During the years of persecution in England, Catholics could not hold public office, attend university, inherit or own a horse nor practise their religion. To be a Catholic priest was deemed high treason and many were hanged, drawn and quartered for saying Mass and carrying out their priestly functions. Central to the Mass are the sacred vessels used. The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us “The chalice occupies the first place among sacred vessels”.
Many examples of ancient chalices have been discovered. Some are simple & some are elaborate. The two I will deal with today are quite simple chalices. Though they are simple in appearance they are both valuable in that they were owned and used by priests during the penal days of the 1600s. Both chalices are in the safekeeping of the Catholic Church at Abergavenny and I am grateful to the Parish Priest, Dom Thomas Regan O S B, for allowing us to see and photograph these precious relics.
|Two 17th century silver chalices used during Penal Times when to be a Catholic priest was considered High Treason|
Thomas Gunter was a prominent and wealthy citizen of Abergavenny. He was also a fearless and staunch Catholic. At his mansion in Cross Street, Gunter kept two Jesuit priests, Frs Philip Evans and David Lewis. Thomas Gunter also had a secret chapel in his house where Catholics of the area would gather for Mass celebrated by the intrepid Jesuits. A report referring to this “secret” 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.”
During the bloodbath engendered by the Popish Plot invented by the evil Titus Oates, both priests were arrested and imprisoned. Fr Evans was imprisoned in Cardiff Castle and Fr Lewis in Monmouth Gaol. Fr Lewis was later moved to Usk Gaol. Tried and convicted of the High Treason of being Catholic priests who “read Mass” Fr Evans and Fr Lewis were condemned to be hanged drawn and quartered.
Monmouth born Fr Philip Evans was martyred at Cardiff on 22nd July 1679. He was thirty-four years old. This 17th century chalice is thought to have belonged to Fr Philip Evans.
|This 17th century silver chalice is thought to have|
belonged to St Philip Evans
His friend, colleague and superior, Fr David Lewis, who was Abergavenny born and bred, was martyred at Usk on 27th August 1679. This silver chalice was designed to be dismantled and hidden away at the first sign of priest hunters. It was owned and used by Fr David Lewis. As such it is a sacred relic of the martyred priest and a very important part of our Catholic heritage in this country.
|This 17th century silver chalice belonged to St David Lewis|
On 25th October 1970, the two heroic Welsh priests, Fr Philip Evans and Fr David Lewis, were canonised by Pope Paul VI as two of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.