The sun shone brightly as pilgrims at Usk marked the heroic death of a Saint.
Saint David Lewis, known as Tad y Tlodion – Father of the Poor – was martyred in Usk 338 years ago on 27th August … just for being a Catholic priest at a time when there were false rumours of a Catholic plot to assassinate King Charles II.
St David Lewis, the youngest of nine children of Protestant Reverend Morgan Lewis, the headmaster of a grammar school and Margaret Pritchard, a Catholic, was born at Abergavenny, in 1616.
At 16 years of age, while visiting Paris, he converted to Catholicism and subsequently went to study at the English College in Rome, where he assumed the alias “Charles Baker”, a common practice to avoid spies and informers in the employ of the Crown. He was ordained a Catholic priest on 20 July 1642. Three years later, he joined the Society of Jesus.
He was arrested on 17 November 1678, at St Michael’s Church, Llantarnam, then in Monmouthshire, and condemned at the Assizes in Monmouth in March 1679 as a Catholic priest and for saying Catholic Masses.
He was then sent to London to be examined by Titus Oates (the originator of the Popish Plot) and other informers on the entirely false claim that there was a Catholic plot to assassinate King Charles II. He was brought for trial at the Lenten Assizes in Monmouth on 16 March 1679.
He pleaded not guilty to the charge of being an accessory to the Popish Plot, but five or six witnesses claimed they had seen him say Mass and perform other priestly duties. For this Lewis was found guilty and sentenced to death.
He was finally brought back to Usk and was hanged on 27 August 1679 and then posthumously disemboweled. It was a tribute to the great esteem in which he was held that the crowd, who were mainly Protestants, insisted that he be allowed to hang until he was dead, and that he receive a proper burial.
Together with John Wall, John Kemble and 37 other martyrs, David Lewis was canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970 – the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. In November 2007, a plaque was erected on the spot where Lewis was arrested near Llantarnam Abbey.
The chapel in Gunter House, Abergavenny, is reputed to be the last place St. David Lewis celebrated mass. The Archdiocese of Cardiff is joining the Georgian Society in the restoration of this historic set of buildings which hold many secrets. The parish of Usk has donated £1000 to help uncover some hidden wall painting.
To commemorate his Martyrdom pilgrims walked the route from St David Lewis and St Francis Xavier Church, in Usk, to the site of his execution and then to pay tribute to his memory at his grave in the town. Led by Father Bernard Sixtus, the pilgrims prayed the Rosary on the route through Usk.