A Loyal Servant

Saint Richard Gwyn

Feast Day: 16th October

Richard Gwyn was born in Montgomeryshire, Wales, in about 1537, of an old but not wealthy family. At the age of twenty he went up to Oxford, where he remained for a short while, then to Cambridge, where he lived on the charity of St. John's College and its master, Dr. George Bulloch.

At the accession of the child king, Edward Vl, Dr. Bulloch had fled to the Continent because of his staunch opposition to the reformers. When Catholic Queen Mary came to the throne he returned to Cambridge and was unanimously elected master by the fellows of St. John's. But when Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne he was asked to resign the mastership. This marked the end of the university career of his protégé, Richard Gwyn, after barely two years.

Richard returned to Wales and became a schoolmaster, continuing his studies on his own. He married Catherine and they had six children. His abstention from Anglican communion was soon noticed, and the Bishop of Chester brought pressure on him to conform to the new religion. Reluctantly he yielded to their desires but had no sooner come out of church than he was attacked by crows. He became afraid and resolved to become a Catholic, being reconciled to the Church at the first coming of the seminary priests to Wales.

Persecuted for the Faith, he had to change his abode and his school several times to avoid fines and Imprisonment. Finally in 1579 he was arrested but he escaped and remained a fugitive for over a year, was recaptured and spent the next four years in one prison after another. He suffered greatly but his spirit was never broken.

Richard was condemned to a traitor’s death. As the awful sentence enumerated the brutalities to be inflicted on him, he listened unperturbed. “What is all this?” he asked. “Is it any more than one death?”

Little is known of Richard's wife Catherine except a few fine glimpses of her loyalty and pluck in what must have been a splendid marriage. Admonished by the judge not to follow the evil ways of her husband she replied, "If it is blood you want, you may take my life as well as my husband's. Fetch the witnesses and give them a little bribe, and they will give evidence against me too."

With his hands tied behind his back on the way to the gallows, Richard said the rosary on the piece of knotted string which held up his chains. The sheriff asked if he repented of his treason against the queen. "I have never committed any treason against her more than your father or grandfather, unless it be treason to fast and pray." The previous generation, of course, had all been Roman Catholic.

Richard exhorted the large crowd at the place of execution to be reconciled to the true Church. Just before he was turned off the ladder he said, "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." He hung by his neck for some time striking his breast in a penitential gesture. His friend, the hangman, pulled on his leg irons hoping to put him out of his pain. When he appeared dead they cut him down, but he revived and remained conscious through the disembowelling, until his head was severed. His last words were in Welsh, "Jesus, have mercy on me."

Saint Richard Gwyn died on 15 October 1584, and was among the 40 English and Welsh martyrs canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970.