Tuesday, 28 August 2012


Portrait of St David Lewis in the Church of St Francis Xavier and St David Lewis, Usk

Two days ago, Sunday 26th August, the Annual Pilgrimage in honour of St David Lewis took place at Usk.  Despite the very wet summer we have experienced, the sun came out in all its splendour for the procession from Usk's Catholic Church to St Mary's Priory Church where the Martyr's remains are interred.  Below is a short video of the procession.

Mary in Monmouth has a good post about  Sunday's pilgrimage.  Click here to see it.

Monday, 27 August 2012


Three hundred and thirty-three years ago today a Welsh Jesuit priest, Fr David Lewis, was executed at Usk.  His crime was to be a Catholic priest in a time when it was deemed High Treason to be a Catholic priest and to celebrate Mass in England. 
Plaque marking site of execution of St David Lewis
David Henry Lewis was a Monmouthshire man, born in Abergavenny in 1616.  He was the youngest of the nine children of Morgan Lewis and Margaret Pritchard.  Although David's Catholic mother brought up eight of the children in the Catholic Faith, David's Protestant father had David brought up in the Established Religion.
David attended the local grammar school of which his father was headmaster.   Later he went to London to study law.  He travelled to Paris as tutor to a young nobleman and while in Paris David converted to Catholicism.
After the deaths of his parents in 1638 David entered the English College in Rome to study for the priesthood.  He was ordained there in 1642.  Later, following in the footsteps of his Jesuit uncle, David entered the Jesuit Novitiate of Sant Andrea in Rome.  
After profession as a Jesuit, Fr Lewis was sent on the English Mission.  After only a year he was recalled to Rome to take up a position in his old college.  However, he soon returned to Wales and here he laboured among his own people for the remainder of his life.
He was twice Superior of the Jesuit College of St Francis Xavier at the Cwm, on the Monmouthshire-Herefordshire border.  According to a pamphlet published in London in 1679, the Cwm consisted of spacious houses with several entrances and secret passages between some of the rooms.  Underneath the buildings there were extensive cellars, accessible both from inside and outside the houses - useful strongrooms where valuables could be hidden.  From one room a tunnel ran out into the neighbouring woods, in which there were many caves.  Remote and secluded, the Cwm was an ideal meeting place for Catholics on both sides of the Anglo-Welsh border.
The site of the Jesuit College, The Cwm
The Cwm had been known to the government authorities since as early as 1660 and possibly earlier.  However it was not until December 1678 that the Lords ordered an investigation by the Bishop of Hereford, Herbert Croft.  Croft had the enthusiastic support and assistance of John Arnold, John Scudamore and Charles Price. 
By this time, all the priests had been evacuated from the Cwm.  In fact, the Superior, Fr David Lewis, was a prisoner in Monmouth Gaol and had been since his arrest at Llantarnam on 17th November 1678.  Some priests found shelter with recusant families, others, including Fr Philip Evans were imprisoned, and others, hunted like wild beasts, sheltered in caves or woods.
While the raid did not turn up any hidden priests, it did yield a store of church plate, vestments and books.  Bishop Croft added many of the stolen books to his Cathedral Library. 
Viewing some of the Cwm books in Hereford Cathedral Library
Recently we had the very great privilege of being permitted to view some of the confiscated books from the Cwm Library.   Dr Rosemary Firman, librarian of Hereford Cathedral, showed us several books which are known to have come from the Jesuit Library at the Cwm.  One of the books was inscribed with the name of Thomas Gunter.  Thomas Gunter had a secret chapel in his mansion on Cross St in Abergavenny where Frs David Lewis and Philip Evans said Mass and administered the Sacraments to the Catholics who crowded into the attic chapel.  Dr Firman imparted many interesting facts about the books and, quite honestly, we were more than a little awed to be looking at books which had very likely been held, consulted or  read by St David Lewis over three hundred years ago.
For some very interesting information about the Jesuit Library at the Cwm visit Hannah's excellent blog here
Fr David Lewis was executed at Usk on 27 August 1679.  He was beatified in 1929 and Canonised as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales in 1970.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012



John Kemble, alias Holland, was born at Rhydicar Farm, St Weonard’s, Herefordshire in 1599. He was the son of John Kemble and Anne Morgan. He and St David Lewis were cousins. John Kemble’s mother, Anne Morgan, was a relative of David Lewis’s father, Morgan Lewis. John was ordained a priest at Douai on 23rd February 1625 and, on 4th June, was sent upon the English Mission. He spent the next 54 years labouring for the people of Herefordshire and Monmouthshire. He was greatly loved by his own people and respected throughout the area because, it was said, “he gave offence to none”.

In 1678, Fr John Kemble became another innocent victim of the non-existent Popish Plot. A lapsed Catholic, Captain John Scudamore of Kentchurch, was sent to arrest Fr Kemble at Pembridge Castle, where the aged priest was staying with his relatives. When urged to flee, the 80-year-old priest said, “According to the course of nature I have but a few years to live. It will be an advantage to suffer for my religion and therefore I will not abscond.” After three months in Hereford Gaol, he endured an agonizing journey to London where he and Fr David Lewis were lodged in Newgate Prison. They were interrogated by Oates and his fellow plotters but, since no evidence of involvement in any plot could be found, he was sent back to Hereford. In accordance with Statute 27 of Elizabeth I, he was tried for treason, i.e., for being a Catholic priest and saying Mass. He was found guilty and condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

On the morning of his execution, Fr Kemble made his devotions as usual. He then drank a cup of sack and smoked a pipe of tobacco with the undersheriff, Mr Digges, and the prison governor. (This is the origin of the Herefordshire custom of calling a parting drink or smoke a “Kemble Cup” or a “Kemble Pipe”.) Before his execution on Widemarsh Common, the good priest forgave those who had conspired against him and asked forgiveness of any whom he may have offended. He consoled the distraught hangman thus, “Honest Anthony, my friend Anthony, be not afraid; do thy office. I forgive thee with all my heart. Thou wilt do me a greater kindness than discourtesy.” He prayed silently for a few minutes then commended himself to God. The cart was drawn away and he was hanged. Such was the affection for Fr Kemble that he was allowed to die upon the gallows before being beheaded. He was also spared the grisly ritual of drawing and quartering. It was said, even by his persecutors, that they never saw one die so like a gentleman and so like a Christian. 

When the Martyr’s body was cut down from the scaffold, he fell with his hand beneath his head.  When he was beheaded, the hand was also cut off.  A devout woman in the crowd picked up the hand and carried it home in her apron.  For many years the hand was preserved in a small red wood box.  Eventually, it was given to the Catholic Church of St Francis Xavier, Hereford.    Near the end of the nineteenth century, a Mr Monteith of Carstairs presented the parish with a magnificent jewel- studded silver reliquary in which the hand now lies.  It can be seen today to the right of the High Altar.     
The Martyr's severed hand

 The martyr’s nephew, Captain Richard Kemble, who had saved the life of King Charles II at the Battle of Worcester, took the mutilated body to the church at Welsh Newton and buried it beside the churchyard cross. The gravestone is inscribed “J K Dyed the 22 of August Anno Do 1679”. There is a pilgrimage to the Saint’s grave every year on the Sunday nearest to 22nd August.

On 25th October 1970, St John Kemble and thirty-nine others were canonised by Pope Paul VI as the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

Sunday, 12 August 2012


St David Lewis depicted in a stained glass window in the Catholic Church, Porth-y-Carne St, Usk

The Annual Pilgrimage in honour of St David Lewis will take place on Sunday 26th August 2012.  The programme is as follows:

3:00 p m:  Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at the Catholic Church of SS Francis Xavier and St David Lewis, Porth-y-Carne St, Usk.
Ss Francis Xavier  & David Lewis Church, Porth-y-Carne St, Usk

Immediately Following Benediction, there will be a procession to the Martyr's grave at the Priory Church of St Mary, Usk.
The grave of St David Lewis, Priory Church, Usk

After a short service at the graveside, refreshments will be served in the Parish Hall, Porth-y-Carne St.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012


The Annual Pilgrimage to the grave of St John Kemble at Welsh Newton will take place on Sunday 19th August 2012. His Grace Archbishop George Stack will be in attendance. The programme is as follows:

10 a m: MONMOUTH
The walk begins from St Mary’s Church, Monmouth. Pilgrims are advised to bring a packed lunch.

Rosary, Readings and prayers at the grave of St John Kemble in the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin, Welsh Newton, Herefordshire.

4:15 p m: MONMOUTH
Benediction at St Mary's Church, Monmouth. Following Benediction, tea will be served in the garden. 
Related Posts with Thumbnails