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Richard Gwyn (martyr)
Detail of a painting of Richard Gwyn in Wrexham Cathedral
|Died||15 October 1584(1584-10-15) (aged 47)
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church|
|Canonized||25 October 1970 by Pope Paul VI|
Saint Richard Gwyn (ca. 1537 – 15 October 1584), also known by his anglicised name, Richard White, was a Welsh school teacher. He was martyred by being hanged, drawn and quartered for high treason in 1584. He was canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. His feast day is celebrated on 17 October.
Little is known of Richard Gwyn's early life. He was born about 1537 in Montgomeryshire, Wales and at the age of 20 he matriculated at Oxford University, but did not complete a degree. He then went to Cambridge University, where he lived on the charity of St John's College and its master, the Roman Catholic Dr. George Bullock. In the early part of the reign of Elizabeth I, Bullock was forced to resign the mastership in July 1559; this marked the end of Gwyn's university career in England, after just two years.
Gwyn returned to Wales and became a teacher in the Wrexham area, continuing his studies on his own. He married Catherine; they had six children, three of whom survived him. His adherence to the old faith was noted by the Bishop of Chester, who brought pressure on him to conform to the Anglican faith. It is recorded in an early account of his life that:
[a]fter some troubles, 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.
Imprisonment and execution
Owing to his recusancy he was arrested more than once. He often had to change his home and his school to avoid fines and imprisonment. Finally in 1579 he was arrested by the Vicar of Wrexham, a former Catholic who had conformed to Anglicanism, and confined to prisoner in Ruthin gaol, where he was offered liberty if he would conform. He escaped and remained a fugitive for a year and a half, was recaptured, and spent the next four years in one prison after another.
In May 1581 Gwyn was forcibly taken to St. Giles' Church in Wrexham, carried around the font on the shoulders of six men and laid in heavy shackles in front of the pulpit. However, he "so stirred his legs that with the noise of his irons the preacher's voice could not be heard." He was placed in the stocks for this incident, and was taunted by a local Anglican priest who claimed that the keys of the Church were given no less to him 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."
Gwyn was fined £280 for refusing to attend Anglican church services, and another £140 for "brawling" when they took him there by force. When asked what payment he could make toward these huge sums, he answered, "Six-pence".
Gwyn and two other Catholic prisoners, John Hughes and Robert Morris, were ordered into court in the spring of 1582 where, instead of being tried for an offence, they were given a sermon by an Anglican minister. However, they started to heckle him (one in Welsh, one in Latin and one in English) to the extent that the exercise had to be abandoned. He was frequently brought to the bar at different assizes to undergo opprobrious treatment, but never obtaining his liberty. In May, 1583, he was removed to the Council of the Marches, and later in the year suffered torture at Bewdley and Bridgenorth before being sent back to Wrexham.
Richard Gwyn, John Hughes and Robert Morris were indicted for high treason in October 1583 and were brought to trial before a panel headed by the Chief Justice of Chester, Sir George Bromley. Witnesses gave evidence that they retained their allegiance to the Catholic Church, including that Gwyn composed "certain rhymes of his own making against married priests and ministers" and "[T]hat he had heard him complain of this world; and secondly, that it would not last long, thirdly, that he hoped to see a better world [this was construed as plotting a revolution]; and, fourthly, that he confessed the Pope's supremacy." The three were also accused of trying to make converts.
Despite their defences and objections to the dubious practices of the court Gwyn and Hughes were found guilty. Again his life was offered him on condition that he acknowledge the queen as supreme head of the Church. His wife consoled and encouraged him to the last. At the sentencing Hughes was reprieved and Gwyn condemned to death by hanging, drawing and quartering. This sentence was carried out in the Beast Market in Wrexham on 15 October 1584.
Just before Gwyn was hanged he turned to the crowd and 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." 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, in Welsh, were reportedly "Iesu, trugarha wrthyf" ("Jesus, have mercy on me").
Legacy, relics and feast day
Five carols and a funeral ode composed by Gwyn in Welsh have been discovered and published.
In addition, St Richard Gwyn Roman Catholic High School, Flintshire was renamed as St Richard Gwyn, having originally been named Blessed Richard Gwyn RC High School in 1954. There is also the St Richard Gwyn Catholic High School, Barry, Wales.
- Carradice, Phil. "Saint Richard Gwyn, Welsh Catholic martyr", BBC Wales
- Cooper, Thompson (1886). Stephen, Leslie (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 7. London: Smith, Elder & Co. . In
- "Saint Richard Gwyn", Diocese of Wrexham
- Burton, Edwin. 'The Venerable Richard White', Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 15, p. 612 (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912) This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- Edwin Hubert Burton and John Hungerford Pollen, Lives of the English Martyrs, Longmans, Green and Co., 1914, 143.
- The Angelus'', October 1978, Volume I, Number 10; "Saint Richard Gwyn" by Malcolm Brennan
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