St David Lewis was born at Abergavenny in 1616, the youngest of nine children of an Anglican headmaster father and Catholic mother. At 16 years of age, while visiting Paris, he converted to Catholicism. He was ordained priest in 1642 and three years later, he joined the Jesuits. He came back to Wales for a year, but was appointed Spiritual Director at the English College Seminary in Rome, where he himself had studied. Finally he returned once more to Monmouthshire where he was to minister for 30 years. He paid particular attention to the poor and needy, gaining the nickname Tad y Tlodion (“Father of the Poor”).
He was arrested on 17 November 1678 at St Michael’s Church, Llantarnam, and condemned at Monmouth in March 1679 as a Catholic priest and for saying Catholic Masses. Betrayed by an apostate couple, he was accused of attempting to kill Charles II and trying to restore the Catholic faith in Wales. He pled not guilty to the charge of being an accessory to the so-called Popish Plot. He was found guilty, sentenced to death and taken to Newgate Prison in London with St John Kemble of Herefordshire and questioned about the “plot”. So-called witnesses were unable to prove anything against him. He was brought back to Usk where he was hanged and disemboweled on 27 August 1679. It was a tribute to the esteem in which he was held that the crowd, mainly Protestants, insisted that he receive a proper burial. The Sheriff, who knew and liked Lewis, refused to attend the execution, which he had postponed for as long as he could.
As one of the 40 Martyrs David Lewis was canonized in 1970. A plaque marks the spot where Lewis was arrested near Llantarnam Abbey, and his grave can be visited in the (Anglican) churchyard in Usk.
The Catholic church there is dedicated to him and St Francis Xavier. In his last words he said:
“My religion is Roman Catholic; in it I have loved above these forty years; in it now I die, and so fixedly die, that if all the good things in the world were offered to me to renounce it, all should not remove me one hair’s breadth from the Roman Catholic faith. A Roman Catholic I am; a Roman Catholic priest I am; a Roman Catholic priest of that order known as the Society of Jesus, I am.”
See details in our newsletter for Annual Pilgrimage in honour of Saint David Lewis S.J, next Sunday 28 August.