Catholicism, still viewed by many with suspicion. That men and Women have died because of such ignorance is the greatest sin of all, that they have died refusing to deny the one true religion is the greatest triumph of all.
|Several of these priests are difficult to identify ; some of them certainly
appear under an alias ; the three Fr. Lloyd's are especially puzzling.
Moreover Trevor has omitted the names of Frs. Pritchard, Archer (alias
Groves), Price, Humfreys and Draicott, whom we know to have been attached
to the Cwm at this time ; no doubt some of them appear in the above list
under an alias. In spite of this regrettable confusion we are justified
in concluding from the above list that in in 1678, long past the time
when according to Ll. Williams and T.P. Ellis Catholics in Wales had almost
vanished, there were at least fourteen priests on active service in a
countryside where today there are only four.2
Nor should anyone imagine that theses priests were mere chaplains to the
squirearchy ; the agents of the English government, at least, did not
think so. Men like Sir John Arnold were constantly warning the extreme
Protestant party in Parliament and making their flesh creep with alarming
reportsof the boldness of Catholics and the "encouragement given
to popery in the counties of Hereford and Monmouthshire". From the
same "Abstract" of Sir John Trevor we learn that Fr. Harries
at Clytha said Mass for more than one hundred, "the crowd was so
great that the Loft was forced to be propped lest it should fall down
under the Weight ".
At Abergavenny in a prominent street there was "a public chapel1 for Papists adorned with the marks of the Jesuits on the outside, and such numbers flocked there that a hundred were seen to come out of it when not above forty attended the parish church". At Dingestow the Catholics "to the number of three score, used to frequent the house of Lady Jones at Treowen and had the presumption to pass through the parish churchyard, whether it was time for divine service or not".
Moreover Catholics still climbed to the top of St. Michael's Mount, Ysgyryd Fawr, where "there was a chapel, then ruinous, and make for themselves an Altar of stone with crosses upon it" , and people could still be seen "kneeling towards the said Altar with beads in their hands". (In 1603 Mass was said here weekly by two priests.) These, and similar stories, hardly suggest that as a result of the Civil War Welsh Catholicism had died out. In fact we now know from statistics published by Dr. T. Richards and Emyr Gwynne Jones, that there was a remarkable increase in the Catholic population of Gwent during the thirty years following the Civil War. No one knows how many practising Catholics there really were in Wales in the 17th century the English Government itself failed to discover this. The totals given in the various censuses must be used with caution because they were made in different circumstances ; sometimes an Anglican bishop would try to minimize the number of known papists in his diocese for fear of a reprimand from Whitehall. But since the totals given for Monmouthshire are always larger after the Civil War than before 2 we can only accept Dr. Richard's conclusion that until the disaster of the Popish Plot cathpolics in Gwent were steadily increasing in spite of persecution. This increase was due chiefly to the zeal of the Jesuit missioners at Cwm where Fr. David Lewis was Rector 1667-72, and again from 1674-9. The tolerance towards Catholicism of the Monmouthshire magistrates, several of whom had relatives still loyal to the old Faith, was not to the liking of the few active Protestants among the gentry, notably John Arnold of Abergavenny, and John Scudamore of Kentchurch. These two, local J.P's and members of Parliament, were tireless in their determination to enlighten Parliament about the true state of affairs in the county, and to have the penal laws against Catholics enforced in all their rigour.
In 1670 they informed the House of Lords that "at Llantarnam, an eminent papist's house in Monmouthshire (it was Lady Morgan's) there is a room fitted up chapelwise for saying of Mass where Fr. David Lewis, a popish priest, hath said Mass for many years past", and that there were still six Jesuit priests at the Cwm which "had been a shelter for such popish priests for near forty years". Alarmed by these reports, Parliament in 1674 ordered the arrest of these priests at the Cwm and the immediate seizure of two-thirds of the lands of all lay Catholics, but there was still sufficient support for Catholicism among the local magistrates to prevent these urgent orders being obeyed, and nothing was done. Arnold and Scudamore tried again. In March '78 they laid fresh information before Parliament of "several popish priests and the persons that do countenance them in the county of Monmouth".
The thirty years ministry of Fr Lewis and his fellow Jesuits had not been in vain. John Arnold himself is clear proof of the strength of Catholicism in Gwent at this time; here was a rabid priest-hunter, an M.P. and a magistrate who had known for years where Fr Lewis, the head of the Jesuits, said daily Mass, and yet dared not use the legal powers he had as a magistrate to arrest him.