On this day 335 years ago a good and innocent man was betrayed by so called friends. This act of treachery was perpetrated on the Welsh Jesuit, Fr David Lewis, as he prepared to celebrate holy Mass at Llantarnam, Cwmbran. In those sad and turbulent times it was against the law to practise the Catholic Religion in the country. It was deemed high treason to be a Catholic priest, to remain in the country and to celebrate Mass. However, Fr Lewis, along with many other courageous priests, remained and tended to the needs of the harassed Catholics the length and breadth of the poor benighted country.
John Arnold of Llanvihangel Court was a Justice of the Peace and a Member of Parliament. Although he was a staunch adherent of the new State Religion and an avid priest hunter, Arnold had always shown friendship towards David Lewis and the Jesuit seems to have trusted the man and believed the friendship to be genuine. Sadly, John Arnold was not to be trusted and on Sunday, 17th November 1678, the perfidious Arnold sent his goons to arrest the hapless priest. The following is an account of the arrest, written by Fr Lewis himself:
“After my full thirty years poor missionary labours in South Wales, on Sunday morning, a little before day, being the 17th November 1678, I was taken by six armed men sent by Mr John Arnold and Mr Charles Price, until then my two very good friends and acquaintances. I was taken in a little house in the parish of St Michael-Llantarnam in the County of Monmouth. From thence by the soldiers, together with such church stuff of mine they there found, carried I was to the house of Mr Charles Price in Llanfoist”
This plaque at the Old Post Office (now a private house) was erected in 2007.
The plaque marks the site where St David Lewis was
arrested on 17th November 1678.
On 27th August 1679, after a fixed trial and nine months of incarceration, Fr David Lewis was slaughtered at Usk. His only crime was to be a Catholic priest who said Mass. History records for us that the charge against the priest was “David Lewis pro Sacerd Roman”, that is “David Lewis for being a Roman Priest”. We also have the words of Judge Atkins, the trial judge, who stated; “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!”
In October 1970, Pope Paul VI canonised the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. The Welsh Jesuit, Fr David Lewis, was among them. Today, on this 335th anniversary of the arrest of St David Lewis at Llantarnam, let us be inspired by his heroism, bravery and faithfulness and pray for our Christian brethren in various parts of the world who are still suffering persecution for the sake of their Christian faith.