Saint David Lewis
1616 – 1679
He was born at Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, in 1616 and raised as a Protestant.
At sixteen years of age, while visiting Paris, he converted to Catholicism and subsequently went to study in Rome, where in 1642 he was ordained as a Catholic priest. Three years later, he became a Jesuit.
Career as a priest
In 1647 he returned home and, for over thirty years, worked in South Wales, with his base at the Cwm, a hamlet located in Herefordshire, which is sheltered between the high ridges of the Welsh Black Mountains to the west and Malvern Hills to the east. At the Cwm, the Jesuits maintained two remote farmhouses, which also functioned as shelters for hunted Catholic priests. Lewis used the name Charles Baker.
Arrest and execution
He was arrested in November 1678, at Llantarnam in Monmouthshire, and condemned as a Roman Catholic priest and for saying Catholic masses, at the Assizes in Monmouth in March 1679. Like St John Wall and St John Kemble, he was then sent to London to be examined by Titus Oates (the originator of the Popish Plot) and others.
He was brought for trial at the Lenten Assizes in Monmouth on 16th March 1679. He was brought to the bar on a charge of High Treason – for having become a Catholic priest and then remaining in England.
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 Atkins. The condemned priest was brought to Newgate Prison in London with John Kemble (Herefordshire) and questioned about the “plot”. Oates, Bledloe, Dugdale and Prace were unable to prove anything against him. Lord Shaftesbury advised him that if he gave evidence about the “plot” or renounced his Catholic faith, that his life would be spared and he would be greatly rewarded. Lewis said in his dying speech, “discover the plot I could not, as I knew of none; and conform I would not, for it was against my conscience”. He was returned to Usk and waited for three months for his call to death by execution.
He was finally brought back to Usk in Monmouthshire for his execution, and was hanged, drawn, and quartered on 27 August 1679. After the Titus Oates affair (1679–80), the remaining Welsh-speaking Catholic clergy were either executed or exiled.
Together with St. John Wall, St. John Kemble and 37 other martyrs, St. David Lewis was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970 – the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.