Martyrdom, the ultimate sacrifice anyone can make. To die for your beliefs and for the greater glory of God. These men have led the way of the true faith, we should take heed and pray that we too would have the courage to follow in their steps.

David Lewis was born at Abergavenny in 1616, the youngest of nine children,1 in a district that was then predominantly Catholic. He was related to several of the local gentry and his family gives one a fair picture of the attitude of the men of Gwent towards the new religion the English government was trying to impose upon them. Margaret Pritchard, his mother, was a pious Catholic and brought up eight of her children in her own faith, but Morgan Lewis her husband had David educated at Abergavenny Grammar School, of which he was headmaster. That his wife and eight children were Catholics must have been well known, probably also that he had a Jesuit for a brother-in-law, yet none of the local gentry seem to have questioned his fitness to teach their sons.
But the Government might be less tolerant, so Morgan Lewis, a prudent rather than a pious man, conformed to the new religion and had his youngest son grow up a Protestant in his own school as proof of his respectability. But David's Protestantism could not have gone very deep. His boyhood was spent in a countryside that, like his home, was still Catholic at heart. Many of the gentry clung to their faith and had Mass said in their houses ; priests went about secretly but safely, and wherever a man might live between Monmouth and Abergavenny, he need not walk far to hear his Sunday Mass. As we shall see, there were then far more priests serving this part of Monmouthshire than there are today.
This Catholic influence from home and county was greatly strengthened in 1625 when the Jesuit Mission of St. Francis Xavier was founded at the Cwm, near Monmouth, with nearly twenty priests, many of them Monmouthshire men, fluent in Welsh.2 The house where these Jesuits once lived still stands in an unspoilt countryside ; the spot is well worth a visit, for it is not too much to claim that but for the founding of this mission at the Cwm, Titus Oates would not have got a hearing. It was the zeal and holiness of these priests, trained as they were in the latest missionary technique, that fanned the still glowing embers of Catholicism in Gwent into a blaze that frightened Parliament into the infamies of the Popish Plot.
It was also in 1625 that Blessed John Kemble the Martyr, a relative of David Lewis and soon a life-long friend, came from Douai, to begin his long apostolate in Herefordshire. Altogether, it is not surprising that when David Lewis began to study law in London at the age of sixteen, he took the opportunity of a visit to Paris to become a Catholic. In 1638 both his parents died, presumably of the plague ; it is good to know that his father was reconciled with the Church before his death. That same year David went to the Venerable English college at Rome, the nursery of so many martyrs, where he was ordained priest in 1642. The college Diary recordshis entry : "Charles Baker, vere David Lewis, a South -Welshman of the County of Monmouth was admitted as an alumnus Nov. 6, 1638." Later was added the entry "Vir prudens et pius. (A devout and prudent man). Hanged for the Faith and the priesthood in the year 1680 in Wales." In 1645 he entered the Society of Jesus of which his uncle Fr. John Pritchard, was already a member. In 1648 he was sent to the Jesuit Mission of St. Francis Xavier at the Cwm where he was to work among his own people for thirty-one years until his martyrdom.
On his return home after ten year's absence abroad he found great changes in his native county. The Civil War was over ; Charles I was in prison, and the Catholic gentry who had fought for him had lost their lands. In Gwent where the gentry were strongly Catholic in sympathy, the loss had been especially heavy. Raglan Castle, which had sheltered so many priests and held the vast Somerset estates loyal to the old Faith, was now a ruin ; its owner, the Marquis of Worcester "a wise man and a person of great and sincere religion" (says Anthony Wood), whose halls had often resounded with "ancient British songs" while he feasted King Charles with truly regal splendour, had died two years ago in prison. So great was the devastation among the Catholic gentry that to some historians the Civil War marks the end of Welsh Catholicism. "The Great Rebellion" says Llewellyn Williams in his Making of Modern Wales (p257) "left few living witnesses to the ancient religion of Wales". Even T.P.Ellis, in his book The Catholic Martyrs of Wales (p.70) laments that "by 1660 Welsh Catholics were reduced almost to vanishing point".
Were things really as bad as this, one wonders, when Fr. Lewis came to Cwm in 1648 ? For thirty one years he tramped the countryside, always on foot and mostly by night, baptizing, hearing confessions, reconciling lapsed Catholics and saying Mass in chapels that were often crowded to suffocation. If Catholics had "almost vanished", to whom was he ministering ? Nor was he alone in his labours. When he first came to Cwm in ' 48 there were seventeen missionary priests either living there or making it their centre, "one of whom" 3 says Foley, "taught a grammar school ! " By ' 64 only twelve were left, and after ' 67, when St. Winefred's, Holywell, became a separate Residence, only six. But there were a number, not easy to determine, of other priests working in the same district. As late as 1678, eighteen years after T.P. Ellis thought Catholics had almost vanished in Wales, Sir John Trevor submitted a report to Parliament on the State of Popery in Monmouthshire which gives us an official list of the priests known by name to the Government together with the houses where they lived :

 
Llantarnum, at Lady Morgan's
Fr. David Lewis S.J.
Llanarth, at Lady Jones's
Fr. Suliard S.J.
Llantilio Croesenny, at Wm. Pullen's
Fr. W. Harries S.J.
Skenfrith, at Thos. Bodenham's
Dr. Pugh 4
Abergavenny, at Thos. Gunter's
Fr. Phillip Evans S.J.
Betws Newydd, at Wm. Davies's
Fr. Thomas Andrews 5
Blaen Llymon, at Jas Pritchard's
Fr. John Hall
Llantilio Croesenny, at Walter Powell's
Fr. Lawrence Watkins
Treowen, at Lady Jones's
Fr. Thomas Powell
Glantrothy, at Rowland Pritchard's
Frs. Williams & Eliot
Penrhos, at Mrs. Scudamore's
Fr. Lloyd
Llanfair Gilcoed
Fr. Thomas Lloyd
Treivor (St. Maughms) at Walter Jones's
Fr John Lloyd 6