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  • Writer's pictureMary Allen

On the Feast of the Six Welsh Martyrs

On 25 October 1970, Pope Paul VI canonized 40 martyrs of the English Reformation. Among those were 6 welsh priests, religious and lay people, whose suffering we remember on their feast day on the anniversary of their canonization.

Richard Gwyn:

Gwyn was born in Montgomeryshire c1537. After a time at Oxford and Cambridge Universities and then Douai, he returned to Wales and

became a teacher in Wrexham. There he married his wife Catherine and they had three surviving children. Gwyn often had to change his home and his school to avoid fines and imprisonment for not conforming to the Anglican faith. In 1579 he was arrested by the Vicar of Wrexham, but he escaped and remained a fugitive for a year and a half, was recaptured, and spent the next4 years in prison. Gwyn was indicted for high treason in 1583 and at his trial witnesses gave evidence that he retained his allegiance to the Catholic faith. He was found guilty and was sentenced to death by hanging, drawing and quartering. The sentence was carried out 17 October 1584. Richard Gwyn was the first Welsh Catholic martyr of the Reformation.

John Jones:

Jones came from a Recusant family in Caernarfonshire who had remained faithful Catholics despite the Reformation. As a youth, he entered the Observant Franciscan friary at Greenwich; 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 joined the Roman province of the Reformati (an even stricter branch of the Friars Minor). His superiors granted his request to go on the English mission and he arrived in London towards the end of 1592. In 1596 he was captured by the ‘priest catcher’ Richard Topcliffe who’d had reports that Jones had visited Catholics and said Mass in their homes. After being severely tortured and scourged, he was kept in prison for 2 years. On 3 July 1598 Father Jones was tried on the charge of "going over the seas in the first year of Her Majesty's reign and there being made a priest by the authority from Rome and then returning to England contrary to statute". He was convicted of high treason and executed 12 July 1598.

John Roberts:

Roberts was born in 1577 in Snowdonia. He attended St. John's College, Oxford before leaving after two years to study law at Furnival's Inn, London. When he visited Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris he converted to Catholicism, moved to Spain and joined St Benedict's Monastery, Valladolid, in 1598. He took his final vows at San Martín Pinario, Santiago de Compostela towards the end of 1600. Having completed his studies he was ordained, and set out for England on 26 December 1602. He was arrested and banished on 13 May 1603 but soon returned and worked among the plague victims in London. He was arrested and banished a further four times but after re-entering England for the fifth time, he was captured again in December 1602. Having just finished saying Mass, 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 executed at Tyburn.

Philip Evans SJ:

Philip Evans was born in Monmouth in 1645, was educated at St. Omer’s College, joined the Society of Jesus in Watten 7 September 1665, and was ordained at Liège. He was sent to South Wales as a missionary in 1675 where he worked for 4 years. Despite the official anti-Catholic policy no action was taken against him until 1678, when the Kingdoms of England and Scotland became gripped in anti-Catholic hysteria created by Titus Oates’ fictitious Popish Plot. In November of that year, John Arnold, a justice of the peace and priest-hunter offered a reward of £200 for his capture. He was arrested at the home of a Christopher Turberville in Glamorgan on 4 December 1678, where John Lloyd had been captured a few weeks previously. The two priests were executed together in 1679.

John Lloyd:

Lloyd was a secular priest from Breconshire. He was educated in Ghent and from 1649 at the English College at Valladolid, Spain. He took the 'missionary oath' on 16 October 1649 to participate in the English Mission and was sent to Wales in 1654 to minister to covert Catholics. He lived his vocation while constantly on the run for 24 years. On 20 November 1678 he was arrested at Christopher Turberville's house in Glamorgan and imprisoned in Cardiff Gaol. There he was joined by 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 contrary to the provisions of the law, and were declared guilty of treason for exercising their priesthood. The executions took place in Pwllhalog, near Cardiff on 22 July 1679.

David Lewis SJ:

Lewis was born in 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 a Catholic priest on 20 July 1642 and 3 years later, he joined the Society of Jesus. He was arrested on 17 November 1678, at St Michael's Church, Llantarnam, and condemned at the Assizes in Monmouth in March 1679 as a Catholic priest and for saying Catholic Masses. He was then sent to London to be examined by Titus Oates and other informers. He was brought for trial at the Lenten Assizes in Monmouth on 16 March 1679 on a charge of high treason for having become a Catholic priest and then remaining in England. For this Lewis was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was executed in Usk in Monmouthshire 27 August 1679.

Further information, including an intriguing detective story, about two of these men, Frs Philip Evans and John Lloyd SJ, can be found at our online exhibition, How Bleedeth Burning Love.

If you would like to find out more about the material the British Jesuit Archives hold relating to the English and Welsh martyrs of the Reformation and the work carried out towards their canonization, please contact us.

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