The Welsh Martyrs

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The Welsh Martyrs commemorated today are: are the priests Philip Evans and John Lloyd, John Jones, David Lewis, John Roberts, and the teacher Richard Gwyn. Wales also continues to keep 4 May as a separate feast for the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales.

Saint Philip Evans and St John Lloyd

Philip Evans was a Jesuit priest, born in Monmouth in 1645, educated at Jesuit College at St Omer, joined the Society of Jesus in Watten on 7 September 1665, and was ordained at Liège and sent to South Wales as a missionary in 1675.

He worked in Wales for four years, and despite the official anti-Catholic policy no action was taken against him. When the Oates' scare swept the country both Lloyd and Evans were caught up in the aftermath. In November 1678 a John Arnold, of Llanvihangel Court near Abergavenny, a justice of the peace and hunter of priests, offered a reward of £200 (equivalent to £30,000 in 2015) for his arrest. Despite the dangers Fr Evans refused to leave his flock. He was arrested on 4 December 1678.

Father John Lloyd, a secular priest, was born in Breconshire. From 1649 he studied at the English College, Valladolid, Spain. He took the 'missionary oath' on 16 October 1649 to participate in the English Mission. Sent to Wales in 1654 to minister to Catholics, he lived his vocation while constantly on the run for 24 years. He was arrested on 20 November 1678, and imprisoned in Cardiff Gaol. There he was joined by the Jesuit, Philip Evans.

Both priests were brought to trial in Cardiff on Monday, 5 May 1679. Neither was charged with being associated with the plot concocted by Oates. Nonetheless, they were tried for being priests and coming to England and Wales, and declared guilty of treason for exercising their priesthood.

The executions took place in Pwllhalog, near Cardiff on 22 July 1679. Two plaques mark the site at what is now the junction of Crwys Road and Richmond Road in Roath, Cardiff, still known as 'Death Junction'.

On 25 October 1970, both John Lloyd and Philip Evans, SJ were canonised by Pope Paul VI. Their joint feast day is 23 July.

Saint John Jones, OFM

Franciscan friar, Catholic priest and martyr. Born at Clynnog Fawr, Caernarfonshire (Gwynedd), Jones came from a recusant Welsh family, who had remained faithful Catholics throughout and despite the Reformation. As a youth, he entered the Observant Franciscan friary at Greenwich, England; at its dissolution in 1559, he went to the Continent, and was professed at Pontoise, France.

After many years, Jones journeyed to Rome, where he stayed at the Ara Coeli friary of the Observants. There he joined the Roman province of the Reformati. In 1591, Jones asked to go on the English mission. His superiors finally allowed this request, and he received a special blessing and commendation from Pope Clement VIII.

He reached London about the end of 1592, and stayed temporarily at the house which Father John Gerard, SJ, had provided for missionary priests; he then served in different parts of the country. His brother Franciscans in England elected him their Minister Provincial.

In 1596 the 'priest catcher' Richard Topcliffe was informed by a spy that Father Jones had visited two Catholics and had said Mass in their home. It was later shown that the two Catholics were actually in prison when the alleged offense took place. Regardless, Jones was arrested, severely tortured and scourged. Topcliffe then took Jones to his house and tortured him there as well.

Jones was then imprisoned for nearly two years. On 3 July 1598 he was tried and convicted of high treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

By this time people were becoming sympathetic to the Catholic victims of these awful butcheries, so the execution was arranged for an early hour in the morning in order to escape notice. The execution was delayed by about an hour because the hangman forgot to bring a rope; Jones used the time to preach to the people and answer their questions.

Jones was executed at St Thomas' Watering, a small bridge over the Neckinger crossing the Old Kent Road, the old road between Canterbury and London known as Watling Street.

St David Lewis

Jesuit priest. 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, Monmouthshire, 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. He was ordained 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 celebrating Mass. After being examined by Titus Oates he was brought for trial at the Lenten Assizes in Monmouth on 16 March 1679. He was brought to the bar on a charge of high treason.

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 by Sir Robert Atkyns. After much further interrogation he was finally brought back to Usk in Monmouthshire for his execution by John Arnold of Monmouthshire, prayed at the Gunter Mansion 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.

After the Titus Oates affair (1679-80), the remaining Welsh-speaking Catholic clergy were either executed or exiled. Lewis was the last Welshman to become a Jesuit until 2001, more than 300 years later.

David Lewis was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. In November 2007, a plaque was erected on the spot where Lewis was arrested near Llantarnam Abbey.

Saint John Roberts

Benedictine monk and priest. Roberts was the first Prior of St. Gregory's, Douai, France (now Downside Abbey).

St. John Roberts was born in 1577 in Trawsfynydd, a small village in Snowdonia, north Wales, the son of John and Anna Roberts of Rhiw Goch Farm. His father was a farmer. He was baptised into the Protestant faith in the local church of St Madryn and is said to have received his early education from a monk who had been a member of the community of Cymer Abbey just outside Dolgellau, until it was dissolved by Henry VIII. He attended St John's College, Oxford in February, 1595 before leaving after two years to study law at Furnival's Inn, London.

He converted to Catholicism on a visit to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and moved on to Spain and joined St Benedict's Monastery, Valladolid, and became a member of this community in 1598, where he was known as Brother John of Merioneth, in reference to his birthplace, Meirionnydd.

The following year Roberts left the college for the Abbey of St Benedict, Valladolid, and from there he was sent to make his novitiate at San Martín Pinario, Santiago de Compostela, where he made his profession towards the end of 1600. Having completed his studies he was ordained, and set out for England on 26 December 1602. Although observed by a Government spy, Roberts and his companions succeeded in entering the country in April 1603, where he was appointed vicar of the English monks of the Spanish Congregation on the Mission. He was arrested and banished on 13 May. He reached Douai, in northern France, on 24 May. Soon he managed to return to England; he worked among the plague victims in London. In 1604, while embarking for Spain with four postulants, including William Scott (later known as Maurus Scott) he was again arrested. Not recognized as a priest, he was released and again banished, but he returned to England at once.

On 5 November 1605, while Justice Grange was searching the house of Mrs. Percy, first wife of Thomas Percy, who was involved in the Gunpowder Plot, he found Roberts there and arrested him. Though acquitted of any complicity in the plot itself, Roberts was imprisoned in the Gatehouse Prison at Westminster for seven months and then exiled again in July, 1606.

This time he was absent for some fourteen months, nearly all of which he spent at Douai where he founded and became the first prior of a house for the English Benedictine monks who had entered various Spanish monasteries. This was the beginning of the monastery of St. Gregory's at Douai. This community of monks was banished from France in 1795 at the French Revolution and travelled to England where they settled at Downside Abbey, Bath, Somerset in 1814.

Roberts returned to England on October 1607 and in December he was again arrested and placed in the Gatehouse at Westminster, from which he escaped after some months. After his escape, he lived for about a year in London, but in May 1609 was taken to Newgate Prison. He might have been executed, but Antonie de la Broderie, the French ambassador, interceded on his behalf, and his sentence was reduced to banishment.

Roberts again visited Spain and Douai, but returned to England, for a fifth time, within a year. He was captured again on 2 December 1610; the arresting men arrived just as he was finishing saying Mass in a house, having been followed by former priest turned spy John Cecil, who had compiled a dossier on the unfortunate Roberts for James I. He was taken to Newgate in his vestments. On 5 December he was tried and found guilty under the Act forbidding priests to minister in England, and on 10 December was hanged, drawn, and quartered, at the age of 33, along with Thomas Somers, at Tyburn, London.

The introduction of the cause of beatification was approved by Pope Leo XIII in his Decree of 4 December 1886. On 25 October 1970,he was canonised by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

Roman Catholic Bishop Edwin Regan said: "Although the name St John Roberts isn't as well known today, he is a major figure in our religious history." He was the first monk to return to Britain following the Protestant Reformation; the hostility between the Catholics and Protestants was at its height at this stage, when a Catholic priest could only expect to live for approximately two years in Britain during that period.

On 17 July 2010, Metropolitan Seraphim of Glastonbury of the British Orthodox Church, accompanied by Deacon Theodore de Quincey, attended an Ecumenical Service at Westminster Cathedral in celebration of the 400th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of St John Roberts.

Abba Seraphim noted that as a Londoner he wanted to honour the humanitarian and pastoral ministry of the saint to Londoners; and that all those who are conscious of the problems of exercising Christian ministry in times of persecution would immediately value the saint's determination as well as realising the extraordinary sacrifice he made to fulfil his priestly vocation. Large contingents from Wales were in attendance and the service was bi-lingual. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams addressed the congregation in both English and Welsh. It was the first time Welsh had been spoken in a ceremony at Westminster Cathedral.

The choral piece, "Beatus Juan de Mervinia" in both Latin and Welsh, was specially commissioned for the service from the Welsh composer Brian Hughes.

Roberts is commemorated by a tourist trail from St Madryn's church Trawsfynydd to Cymer Abbey near Dolgellau, and by an exhibition in the Llys Ednowain Heritage Centre in Trawsfynydd.

Saint Richard Gwyn

Welsh school teacher and martyr. Little is known of Richard Gwyn's early life. He was born about 1537 in Montgomeryshire, Wales and at the age of 20 he matriculated at Oxford University, but did not complete a degree. He then went to Cambridge University, where he lived on the charity of St John's College and its master, the Roman Catholic Dr. George Bullock. At the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth I in 1558, Bullock was forced to resign the mastership; this marked the end of Gwyn's university career in England, after just two years. He then moved to the University of Douai.

Gwyn returned to Wales and became a teacher in the Wrexham area, continuing his studies on his own. He married Catherine; they had six children, three of whom survived him. His adherence to the old faith was noted by the Bishop of Chester, who brought pressure on him to conform to the Anglican faith.

Gwyn often had to change his home and his school to avoid fines and imprisonment. Finally in 1579 he was arrested by the Vicar of Wrexham, a former Catholic who had conformed to Anglicanism. He escaped and remained a fugitive for a year and a half, was recaptured, and spent the next four years in one prison after another.

In 1583 he was indicted for high treason with two others for retaining his allegiance to the Catholic Church and trying to make converts. He was condemned to death by hanging, drawning and quartering. This sentence was carried out in the Beast Market in Wrexham on 15 October 1584. His last words, in Welsh, were reportedly "Iesu, trugarha wrthyf" ("Jesus, have mercy on me").

Relics of St Richard Gwyn are to be found in the Cathedral Church of Our Lady of Sorrows, seat of the Bishop of Wrexham and also in the Catholic Church of Our Lady and Saint Richard Gwyn, Llanidloes.

St Richard Gwyn Roman Catholic High School, Flintshire was renamed as St Richard Gwyn, having originally been named Blessed Richard Gwyn RC High School in 1954. There is also the St Richard Gwyn Catholic High School, Barry, Wales.

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