Saturday, 23 December 2017

Sr Canisius, Sister of St Joseph of Annecy

The following notice was published in the South Wales Argus on 11th December 2017.

"Sisters of St Joseph Sister M Canisius Walsh Peacefully on 6th December Sister M Canisius Walsh at St Joseph's Convent, Llantarnam Abbey aged 93 years. Funeral Mass 11am Wednesday 13th December in Llantarnam Abbey Chapel. Burial afterwards in Abbey Cemetery. Family flowers only. Further enquiries to Phillip Tom and Sons, Pontymister. Tel: 615005."

For the canonisation of St David Lewis in 1970, Sr Canisius composed a beautiful hymn in his honour.  The hymn is still sung today whenever the faithful gather to remember the Abergavenny born Jesuit, Fr David Lewis. He was arrested at Llantarnam in November 1678 and was executed for his faith at Usk in August 1679.
Painting of St David Lewis which hangs in Llantarnam Abbey.
(photo by J Smith)
In memory of Sr Canisius, we post here the words of  her hymn, which is sung to the tune of 'Hyfrydol'.


Holy Martyr, David Lewis,
Monmouth County's glorious Saint.
Father of the Poor they named you,
When you lived and toiled in Gwent.
Priestly work was undertaken,
Danger-fraught from dawn till dusk.
Gladly still you served your people,
Till you died for them at Usk.

From your capture at Llantarnam,
Through your time in Monmouth Gaol,
Threats and tortures could not shake you,
For your faith would never fail.
Bravely then you faced the gallows,
Crudely fashioned for your death,
Further torment someone spared you,
Till you drew your latest breath.

Great and glorious David Lewis,
Staunch and steadfast in the strife,
Bless your people here in Monmouth,
Those for whom you gave your life.
Help us to be strong, courageous,
Loyal to our loving God,
To Him then will glory flourish,
In the places you have trod."

Rest in peace Sr Canisius.

Saturday, 18 November 2017


“For wherever a saint has dwelt, wherever a martyr has given his blood for the blood of Christ, there is holy ground, and the sanctity shall not depart from it though armies trample over it, though sightseers come with guide-books looking over it.”

So wrote T S Eliot in "Murder in the Cathedral", his play about the murder of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.
The Gunter Mansion, Cross St, Abergavenny
St Philip Evans
St David Lewis
If Eliot is right, then the Gunter Mansion on Cross St, Abergavenny, is indeed "holy ground" for here, not one but two, martyrs dwelt! Thomas Gunter, who had built a secret chapel in the attic of his Cross St mansion, kept two Jesuits at his home at a time when being a Catholic could mean death. His uncle, Fr David Lewis, and Fr Philip Evans, both stayed at Gunter's where they said Mass and tended to the spiritual needs of the Catholics of Abergavenny and surrounding area. Falsely accused in the fictitious Popish Plot, the two priests were martyred in 1679.  In 1970, Fr David Lewis and Fr Philip Evans were canonised by Pope Paul VI.

The Friends of Gunter Mansion are attempting to restore this important historic property.  To this end, they have opened a Pop-Up Exhibition in part of the old mansion.  It is open from 10:30 - 4:00, every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.  Entry is free (although donations wouldn't be refused).  Come in and meet the volunteers and, keeping Eliot's words in mind, learn about the courageous Gunters and the Saints who have dwelt in this venerable old building.
The Pop-Up Exhibition in part of the historic Gunter Mansion

Sunday, 5 November 2017


Fireworks over London
“Remember, remember, the fifth of November” Ah yes, Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot!  Indeed we do remember. Tonight, bonfires will burn and fireworks will thrill children and adults alike as we celebrate the failure of the infamous Guy Fawkes and his friends.  More than 400 years after the event, we still remember so let’s have a brief look at what we are remembering.

In Tudor and Stuart times, conditions were very hard for Catholics in this country.  The imposition of Protestantism, the Pope’s imprudent excommunication of the Queen in 1570, Catholic plots, and various rumours of plots, were all making life intolerable for those who wished to adhere to their Catholic Faith. 

King James I/VI
When Queen Elizabeth I died, Catholics had a glimmer of hope because the new King, James I, had seemed more sympathetic to their plight.  Unfortunately, the King’s actions soon proved this to be a forlorn hope.  The majority of Catholics made the best of things and quietly got on with living in dangerous and harsh circumstances.  However, there were some who, fed up with living so long under such brutal laws, decided to act.  One result was the disastrous Gunpowder Plot, which is the name given to the conspiracy to blow up the Houses of Parliament on 5th November 1605.  In truth, the origins of the plot are unclear.  For generations historians accepted that it was an attempt to re-establish Catholicism in England.  In recent times, some historians suspect that the affair was the work of agents-provocateurs who wished to bolster the State religion and discredit Catholics in general and the Jesuits in particular.  If this is the case, then they certainly found an enthusiastic patsy in Robert Catesby.  Although Guy Fawkes is the name we all remember, he wasn’t the leader of the band.  Robert Catesby was the main instigator and he was joined by others, including Thomas Winter, Thomas Percy and John Wright.  Fawkes was recruited because of his expertise with explosives.
Catesby and Fawkes with their co-conspirators
In short, the plan was to blow up the Houses of Parliament on the day of the state Opening when the King, Lords and Commons would all be present.  To this end, 36 barrels of gunpowder were placed in a cellar beneath the Houses of Parliament.  Fawkes was to light the fuses resulting in the buildings, King and members all being blown to Kingdom Come.  Fortunately for King and Parliament, an anonymous letter had been sent to Lord Monteagle, a Catholic, warning him to stay away from Parliament on 5th November.  He showed the letter to the King and, on 4th November, an initial search was made of Parliament.  At midnight, the cellar was thoroughly searched and Fawkes was found with the gunpowder.  He was immediately arrested and the plot foiled.  Upon the realisation that the plot had failed, the conspirators tried to flee. 
Guy Fawkes being interrogated
Some died in the attempt and the others were captured and, most probably, tortured in the Tower.  On 27th January 1606, they were tried in Westminster Hall for high treason.  All were convicted and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, the usual punishment for treason.  Within a few days the sentences were carried out. They were also beheaded and dismembered.  Then, to deter any others who might be planning plots of their own, their heads and quarters were displayed at various points around London.

In 1605, after the failure of the Gunpowder Plot, the King passed the ‘Thanksgiving Act’.  This Act specified that every year on 5th November special church services were to be held in thanksgiving to God for the thwarting of the murderous plot.  This annual commemoration continued for two centuries.

A "Horrible Histories"
influenced take on
Guy Fawkes
In order to make history more interesting to young people, it is sometimes presented in a lighter, more humorous way.  Perhaps that is acceptable if it manages to convey the facts and awaken interest but really, there is nothing humorous about the Gunpowder Plot.  Its success would have brought immeasurable death and destruction.  Its failure brought increased persecution and death for Catholics as well as centuries of mistrust, suspicion and discrimination.  It was in the light of such plots that Titus Oates found fertile ground for the spreading of his vile fabrication,the Popish/Oates Plot, more than sixty years later. 
St David Lewis S J

Due to the Oates Plot many innocent Catholics were imprisoned, executed or died from harsh treatment in prison.  Abergavenny born Jesuit, Fr David Lewis, was one of the victims.  He was executed at Usk on 27th August 1679.  His grave, in the churchyard of Usk’s Priory Church, is still a site of popular pilgrimage.

So there you have it, briefly.  Yes do “Remember, remember, the fifth of November”.  Enjoy your fireworks and your bonfire but be careful and stay safe!      

Thursday, 26 October 2017


The Gunter Premises on Cross Street, Abergavenny have for too long been neglected but at last something positive is happening. The Welsh Georgian Trust has purchased the building and a group of interested people, the Friends of Gunter Mansion, is dedicated to restoring the property and saving it for posterity.

The Gunter Mansion, Cross St, Abergavenny (Photo J D Smith)
To learn more about this very worthwhile project, just follow these links:

The A Board outside the Pop-Up Space (Photo J D Smith)

The Gunter Project Pop-Up Space (Photo J D Smith)
Just who were the Gunters and why is their former home so important?

James Gunter, born circa 1519, was the son of Watkin Gunter and Gwenllian Llwyd. James was descended from the Gunters of Tregunter, Breconshire, and it was his grandfather who had first settled at Abergavenny.  In 1536 he was admitted to Gray’s Inn where he trained as a lawyer.  About 1544, James married Ann Westcott.  In 1554 he was elected to Parliament as the Member for Monmouthshire. 

In partnership with his cousin, Richard Gunter of Oxford, James Gunter speculated in monastic lands, both as an agent for others and also on his own behalf. At the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, Abergavenny’s Benedictine Priory Church became the Parish Church and Gunter purchased the Priory and its demesne. 

King Charles I
James Gunter died in London in 1558. The Gunter family continued to live at the Priory for five generations and, in July 1645, his descendant, also named James Gunter, entertained no less a personage than King Charles I after the King’s escape from the Battle of Naseby.

Sometime around 1600, James Gunter’s grandson, Thomas Gunter, purchased part of the Priory lands and constructed a house (the Gunter Mansion on Cross Street). Little did Thomas know the vital part his mansion would play in the history of Abergavenny and of Catholicism!

Plaque on Gunter House
(Photo J D Smith)
Thomas Gunter’s son, Thomas, was a prominent Abergavenny lawyer and justice of the peace.  He was also a staunch Catholic.  This Thomas Gunter furnished a secret chapel in the attic of their home on Cross Street.  Here the Catholics of the area came to hear Mass and to receive the comforts of their forbidden religion. 

Thomas kept two Jesuits, his uncle, Fr
Fr David Lewis
(Photo J D Smith)
David Lewis, and Fr Philip Evans.  Fr Lewis was Abergavenny born and had links with many of Abergavenny’s leading citizens. The secret chapel was obviously not so secret because rabid priest hunter, John Arnold, reported its existence to Parliament. Mr Greenhaugh, the Vicar of Abergavenny did likewise. They described the
“mark of the Jesuits” on the outside of the house and reported the comings and goings of the Catholics who attended services in the Gunter chapel

Fr Philip Evans
(Photo J D Smith)
At the height of the Titus Oates Plot in 1678, both priests were arrested.  David Lewis was captured at Llantarnam and Philip Evans at Sker House.  In the summer of 1679 they were martyred for the treasonable offence of being Catholic priests and saying Mass. 

In October 1970, Frs David Lewis and Philip Evans, along with 38 others, were canonised by Pope Paul VI.  The group is known collectively as the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

So, why save this wonderful old building? Certainly its association with the prominent Gunter family and with two saints of the Catholic Church affords it great significance.  It is a little known but very significant part of not only Abergavenny’s history but also of the nation’s history.  As well, its attic chapel, where two brave and holy priests provided for the religious needs of their fellow Catholics, should surely be of major import to Catholics everywhere.
Inside the Pop-Up Space (Photo J D Smith)
To keep up to date with this exciting project, remember to visit the links below.
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