Friday, February 24, 2012

St. David Lewis, the Last Welsh Martyr

photo credit
One of the joys of blog hopping is "meeting" other Catholics and sharing information to deepen one's faith journey.  A little while back, I "met" Beth known as "breadgirl" from the Last Welsh Martyr blog.  To be honest, I'm not sure how I came across her blog but her title grabbed my attention since part of my lineage comes from Wales.  I asked her a question about St. David Lewis, who was new to me, and she offered to mail me a small book called In Thoroughgoing Service:  The Life of Saint David Lewis so I could learn about this saint who her blog is named.

David Lewis was born in 1616 to a Catholic family in Abergavenny in Monmouthshire, South Wales, U.K.  During his youth, the new state religion became Protestant which left his family divided.  Most remained Catholic while young David and his father became Protestant.  It may have been for outward appearances only that the family conformed to the new state religion.  Catholic priests in those days, celebrated Holy Mass and the Sacraments secretly throughout South Wales. When David was in his teenage years, he converted to Catholicism and joined the Society of Jesus Order in Rome.  His superiors immediately sent him to the Jesuit Mission of St. Francis Xavier in Wales where he worked for the next 31 years until his martyrdom in Usk, Wales.

When Fr. David returned to Wales, he came back to changed land.  The civil war was over, King Charles I was in prison and the Catholic gentry who had fought for him, had lost their land.  This war almost wiped out the Catholic presence in Wales.  Now enter in, Fr. David to an anti-Catholic land, whose job is to celebrate the Holy Mass and the Sacraments with the faithful without being detected.  Which meant it was done on foot and during the night.  There were about 20 priests in the Society of Jesus Order that ministered to the faithful in secret.  He along with his fellow priests administered to the faithful for 30 years during unbelievable persecution.  Catholic priests and families were reported to to the Parliamentary authorities and they were hunted down, their belongings destroyed and many priests were thrown in prison.

Fr. David was arrested and thrown in prison on November 17, 1678 simply because he was a Catholic priest.  He went to trial where he served as his own defense against the charge of treason. He was found guilty by Judge Atkins and sentenced to death with these words:

 "David Lewis thou shalt be led from this place to a place whence thou camest, and shalt be put upon a hurdle and drawn with thy heels forward to the place of execution where thou shalt be hanged by the neck and be cut down alive; thy body to be ripped open and thy bowels plucked out; thou shalt be dismembered and thy members burnt before thy face.  So the Lord have mercy on thy soul."

After the sentencing, Fr. David Lewis was given the option to either find a plot against him or to conform to the Protestant religion.  He knew of no plot against him and he refused to conform to Protestantism even knowing that his life would soon end.  He spent his remaining days working on his "Last Speech" and being allowed by his jailer to administer the Sacraments to his Catholic visitors without interference.  His execution was on August 27, 1679 where he gave his "Last Speech" claiming his love for God and the Roman Catholic Church.  It was said that his speech was so moving and filled with his love for Jesus that those present refused to allow his body to be quartered as required by his sentence.  However, his body was mutilated, decapitated and dismembered.  His grave became a place of pilgrimage for the faithful who were so inspired by his faith in the face of death.   St. David Lewis is well-known in Wales but it is also recorded that "946 Welsh names suffered persecution and death for the Catholic Faith."

Pope Paul VI in 1970, canonized St. David along with the other 40 Martyrs of England and Wales and is venerated in the Catholic Church as a saint.  The Feast Day of St. David is remembered with the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales on May 4th.

Thank you Beth from Last Welsh Martyr for sending this book!!  I intend to pass it on to my friend who's Episcopalian Church is named after in a nearby town.

St. David Lewis, pray for us!




  1. Hi Noreen,
    I first became interested in St. David through breadgirl's site too. I now pray for St. David's intercession all the time. Talk about unfair trials! Good grief! I really liked the book and was glad to learn about this wonderful saint.

  2. Wow, thanks for sharing the story of this saint Noreen. It amazes me to think of all the unknown martyrs. Truthfully it actually saddens me even though I should have joy knowing of their reward.

  3. Mary~ Now that I know him, I too, pray for his intercession! It's scary to think of those martyrs from England and Wales that had to hide and move from house to house. Or some, had to live in the woods to go undetected. Brave souls.

    Victor~ thanks for coming to visit me.

    Tricia~ it's hard to imagine a life with facing persecution because you are Catholic. Many of those martyrs died just for that fact.