New shrine dedicated to Saint David Lewis

by Dr. James Campbell

Sunday November 18 marked a great day for the Catholic faith in Wales.

A new shrine was dedicated to the martyr Saint David Lewis at the church of SS David Lewis & Francis Xavier, in Usk, Wales.

David Lewis was born in Abergavenny in the year 1616. He was brought up as a Protestant but later became a Catholic. Both his parents died in 1638 and that same year, David set off for Rome. He entered the Venerable English College on 6th. November 1638 to prepare for ordination to the Sacred Priesthood. David Lewis assumed the name of Charles Baker (A common practice in those days of persecution). He completed his studies, receiving Minor Orders in June 1641 and was ordained to the Priesthood on 20th July 1642.

​Father David Lewis entered the Jesuit Novitiate at Sant’ Andrea in Rome on 19th April 1645. After Profession, his superiors immediately sent him to Wales. He was recalled to Rome after only a short stay, to take up the role of Spiritual Director at his old College.

This lasted one year, as the Mission in South Wales, which had been founded in 1620, petitioned for Father David’s immediate return to his homeland. This being granted by his superiors, Father David was sent back to Wales, to the Jesuit Mission of St. Francis Xavier at a place called ‘The Cwm’ in 1648, where he was to work for the next thirty years. On Sunday 17th November 1678 Father David Lewis was arrested at Llantarnam as he was preparing to say Mass.

At his trial, he was condemned as a Roman Catholic Priest who said Mass, which was considered high treason against the Crown. For this, he was executed at Usk on Wednesday 27thAugust 1679

Father David Lewis was canonised on Sunday 25th October 1970 by Pope Paul VI

The Archbishop of Cardiff George Stack spoke at the dedication and said:

“The sacred space of which we speak also extends to graveyards. It is no accident that we bless graves and bury people in “consecrated ground”. Surely no ground is more hallowed and consecrated than graveyard which contains the remains of our great martyr, St. David Lewis at St. Mary’s Priory. “The blood of the martyrs is the seedbed of the Church” wrote St. Irenaeus in the second century. And just as “Remember” lies at the heart of our Eucharistic Faith, so too the re-membering, the putting back together of the heroic life and witness of David Lewis, is the living link of the sacrifice which he and so many others made for our beautiful faith.

“By 1605 Fr. Robert Jones had established in this part of Wales a Catholic mission involving the Jesuits and Welsh secular clergy.This was largely supported by Lady Frances Somerset Morgan of Llantarnam and the rest of the Somerset family at Raglan Castle. Usk,Raglan and Llantarnam are each “Holy Ground” on which our martyrs stood. Not least among them the Jesuit Fr. David Lewis and the secular priest Fr John Lloyd who was martyred in Cardiff just a few days before the death of David Lewis here in Usk. They were known to have been together at the Jesuit College at the Cwm in 1655 before continuing to work on the mission until caught up in the madness of the Titus Oates plot in 1679.

“The annual procession to the grave of St. David Lewis helps to keep his memory alive. The beautiful renovation of this shrine will open up his story to future generations. Ours is a religion of signs, symbols and sacraments. How wonderful it will be to see and touch and venerate sacred objects which put us in contact with those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, the sign of the cross, the sign of martyrdom.

“Today is a day of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving to the Society of Jesus for their generosity in paying for the new chapel of St. David Lewis and the gift of his portrait which will hang there. To the Heritage Lottery Fund and all who contribute to it. To our project officers who accompanied the project with skill, expertise and goodwill. To Rita King whose bequest enabled the parish to pay a significant portion of the necessary funding. Thanks to parishioners and residents of the town of Usk for their patience and support of the ongoing work. And thanks to Fr. Bernard Sixtus, the parish priest, for his leadership and guidance bringing this work to fulfilment.”

Also at the dedication was the Jesuit Father Provincial, Fr Damian Howard SJ, accompanied by Fr Adrian Porter SJ.

Fr Sixtus, who in addition to being the parish priest is also Director of Religious Education (Schools) in the Archdiocese of Cardiff said:

“Fr Adrian, who has the Education brief for the Jesuits and who was here in the archdiocese to address head teachers and governors on the Pupil Profile a few years ago – has been instrumental in helping us gain the Jesuit support of [and payment for…] our chapel; he has also just now been able to get for us an offer of a painting of St Francis Xavier for the new chapel from the Dutch Province of the Jesuits). Robert suggested it might therefore be good for Fr Howard to bless/assist with the blessing of the chapel itself.”