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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