Monday, October 17, 2011

October 17, 1584: Welshman Richard Gwyn Executed

The Catholic Herald features St. Richard Gwyn as the Saint of the Week on its website:

Richard Gwyn (1537-1584) was a victim of Queen Elizabeth I’s persecution of Catholics, conducted with increasing intensity after 1581.

Born in Llanidloes in central Wales, Gwyn matriculated at Oxford before removing swiftly to Cambridge where, at St John’s, he lived by the charity of Dr Bullock, the college’s Catholic Master.

After the death of Queen Mary in 1558, however, Bullock refused to take the oath of supremacy administered by Elizabeth’s government and was ejected from the Mastership.

Gwyn fled to the continent, spending some time at Douai. Around 1562 he returned to Wales and for the next 16 years worked as a schoolmaster, mainly in Wrexham and Overton. He was much loved, not merely for his excellence and dedication as a teacher, but also for “other good partes known to be in him”. . . .

When his persecutors laid him in heavy shackles before the pulpit of a Protestant church in Wrexham Gwyn “so stirred his legs that with the noise of his irons the preacher’s voice could not be heard”.

Placed in the stocks as a punishment, he was taunted by an Anglican priest who claimed to possess the keys of the Church as surely as St Peter did. “There is this difference,” Gwyn riposted, “namely that, whereas Peter received the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, the keys you received were obviously those of the beer cellar.”

Indicted for high treason, Gwyn was eventually condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered at the Beast Market in Wrexham in October 1584. “I have been a jesting fellow,” he told the crowd from the scaffold, “and if I have offended any that way, or by my songs, I beseech them for God’s sake to forgive me.”

The execution was hideously bungled, so that Gwyn remained conscious throughout his disembowelment. His last words, in Welsh, were: “Iesu, have mercy on me.”

It is clear that he did nothing to oppose the reign of Elizabeth I but practice his Catholic faith. For that he was harassed, mistreated, tortured, and brutally executed.

His relics are venerated and he is remembered at Wrexham Cathedral in North Wales, decicated to Our Lady of Sorrows. Mary's Dowry has produced a documentary on his life and death, and the trailer is linked above. I have not seen the film, but it looks like Mary's Dowry includes many aspects of his story: the attack by the birds when Gwyn did break down and conform earlier on, the way he and his fellow Catholics make noise when carried into an Anglican services wearing fetters and chains, and how he beat his chest: "mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa" when he was hanged before being eviscerated and quartered.

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