URING the terrible persecution of Catholics under the execrable Henry VIII and his successors, many hundreds of righteous English men and women attained the crown of martyrdom. On October 25, Welsh Ordinariate Catholics feast in particular six Welsh martyrs who died in the English Reformation. Despite its distinct language and culture, Wales has been effectively part of England since AD 1284 when King Edward I annexed it and made the heir to the English throne the “Prince of Wales”. One of its most famous symbols is the red Welsh Dragon, depicted on its flag. Today there is one stable Ordinariate Mission in Wales located in Newport with two other communities in formation in the towns of Swansea and Presteigne.
Our article this week features Saint Richard Gwyn, the only layman of the Six. He was born in Montgomeryshire in East Wales. Richard was born in approximately the same year that the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham was destroyed by King Henry VIII. Little is known of his childhood.
When Richard turned 20 he entered Oxford University, but was unable to earn a degree. He soon transferred to Cambridge University where he studied at St. John’s College under the financial patronage of its Catholic master, Dr. George Bullock. Yet in 1558 at the accession of Elizabeth I, Dr. Bullock was forced to resign. So Gwyn also left the University and departed for Catholic France. Once there he took up studies for a time at the University of Douai.
After returning to Wales in 1562, Saint Richard became a school teacher and married a local girl named Catherine. Their marriage was blessed with six children, three of whom survived into adulthood.
Richard was persecuted for his faith, having to move and change place of work many times because of his steadfast love for Jesus Christ and His Church. The Bishop of Chester in particular pressured him to become Anglican, and Richard temporarily seems to have backslid under the intense pressure. “After some troubles,” one account reads, “he yielded to their desires, although greatly against his stomach … and lo, by the Providence of God, he was no sooner come out of the church but a fearful company of crows and kites so persecuted him to his home that they put him in great fear of his life, the conceit whereof made him also sick in body as he was already in soul distressed; in which sickness he resolved himself (if God would spare his life) to return to a Catholic.”
Richard was ultimately arrested by the Vicar of Wrexham and forced to attend Anglican services by being shackled in front of the pulpit. But he only shook his bonds so the preacher’s sermon could not be heard. For this he was placed in the town stocks. A local Anglican priest taunted him there saying, “The keys of the Church were given no less to me than to St. Peter.” “There is this difference”, Gwyn replied, “namely, that whereas Peter received the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, the keys you received were obviously those of the beer cellar.”
Eventually, Richard was put on trial for high treason. It seems that Saint Richard might be a good patron saint for TIA victims (transient ischemic attacks, essentially temporary strokes), for the following reason. During his trial the proceedings had to be halted since the clerk reading the indictment temporarily lost his eyesight. The judge sternly admonished the court not to tell anyone, lest Catholics claim it was a miracle. Later in the trial the same judge himself temporarily lost his ability to speak, and similar orders had to be given those present.
Saint Richard was ultimately sentenced to death by drawing and quartering. Just before his execution he said to the gathered crowd, “I have been a jesting fellow, and if I have offended any that way, or by my songs, I beseech them for God’s sake to forgive me.” In his final agony, his last words, in his native Welsh, were reportedly “Iesu, trugarha wrthyf,” translated “Jesus, have mercy on me.”
For a weekly dose of English Catholic Patrimony, if your Ordinariate parish or parochial community would like to receive This Week in English Catholic History in advance in single page black-and-white pdf form (perhaps inserted in the bulletin), please contact us at <firstname.lastname@example.org>, and we will be happy to oblige, gratis.
Written by Mr. John Burford, IV and Dr. Foster Lerner of Incarnation Catholic Church in Orlando, Florida; a parish of The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter © 2018.
John is the founder and owner of Magnolia Prep, an SAT and ACT tutoring business with branches in several major US cities. Foster holds a Doctorate in Medicine from Nova Southeastern University Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine, and is currently pursuing post-graduate studies in medicine.