Today, 22 July 2012, is the anniversary of the martyrdom of St John Lloyd, a Welsh priest who was hanged, drawn and quartered together with St Philip Evans on 22 July 1679 at Gallows Field in Cardiff, Wales. To have spent 25 years ministering to Welsh Catholics without being caught by the authorities is a rather amazing achievement compared to the majority of the other priests among the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.
St John Lloyd was born around the year 1630 in Breconshire, Wales, into a fervent Catholic family. One of his brothers became a priest and died in prison for the Faith and one of his sisters joined the Blue Nuns. Growing up, the stories of the priestly martyrs who preceded him must have inspired young John to follow in their footsteps. By the age of 19 John had travelled to Spain to enrol at the seminary of the Royal college of St Alban at Valladolid, and had taken the missionary oath to return to Wales to serve as a priest. After 4 years of study John was ordained in 1653 or 1654, and sent back to Wales.
John’s missionary territory consisted of the South Wales counties of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire. For the next 24-25 years John travelled between homes of loyal Catholics, administering the sacraments and encouraging his flock to remain faithful. Things were going OK on the quiet, until the political climate changed with the Titus Oates plot. With the motivation for persecution refreshed, priest hunters tried extra hard and soon arrested John in November 1678 at the home of the recusant John Turberville at Penllyn.
The first part of John’s imprisonment was spent in solitary confinement at Cardiff castle Gaol. Within a few weeks, he was joined in prison by St Philip Evans, a Jesuit priest.Together they encouraged each other to persevere. Following six months in prison, John and Philip finally got their day in court. It took that long to find someone willing to testify against them. On 5 May 1679 they were both found guilty of being Catholic priests and thus guilty of high treason. The penalty was to be executed by being hanged, drawn and quartered.
It fell to Fr Evans to be executed first on 22 July 1679, and for John to be obliged to watch in anticipation of his own demise. Choosing his last words carefully, John told the onlookers, ‘I never was a good speaker in my life… but I die in the true Catholic and Apostolic faith. Bear your Crosses patiently and remember the words of Jesus, ‘ Happy are those who suffer persecution for justice sake, the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” It must have taken uncommon courage for John to remain steadfast in the face of the execution of Philip knowing that the same fate would shortly be his.
St John Lloyd, pray for us.