Tuesday, 7 August 2018


This year marks the 339th anniversary of  the martyrdom of St David Lewis. Abergavenny born David Lewis was a Jesuit priest who risked life and limb ministering to the embattled Catholics of Monmouthshire and surrounding areas during the dreadful days of Penal Laws against Catholics.  It was against the law to be a Catholic and those who chose to stubbornly stay loyal to the "Old Faith" did so at great financial as well as  personal risk.  To be a Catholic Priest was considered High Treason and, if found guilty, the punishment was to be hanged, drawn and quartered.
 St David Lewis, Llantarnam Abbey (Photo J D Smith)
To be fair, in most places, the local authorities were usually hesitant in applying the laws and many turned a blind eye to the religious practises of their neighbours, friends, and even family members who still clung to their Catholic faith. In Wales Catholics were know by that beautiful name of "Plant Mair"  which means "Children of Mary".  How lovely is that? 

Monmouthshire Member of Parliament, John Arnold, was certainly not one of those tolerant men.  Indeed, he was a fanatical anti-Catholic and rabid priest hunter.  He was determined to root out Catholicism from every corner of the country.  

Although Arnold feigned friendship with Fr David Lewis, he played the main part in the downfall of the priest.  Unlike Arnold, Fr Lewis was a kind and gentle man who was greatly loved.  For his kindness to all, he was  know as "Tad y Tlodion", "Father of the poor".

On Sunday morning, 29th  November 1678, as Fr Lewis prepared to celebrate Mass, Arnold's lackeys arrested him. (For more on his arrest, click here) He was first taken to Abergavenny and then to Arnold's home, Llanvihangel Court, Llanvihangel Crucorney,  about 5 miles from Abergavenny.  Here David Lewis spent his first night in captivity before being taken to Monmouth Gaol where he was incarcerated.  
Llanvihangel Court (Photo J D Smith)
In 1679, on a cold and utterly miserable January day, The good priest was moved to Usk Gaol. Eventually, on 27th August 1679, Father David Lewis S J, was executed at Usk. It is a testimony to the high esteem in which he was held that he was given a respectful burial in the churchyard of the Anglican Priory of St Mary, Usk. David Lewis was canonised in October 1970 by Pope Paul VI. It is true that we give glory to God by honouring His saints and, even today, many people visit this saint's grave to pay homage to his courage and steadfast faith and to ask his prayers for their own needs.
The Saint's grave (Photo J D Smith)
If you are in the Abergavenny area, you might like to avail of the opportunity of visiting what was once John Arnold's home.  It is a private home but Llanvihangel Court is open to the public at certain times of the year.  This year, you can visit this historic Tudor house between the hours of 2:30 and 5:30 from 10th to 15th August.  Entrance fee includes a guided tour of the house and access to the beautiful gardens. 

When we visited several years ago there wasn't much said of John Arnold's nefarious deeds.  St David Lewis wasn't spoken of at all. As I said, it is a few years since we visited and it might be different now. We did ask questions about St David Lewis and the night he spent there so perhaps he now gets a mention.  You never know!

I am not touting for business for Llanvihangel Court but it is an awesome feeling, as well as a great privilege, to find yourself in a house where once a holy man, who gave his life for the Catholic faith and the Mass, was briefly lodged.  
The Becket Window, Christ Church, Oxford (Photo J D Smith)
"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 guidebooks looking over it."  (T S Eliot, "Murder in the Cathedral")

Thursday, 2 August 2018


Edward Powell was a Catholic priest who was born in Wales around 1478.  Powell had a brilliant mind and was a Fellow of Oriel College Oxford in 1495. 
King Henry VIII
He became a court preacher and was held in high esteem by King Henry VIII.  It is said that he helped Henry write Assertio Septem Sacramentorum’, a ‘Defence of the Seven Sacraments,’ in reply to Luther’s attack on indulgences.  For this, Pope Leo X rewarded Henry with the title Fidei Defensor’, ‘Defender of the Faith’ in 1521.  (That’s another story!)  Then in 1523 Powell published his own work on this subject for which Oxford University wrote to the King calling Powell “the glory of the University”.

Fr Powell’s slide from favour began when he was one of the four theologians selected to defend the legality of the King’s marriage to Catherine of
Queen Catherine of Aragon
 Aragon.  Denouncing Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn was another nail in his coffin and when he refused to take the oath of succession, he was deprived of his benefices and imprisoned in the Tower of London.  Found guilty of High Treason, Fr Powell received the usual sentence of hanging, drawing and quartering.  The sentence was carried out on 30 July 1540.  I suppose we could say King Henry was impartial, dispensing with all who opposed him, Catholic or Protestant!  Fr Powell, two other Catholics and three Protestants suffered together.  The six victims were dragged on hurdles from the Tower to Smithfield.  A Catholic and a Protestant shared each hurdle and Fr Powell’s companion was Robert Barnes, a Protestant divine.  The six suffered horrific deaths – the Catholics, considered traitors, were hanged drawn and quartered.  The Protestants, considered heretics, were burnt.  Fr Edward Powell was beatified by Pope Leo XIII on 29th December 1886 (cultus confirmation).

The plaque in University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford (Photo J D Smith)

In the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, a plaque has been erected to remember both Catholics and Protestants who suffered death in the terrible times of religious strife in this country.  The Welsh scholar and priest, Fr Edward Powell, is the second name on the plaque.

Saturday, 14 July 2018


"Protestants" and "Roman Catholics", two terms in popular usage today, have been with us since the  sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  What exactly are their origins? 

Martin Luther
In 1529, princes sympathetic to Martin Luther at the Imperial Diet at Speyer, issued a "protest" against the German Emperor, Charles V and his Catholic allies. From this point on, Luther's adherents were called "Protestants". Eventually, the label was applied to all who adhered to the tenets of the Reformation. 

King James I
King James I of England died in 1625. Towards the end of his reign, he sought to arrange a Spanish Catholic marriage for his son Charles.  It was during the negotiations, in 1623, that Catholics in England first became known officially as "Roman Catholics".  This was at the insistence of the Spanish who were sensitive to the fact that the Church of England regarded itself as the "Catholic Church in England".

You might like to delve deeper but, briefly, that is it.
Related Posts with Thumbnails