|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.