These pages are dedicated to the memory of the Catholic Martyrs of Wales, and begin with the heroic story of the Martyrdom of Saint David Lewis of Usk, who was hung drawn and quartered in 1679 for being a Roman Catholic priest.

On a fine day in August, 1679, they hanged David Lewis in Usk for being a Roman Catholic priest. There was some difference of opinion at the time between Catholics and Protestants as to whether a man ought to be hanged for being a Catholic priest, but at any rate they both agreed that this was why he was being hanged. It is true that his enemies, including the Lord Bishop of Hereford, had published a story of his having defrauded a "poor woman" of some moneys, but hardly anyone except the Bishop seems to have believed it. One thing is certain ; while David Lewis lived no one ever accused him of any political plotting or treason, neither the Protestant bishop who slandered him, nor the prosecution who charged him, nor the judge who sentenced him. Even that arrant liar Dorothy James who boasted she would "wash her hands in Fr. Lewis's heart's blood" never suggested he was guilty of treason. Let no one, therefore, suggest it today.
And yet as they led him out of Usk gaol to tie him on the hurdle on which he had to be dragged to the place of execution, his manner showed plainly enough that he was anxious. Brother Foley would have us picture him setting out on his last journey calm, unmoved and completely detached from this world, any less heroic and more human attitude towards martyrdom was hardly conceivable in the 19th. century. The portrait we fortunately possess of David Lewis shows a slender, intellectual face, unmistakably Welsh with its long nose, mobile mouth and short upper lip, a face suggesting either the artist or the mystic, but certainly revealing a temperament of extreme sensibility. And his last speech shows clearly enough what his thoughts really were as he came out of the gaol, his quick, intelligent eyes eagerly scanning the people lining the street to watch his execution - would they be friendly ? Or had they been decieved by that scurrilous pamphlet of the Bishop's into thinking him a thief and a hypocrite ?
If this is not quite the exalted mood we expect of a martyr going out to die for Christ, let us remember that Fr. Lewis was not only a holy Jesuit priest, but also a Welsh gentleman, belonging to a class whose pride in long lineage and gentle manners, though often derided, stems from the Christian ideal inherent in the tribal solidarity of mediaeval Wales. After all, these were his own people watching him walk out to a most ungentlemanly death. He had spent almost his whole life among them ; he was related to some of their oldest families ; by a life of heroic charity he had won the love of the Catholics and the respect of the Protestants - was this to be thrown away because a woman could tell lies and a Bishop confirm them ? St. Peter's words kept running through his mind ; "Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief ; but if as a Christian, let him not be ashamed." It was so important that they should understand why he was being put to death ; what became of his testimony to Christ if they thought he was being hanged as a thief ?
He need not have worried. The kindly people of Gwent, who had given him the affectionate nickname of "Tad y Tlodion" (Father of the poor), were not likely to turn away from him now when he needed help himself. When he was unfastened from the hurdle and stood by the galllows trying to steady himself till the giddiness should pass and his eyes could focus clearly once more, a great happiness must have come over him; wherever he looked he saw nothing but friendly, sympathetic faces. The gallows itself, had he known it, was proof of the people's love for him. On the day before his execution all the carpenters in Usk mysteriously disappeared taking their tools with them and in his anxiety to get some sort of gallows erected the harassed Sherrif brought a convict from the gaol and promised him remission of his sentence if he would do the work. The result was a botched job. Usually, while the noose was being tied round his neck the criminal stood on a cart which was then drawn away leaving him, if he was just a plain murderer, to swing until he died ; but if, like Fr. Lewis he was a Catholic priest, such a quick death was held to be too merciful, and he was cut down before losing conciousness and disembowelled while still alive. The shaky structure put up for Fr. Lewis was so low that a trench had to be dug between the uprights to let his feet swing free of the ground. It is only fair to the convict to add that he was somewhat hampered in his work by occasional showers of stones from indignant bystanders.
To be dragged upside down at the age of sixty-three, with your head being violently bumped on an unsprung hurdle is not the best preparation for a public speech ; very wisely, Fr. Lewis had carefully thought out his dying manifesto while he was in prison. He delivered it, says Brother Foley, "with great animation" ; in other words, the 'hwyl' was on him. He spoke in English, but we can still hear the echo of his lilting welsh accent : "Here is a numerous assembly," he began, "the great Saviour of the world save every soul of you !...A Roman Catholic I am ! a Roman Catholic priest I am ! Please now to observe..." Is it not Fluellen to the life - a Monmouth man also ? But here was more than natural courage, here was the supernatural virtue of the soldier of Christ. At this moment he must have felt how deep were his roots in this pleasant land of Gwent : " I believe you are met here" he tells them, "to hear a fellow countryman speak", and as he looked his last on a countryside he had loved , and served, so well , he looked back also with happiness on a long life spent among the "fellow countrymen" in which, as in death, there was nothing of which he, or they, need fell ashamed.......

Page Two