Tuesday, 26 November 2013


Hannah Thomas is still finding some extremely interesting facts about the Jesuit College of St Francis Xavier at the Cwm.  Her blog, The Cwm Jesuit Library at Hereford Cathedral,  is a mine of information and any history buffs out there would be doing themselves a great favour to look in to her latest posts.  You will find some riveting reading there.  Here is a link to her latest post.  Click here and treat yourself!

Sunday, 17 November 2013


On this day 335 years ago a good and innocent man was betrayed by so called friends.  This act of treachery was perpetrated on the Welsh Jesuit, Fr David Lewis, as he prepared to celebrate holy Mass at Llantarnam, Cwmbran.  In those sad and turbulent times it was against the law to practise the Catholic Religion in the country.  It was deemed high treason to be a Catholic priest, to remain in the country and to celebrate Mass.  However, Fr Lewis, along with many other courageous priests, remained and tended to the needs of the harassed Catholics the length and breadth of the poor benighted country. 

The Church of St Michael and All Angels, Llantarnam, Cwmbran.  This ancient church is opposite the spot where St David Lewis was arrested on 17th  November 1678.  The Public Footpath which runs beside the church is believed to have been in use for hundreds of years.  If this is correct, then it is quite possible that St David Lewis tread this path on his visits to Llantarnam Abbey where he lived for a time with his relatives, the Morgans, and said Mass in their private chapel for the Catholics of the surrounding area.

John Arnold of Llanvihangel Court was a Justice of the Peace and a Member of Parliament.  Although he was a staunch adherent of the new State Religion and an avid priest hunter, Arnold had always shown friendship towards David Lewis and the Jesuit seems to have trusted the man and believed the friendship to be genuine.  Sadly, John Arnold was not to be trusted and on Sunday, 17th November 1678, the perfidious Arnold sent his goons to arrest the hapless priest.  The following is an account of the arrest, written by Fr Lewis himself:
“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”

This plaque at the Old Post Office (now a private house) was erected in 2007.  
The plaque marks the site where St David Lewis was
arrested on 17th November 1678.

On 27th August 1679, after a fixed trial and nine months of incarceration, Fr David Lewis was slaughtered at Usk.  His only crime was to be a Catholic priest who said Mass.  History records for us that the charge against the priest was “David Lewis pro Sacerd Roman”, that is “David Lewis for being a Roman Priest”.   We also have the words of Judge Atkins, the trial judge, who stated; “It is enough that you have exercised the functions of a priest in copes and vestments used in your Church, and that you shall have read Mass and taken Confessions.   HE THAT USES TO READ MASS COMMITS TREASON!”
In October 1970, Pope Paul VI canonised the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.  The Welsh Jesuit, Fr David Lewis, was among them.  Today, on this 335th anniversary of the arrest of St David Lewis at Llantarnam, let us be inspired by his heroism, bravery and faithfulness and pray for our Christian brethren in various parts of the world who are still suffering persecution for the sake of their Christian faith.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013


St John Kemble and St David Lewis were kinsmen.   David Lewis was a Jesuit priest and John Kemble a secular priest.   Both priests served the Welsh Mission in a time when to be a Catholic was to risk much but to be a Catholic priest was to risk all!   During the Titus Oates Plot the cousins were arrested, tried and convicted of High Treason. To be a Catholic priest and to say Mass was considered High Treason! They were sentenced to the usual punishment for High Treason, to be hanged, drawn and quartered.   On 22nd August 1679 eighty year old Fr John Kemble was executed at Widemarsh Common, Hereford. Just five days later, on 27th August 1679 David Lewis was executed at Usk. He is the LAST WELSH MARTYR. 
On 25th October 1970, Pope Paul VI canonised John Kemble and David Lewis along with thirty-eight other Martyrs. Collectively they are known as The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.


This year, the Annual pilgrimage in honour of ST DAVID LEWIS will take place on SUNDAY 25th AUGUST 2013.
3:00 p m: Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at Catholic Church of St Francis Xavier and St David Lewis, Porth-y-Carne Street, Usk.  Following Benediction, pilgrims will process from the Church to the grave of St David Lewis in the churchyard of St Mary's Priory Church, Usk.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013


Just thought you would enjoy this photo.


The Martyrdom of St John Kemble
This year, the Annual Pilgrimage in honour of St John Kemble will take place on SUNDAY 18th AUGUST 2013.  The pilgrimage begins with pilgrims setting off from St Mary’s Catholic Church, Monmouth after the 9 a m Mass at approximately 10 a m.   If you are planning to join this part of the Pilgrimage, be sure to take a packed lunch and suitable clothing!
Meet at 3 p m for readings and prayers at the Martyr’s grave in the churchyard at Welsh Newton.
Return to St Mary’s Church, Monmouth for Benediction at 4:15 p m.  Refreshments will be served in the garden following Benediction.
It is not compulsory to complete all stages of the pilgrimage and you are welcome to join the pilgrimage at either event.

Saturday, 6 July 2013


A recent visit to pretty little Grosmont provided us with an unexpected discovery.  
Gravestone of Charles William/s and Joan Baker
Details of the Gravestone, displayed to the left of the stone. 
 Is this where the Gabb branch of the family originated?

Grosmont is a village located near the Welsh/English border.  Not far from Abergavenny, Grosmont is a small village but, as well as pretty, it is full of history.   As we explored the ancient parish church we came upon a memorial of particular interest to  this blog.  The Church of St Nicholas was built around the 13th century but it was restored in the mid 19th century.  We spent a good hour or more exploring its many interesting features.  We were saddened to learn that part of a medieval crucifix which had been displayed in the church was stolen recently. 
St David Lewis, to whom this blog is dedicated, was born in Abergavenny into a large and prominent family.  Like families today, his family was a mixture of Catholic and Protestant members.    Descended from Lewys Wallis, a Protestant Vicar of St Mary's Priory Church, Abergavenny, David was brought up in the Established Church by his Anglican father, Morgan Lewis.  However, David's mother, Margaret Pritchard, was a Catholic and she brought his eight siblings up in the Catholic faith.
When he was about sixteen years of age, David spent some time in Paris and, while there, he converted to Catholicism.  After the death of his parents in 1638 David entered the English College in Rome where he commenced studies for the priesthood.  Several years after his ordination, Fr Lewis joined the Jesuits.  He was eventually assigned to the English Mission.   Because of the Penal Laws against Catholics, which were in force at that time, he worked under the alias of Charles Baker.  After more than thirty years of serving the Catholics of South Wales, Fr David Lewis was arrested at Llantarnam on 17th  November 1678.  He was imprisoned first in Monmouth Gaol then later transferred to Usk Gaol.  Found guilty of being a Catholic Priest and saying Mass, which was considered High Treason, he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.  On 27th August 1679, Fr David Lewis S J was taken from his cell in Usk Gaol, tied head down to a hurdle and dragged along the River Path to his execution.  He was buried in the churchyard of St Mary's Priory Church, Usk.  In October 1970, he was canonised as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.  
We are always interested in any connection to St David Lewis and it was in the Church of St Nicholas at Grosmont that we found a lovely connection, a monument to a cousin of St David Lewis!  The old gravestone of Charles William/s and his wife Joan Baker is mounted on the wall at the rear of the church and details are given on a display to the left of the stone.  I was surprised and delighted to find that Joan Baker was a cousin of St David Lewis.  I have done a rough chart to show the relationship of the two.
This chart shows the relationship between
Joan Baker and St David Lewis
If you are interested in St David Lewis, you would find a trip to Grosmont rewarding.  If you aren't interested in St David Lewis, you would still find a trip to Grosmont rewarding!  As well as the ancient church you can explore the equally ancient castle and  the pretty, well kept village. You can then relax in the friendly atmosphere of  Gentle Jane's with a delicious cake and a steaming drink.  All in all, a visit to Grosmont is a pleasure not to be missed.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013


Mapledurham Gurney was the larger of two Manors mentioned in the Domesday Book.  In 1490, the Manor was purchased by Richard Blount.   Descendants of Richard Blount still live in Mapledurham House. 

About 1588 Sir Michael Blount felt the four hundred year old house was not befitting a man of his status so he set about replacing the old Manor with the present house.  Little remains of the old Manor House now.
Inside the oldest part of the Manor
The oldest part of the Manor

These were difficult and dangerous times for Catholics.  Priests and laypeople alike were in danger of losing property, liberty, and life itself.  Priests conducted their mission in secret and many were assisted by Catholic gentry who gave them shelter.  The priests would say Mass and administer the sacraments to Catholics in the secret chapels which these recusant gentry provided in their homes.  Catholic Sir Michael had two secret hiding places, priest holes, constructed off a first floor bedroom.  Located in Oxfordshire, Mapledurham was on the River Thames and thus an ideal location for a Catholic Safe House.  Priests could approach the house from the river thereby avoiding the danger of being spotted as a stranger entering the village on horseback or on foot.  All recusant houses had a secret sign and at the back of this house is a gable covered with oyster shells.  This could be seen from the River and it was a sign to Catholics that this was a Catholic house and a safe refuge where Mass was celebrated.  
Oyster Shells on the gable


The gable with the secret sign,
Oyster Shells on the gable

With something to interest everyone, this historic old Manor House is a delight to visit.  The pleasant grounds, the beautiful Anglican Church and the ancient watermill add to the enjoyment of a visit to Mapledurham.  It is also of interest to film buffs as it has often been used in films and television.  Perhaps the best know film is the 1970s classic, ‘The Eagle Has Landed’.    

I was particularly interested in its Catholic history which, in my opinion, wasn’t emphasized enough by the guides who were otherwise very informative and obliging.  However, Mapledurham is an important and interesting part of English history and definitely isn’t just for Catholics!

An interesting fact imparted to us by one of the guides is that the owners of Mapledurham House are descendants of St Thomas More, one of the early Reformation Martyrs.  In 1814, Charles Eyston married Maria Teresa Metcalfe who, through her mother, was a descendant of St Thomas More.  Mapledurham’s present owner, John Joseph Eyston, is the great-great-grandson of Charles and Maria.   Pictures of St Thomas More, his father, John More, and his son, hang in the passage which takes one to what is known as the Staircase Hall.

The library at Mapledurham House holds a vast collection of antique books, some written by the Antiquary, Charles Eyston.  Many of these valuable books are Catholic Recusant books, written in Latin.  These 16th and 17th century books would have been printed on the continent and smuggled into the country.  At that time, it was against the law to own Catholic literature so those who smuggled them into the country, if caught, faced the death penalty!   There are, too, some of Alexander Pope’s books which he bequeathed to a family member in 1744.  A beautifully restored portable altar, disguised as a writing desk, can also be seen in the library.

Among the many paintings at Mapledurham House is a curious painting of flowers on a black background.  The roses and peonies used in the painting symbolise mortality.  In the middle of the flowers is an arched black panel.  The guide book tells us that, originally, the Deposition of Christ was depicted in this panel but it was painted out in the 1600s when Catholicism was prohibited in England.

Soon after the Second Catholic Relief Act was passed in 1791 the family built a chapel onto the back of Mapledurham House.  This was one of the first Catholic Chapels legally built in England since the Reformation.  Like others of the time, it was built in the Strawberry Hill Gothic style and designed to seat about fifty people.  We noticed two small statues of the family martyr, St Thomas More, in the chapel. The Chapel was dedicated to St Michael in 1797 and Mass is still celebrated there today.  The Chapel faces the Anglican Parish Church of St Margaret and is separated from it by a courtyard.    
The Chapel Entrance
Inside the chapel
There has been a church on the site since Norman times but the present church was begun in the late 13th century by William Bardolf and his wife, Juliana de Gournay.  Apart from its Norman font, not much of the original church is evident today.  The beautiful Parish Church of St Margaret is an Anglican church with a Catholic aisle, the Bardolf Aisle.  Curious?  Unusual?  Perhaps there are others in the country but I have not encountered this arrangement before and I find it a very interesting one. 
The Anglican Church of St Margaret, Mapledurham
Sometime between 1381 and 1395, the south aisle was added as a chantry chapel and family burial place with an altar at its east end.  When the Blounts bought the Manor in the late 15th century, the aisle became their property and their burial place.    There are some interesting monuments in the Bardolf Aisle, including the hatchment of Michael Henry Blount.  A hatchment is a large heraldic painting, originally displayed over the front door of the house of a nobleman upon his death.  After twelve months, the period of mourning, the hatchment was taken down and brought to the church and hung above his tomb.  (“No trophy, sword or hatchment o’er his bones” Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5)
Some monuments in the Bardolf Aisle
The 14th century Bardolf Aisle
Michael Henry Blount's Hatchment
The Bardolf Aisle is separated from the Church and there has been no direct access between aisle and church for almost five hundred years.  Nonetheless, the Bardolf Aisle remains a privately owned Catholic aisle within an Anglican Parish Church.   
The Bardolf Aisle taken from the Church
The Bardolf Aisle & the Parish Church of St Margaret
On the outside south east wall of the church, there is a Mass Dial.  Mass Dials, or scratch dials, were usually located near the main door or the priest door.  A mediaeval device, their main function was to indicate the times of church services.
Then there is Mapledurham Watermill.  This mill, mentioned in the Domesday Book, has had a chequered history but it is now restored.   It is the oldest working watermill on the Thames. Tours  of the mill are available and it is possible to purchase superb flour from its little shop.  I hasten to add that you have not tasted Semolina Pudding unless you have used Mapledurham Watermill semolina!    
Mapledurham Watermill, the oldest working
watermill on the Thames
For a great day out, a visit to Mapledurham House in Oxfordshire is one that will surely please and delight you.

Saturday, 30 March 2013


Site of the arrest of St David Lewis
Fr David Lewis S J had been arrested at Llantarnam on 17th November 1678 and imprisoned in Monmouth gaol.  On 13th January 1679 he was transferred to the gaol at Usk.  On 28th March he was again back in Monmouth to be tried at the spring assizes which was presided over by Sir Robert Atkins. 

The Monnow Bridge
Fr Lewis was indicted under Statute 27 Elizabeth which deemed it a capital crime to be ordained abroad and return to England for more than forty days.  The charge against him was “David Lewis pro Sacerd Roman”, that is “David Lewis for being a Roman Priest”!  The charge against the priest was read by the Clerk of the Assizes; “Here thou standest indicted of High Treason by the name of David Lewis, for thou being a natural subject of the King of England, hast passed beyond the seas and taken Orders from the Church and See of Rome”.

Fr Lewis pointed out that it was necessary for the prosecution to prove him guilty of the charge of being ordained overseas and taken Orders from the See of Rome.  Judge Atkins responded to this with a curt rebuff but his words made it clear for all time exactly why the priest was condemned.  “What do you expect?  Shall we search the records at Rome, or bring persons to prove that they saw you ordained?  It is enough that you have exercised the functions of a priest in copes and vestments used in your Church, and that you shall have read Mass and taken Confessions.  HE THAT USES TO READ MASS COMMITS TREASON!”
The priest hunter, John Arnold, was allowed to sit next to the Judge and permitted to challenge the jurors one by one until he had achieved his goal – a jury that was anything but impartial and certain to convict the priest! This manipulation of the jury did not go unnoticed and the High Sheriff of Monmouthshire protested that Arnold was guilty of “packing the jury”.  His protestations came to naught when Judge Atkins reprimanded him for being “saucy”.  John Arnold was now secure in the knowledge that his handpicked jury would seal the fate of the hapless Fr David Lewis.
At about 10 o’clock the following morning, 29th March 1679, the trial of Fr David Lewis began.  Several witnesses were called who swore that they had seen him celebrate Mass.  Chief among them were William and Dorothy James.  However, two of the Crown’s other witnesses heroically refused to give evidence against Fr Lewis.  The defendant challenged the character of some of the witnesses brought against him and exposed the sheer malice of Dorothy James.   With John Arnold’s influence, there was no chance of the accused getting anything even resembling a fair trial and the verdict was a foregone conclusion.  It was sufficient that Dorothy and William James had sworn they had seen the Jesuit say Mass and on this evidence the jury was directed that “If you believe what the witnesses swore you must find the prisoner guilty”.  As expected, the jury found him guilty of treason!

Usk Gaol where St David Lewis awaited his execution

Judge Atkins then put on his cap and pronounced the sentence:  “David Lewis, thou shalt be led from this place to a place whence thou camest, and shalt be put upon a hurdle and drawn with thy heels forward to the place of execution where thou shalt be hanged by the neck and be cut down alive; thy body to be ripped open and thy bowels plucked out; thou shalt be dismembered and thy members burnt before thy face.  So the Lord have mercy on thy soul.”
Upon hearing the sentence Fr Lewis made a low bow toward the judge and was led away.  He was returned to Usk Gaol where he was to await his gruesome fate.  On 27th August 1679 Fr David Lewis, the last Welsh martyr, was executed for the crime of being a Catholic Priest and saying Mass.  

St David Lewis was martyred near this site

Friday, 25 January 2013


I have read several books, written by local authors, stating that St David Lewis was the last Catholic martyr in Britain.  This has also been said in an otherwise excellent video available on youtube.  I don't wish to engender any controversy but I feel I should point out that this is incorrect
Fr David Lewis S J (alias Charles Baker) was executed at Usk on 27th August 1679.  He, along with 39 others, was canonised in 1970 by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.  ST DAVID LEWIS was the LAST WELSH MARTYR.  
St David Lewis, the Last Welsh Martyr
On 1st July 1681 Oliver Plunkett, the Archbishop of Armagh, was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, London.  He was beatified in 1920 and canonised in 1975 by Pope  Paul VI.  ST OLIVER PLUNKETT was the LAST CATHOLIC MARTYR in this country.
St Oliver Plunkett, the last Catholic martyr
in Britain
Follow this link for more information on St Oliver Plunket.

Sunday, 13 January 2013



On Monday, 18th November 1678, Fr David Lewis, a Jesuit priest, was incarcerated in Monmouth Gaol.  His false friend, John Arnold, who was a Justice of the Peace and  Member of Parliament, had promised that he would not allow him to be treated with “any incivility or severity” but had secretly ordered that a strict watch be kept on the priest.  Hence, Fr Lewis was kept a close prisoner and not allowed to leave his cell.   However, the Under Keeper, a more reasonable man, allowed friends to visit the priest during the day.  Through these visits the priest learned of the fate of his friends and fellow priests.  He would also have learned of the sacking of the Jesuit College of St Francis Xavier at a place called the Cwm.  Fr Lewis had served as Superior of the College and would feel great distress at its devastation.

Monmouth's Ancient Bridge
In the New Year, the new High Sheriff, James Herbert, decided to move the County Gaol from Monmouth to Usk.  So it was that on 13th January 1679, the Deputy Sheriff and the Head Gaoler rode with Fr David Lewis to Usk.   The weather was atrocious, bitterly cold and snowing.  When the group reached Raglan they stopped at an Inn to warm themselves.  While there a messenger arrived with sad news for Fr Lewis.  A friend and colleague from the Cwm, Fr Ignatius Price, lay dying in a barn about half a mile away.  The dying priest wished to see Fr Lewis.  As he was himself a prisoner in the custody of the Deputy Sheriff and the Head Gaoler, Fr Lewis was unable to comply with this heart-rending request.    Fr 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 Lewis learned of the death of his friend.
Site of Usk Gaol where St David Lewis was imprisoned

Usk Gaol, also known as the House of Correction or Old Bridewell, was situated on the north side of Bridge Street.  The Gaol, at 28 Bridge St, had originally been a Friary, a house of the Grey Friars. It became a House of Correction in the mid 1600s and served until Usk Prison was built about 1842.  When Fr David Lewis was imprisoned there it was crowded with Catholics who had refused to take the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy.  One prisoner was a widow, Jane Harris, who had given refuge to a priest.  She was betrayed by her butcher when he noticed her buying extra meat!  Fr Lewis would have known most, if not all, of these people for he had spent his priestly life toiling among the persecuted Catholics of the area, travelling mostly at night and probably on foot, to bring them what help and comfort he could.

St David Lewis was martyred on or near this spot in 1679

On 27th August 1679, this good man whose kindness had earned him the name of “Father of the Poor” was taken from Usk Gaol and dragged on a hurdle to a place known as the Coniger where he was executed for the “crime” of being a Catholic Priest.  The actual site of his death is believed to be within the grounds of Porth-Y-Carne House, opposite the Catholic Church of St Francis Xavier and St David Lewis.  The martyred Fr David Lewis was permitted a decent burial.  Reverently carried in procession to the Priory Church of St Mary, he was interred in the Churchyard.   The grave of St David Lewis is the nearest one to the main entrance of the church and every year on the Sunday nearest to 27th August pilgrims flock to this holy site to pay their respects to the Last Welsh Martyr.  
The Grave of St David Lewis
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