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!      
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