Remembering the witness of two saints of Wales

by Dr. James Campbell – Catholic People

Archbishop George Stack marked the 50th anniversary of the Canonisation of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales by Pope Paul VI by holding Mass in the stark and grim bare stone cell at Cardiff Castle where two of these Martyrs were held before their execution on 22 July 1679.

The Archbishop and pilgrims then carried statues of Saint Phillip Evans and Saint John Lloyd to the site of their execution, then called the Gallows Field, and situated outside the Cardiff walls. It is now a busy road junction but the spot is marked by a plaque on the wall of the NatWest bank.

Recollecting the creation of the Martyrs, Archbishop George said:

“I was privileged to be in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome for the celebration. It was an awe-inspiring occasion, not least to see and hear that great church filled with English speaking people from all over the world. The liturgy was solemn and splendid. In something that was unique all those years ago, the music was not sung by the Papal Choir of the Sistine chapel but by the choir of our own Westminster Cathedral.

“All the bishops of England and Wales were present, led by Cardinal John Carmel Heenan. Greeting them at the beginning of his homily, Pope Paul said:

“We greet our brother bishops of England and Wales and of all the other countries who have come here for this great ceremony. We extend our greetings also to the priests, religious, students and faithful. We are filled with joy and happiness to have them near us today. Thanks to them, we are celebrating Christ’s glory made manifest in the holy Martyrs of England and Wales”.

Here in Wales we have our own members of those “Glorious Martyrs who surround Thy Throne, O Lord”. They are Richard Gwyn, John Jones, John Roberts, Philip Evans, John Lloyd and David Lewis. I cannot omit a seventh name, that of John Kemble whose relics are honoured in shrines at our churches in Hereford and Monmouth.

The grave of St. David Lewis is in the Anglican churchyard at Usk, and a beautiful new shrine has just been created in his memory in the Catholic church at Usk.

There is a particular devotion in Cardiff and the surrounding area to the memory of two ‘local heroes’ who were martyred at Gallows Field which is now better known as the northern end of Richmond Road in the city. Philip Evans was the jolliest of all the Welsh martyrs. He was playing tennis when told of his execution the next day. So happy did the news make him that he went on with the game. His Jesuit provincial wrote:

“He possessed a wonderful frankness of disposition, and a pleasant, unclouded countenance, with a brow ‘always free from furrows’”.

John Lloyd, born in Brecknockshire, was arrested at the same time as Philip Evans during the madness of the Titus Oates plot. They were imprisoned in the same cell in Cardiff Castle and were executed on the same day, 22 July 1679. John Lloyd had to watch whilst his friend and fellow martyr was hanged, drawn and quartered knowing that this would be his own fate too. Speaking of the witness of Philip Evans, John Lloyd said to the crowd:

“My fellow sufferer has declared the cause of our death, therefore I need not repeat it. Besides, I never was a good speaker in my life. I shall only say that I die in the true Catholic and apostolic faith, according to these words in the Creed, I believe in the holy Catholic Church; and with those three virtues: faith, hope and charity”.


A gallery of images from the day follows below: