John Kemble (1599-1679) was a much-loved Catholic priest martyred during the madness of the “Popish Plot”.
In normal times, despite harsh anti-Catholic laws, the extent of persecution depended upon the sympathies of local landowners and JPs. Around Hereford and Monmouth, for example, where the Catholic Earls (from 1642 Marquesses) of Worcester held sway at Raglan Castle, the old religion was for long periods practised with impunity. From 1622 there was even a Jesuit College at Cwm, near Welsh Newton. At nearby Dingestow 20-odd worshippers at the parish church would see some 60 Catholics trooping past on their way to Mass.
In 1678 the farrago of lies concocted by Titus Oates, that there was a Jesuit conspiracy to murder the King, gave disgruntled Protestants and ambitious chancers their opportunity. A Monmouthshire rogue called William Bedloe laid false information against the leading Catholics of the area.
One of those who suffered in the prevailing hysteria was John Kemble. Born into a Catholic family at St Weonards, some five miles north of Welsh Newton, he had studied for the priesthood at the English College in Douai.
Ordained in 1625, he returned to Monmouthshire and served more than 50 years as an itinerant priest, winning admirers even among Protestants. Based at Pembridge Castle, which his brother had leased in 1630, he had seemed immune from prosecution.
Moreover in 1651 his nephew Richard Kemble saved Charles II’s life at the battle of Worcester. The King, however, was not a man to remember past services when his own preservation was at stake.
As the anti-Catholic furore boiled over in 1678 John Kemble rejected all warnings, declaring that he could do no better than to die for Christ. . . .
Because he responded with the news of his impending execution with the requests to finish his pipe and enjoy a last drink, the terms a "Kemble Pipe" and a "Kemble Cup" became part of popular culture. He even had to encourage this hangman to do his job!
There is an annual pilgrimage to the site of his grave in an Anglican churchyard, held this year on August 19:
The Annual Pilgrimage to the grave of St John Kemble at Welsh Newton will take place on Sunday 19th August 2012. His Grace Archbishop George Stack will be in attendance. The programme is as follows:
10 a m: MONMOUTH
The walk begins from St Mary’s Church, Monmouth. Pilgrims are advised to bring a packed lunch.
3 p m: WELSH NEWTON
Rosary, Readings and prayers at the grave of St John Kemble in the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin, Welsh Newton, Herefordshire.
4:15 p m: MONMOUTH
Benediction at St Mary's Church, Monmouth. Following Benediction, tea will be served in the garden.
Here is a Kyrie from a Mass in his honor. St. John Kemble, pray for us!