon returned to Wales and here he laboured among his own people for the remainder of his life.
He was twice Superior of the Jesuit College of St Francis Xavier at the Cwm, on the Monmouthshire-Herefordshire border.  According to a pamphlet published in London in 1679, the Cwm consisted of spacious houses with several entrances and secret passages between some of the rooms.  Underneath the buildings there were extensive cellars, accessible both from inside and outside the houses - useful strongrooms where valuables could be hidden.  From one room a tunnel ran out into the neighbouring woods, in which there were many caves.  Remote and secluded, the Cwm was an ideal meeting place for Catholics on both sides of the Anglo-Welsh border.
The site of the Jesuit College, The Cwm
The Cwm had been known to the government authorities since as early as 1660 and possibly earlier.  However it was not until December 1678 that the Lords ordered an investigation by the Bishop of Hereford, Herbert Croft.  Croft had the enthusiastic support and assistance of John Arnold, John Scudamore and Charles Price. 
By this time, all the priests had been evacuated from the Cwm.  In fact, the Superior, Fr David Lewis, was a prisoner in Monmouth Gaol and had been since his arrest at Llantarnam on 17th November 1678.  Some priests found shelter with recusant families, others, including Fr Philip Evans were imprisoned, and others, hunted like wild beasts, sheltered in caves or woods.
While the raid did not turn up any hidden priests, it did yield a store of church plate, vestments and books.  Bishop Croft added many of the stolen books to his Cathedral Library. 
Viewing some of the Cwm books in Hereford Cathedral Library
Recently we had the very great privilege of being permitted to view some of the confiscated books from the Cwm Library.   Dr Rosemary Firman, librarian of Hereford Cathedral, showed us several books which are known to have come from the Jesuit Library at the Cwm.  One of the books was inscribed with the name of Thomas Gunter.  Thomas Gunter had a secret chapel in his mansion on Cross St in Abergavenny where Frs David Lewis and Philip Evans said Mass and administered the Sacraments to the Catholics who crowded into the attic chapel.  Dr Firman imparted many interesting facts about the books and, quite honestly, we were more than a little awed to be looking at books which had very likely been held, consulted or  read by St David Lewis over three hundred years ago.
For some very interesting information about the Jesuit Library at the Cwm visit Hannah's excellent blog here
Fr David Lewis was executed at Usk on 27 August 1679.  He was beatified in 1929 and Canonised as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales in 1970.
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