Thursday, 24 July 2014

St Phillip Evans and St John Lloyd.

Although we celebrated the Feast of St. Mary Magdelene on the 22nd July, Catholics in Wales are also mindful of two saints who were martyred in Cardiff on the 22nd July 1679 – St. Philip Evans , who was, like Teilhard a Jesuit,  and St John Lloyd. ( Their feast day was moved to yesterday - the 23rd July. )  At a time when their was a persecution of Catholics in Wales, the two men were found guilty of being Catholic priests – and therefore of Treason against the crown.  This was at the same time as when St Claude de la Colombiere was also arrested ( 1678) for the same crime – being a Catholic priest.  St  Claude, of course, was released and allowed to return to France.  Like other Catholics, they fell victim of  the anti- Catholic sentiment stirred up by a fictional plot propagated by one Titus Oates that Catholics were planning to assassinate the King ( Charles II).  There was, of course no such plot – just a plot to kill Catholic priests.

From stained glass window, Catholic Church Tenby
Read about St Philip and St John here and here.  They were canonised in 1970 by Paul VI. 

Their deaths were unbelievably terrible – because they had committed treason they were first partially hung, their insides  ‘drawn out’ while they were still alive and then  cut into quarters.   St  John Lloyd had to watch as his brother priest was executed first, and he followed after. They underwent this cruel procedure showing absolute confidence in Christ, and happy to die for their faith.  I always think that their blood made Cardiff a holy city.  The place where they were executed is marked by a simple plaque and is located in the Roath area of the City – at a very busy (noisy and dirty) junction of Richmond Road, Albany Road, City Road, Crwys Road, and Mackintosh Place.  Even today it is known as ‘death junction’ – because of the high number of road accidents!  In those days it was the place of public execution. And known as ‘Gallows field’- and  ‘Heol-y-Plwcca' – that is road to rough or scrub land ‘. At the time when our two Cardiff saints were killed it was the very opposite of a holy place – it was un-sanctified ground where murderers  and the like were unceremoniously buried.

Read about 'death junction' here. 

In recent years there has been a revival of interest in 'holy places' in Britain.  That is all to the good.  However, you will not find this part of Cardiff in 'Sacred Wonders of Britain' or 'Britain's holiest places'Here and Here  But ‘death junction’ should be listed amongst them: indeed it should be amongst the most important of them.  Stand by the plaque and look around and you will see little that one could describe as beautiful. It is not a place that anyone would go and visit.  It is no holy well,  or  ancient Cathedral.  There is nothing of a 'new age spirituality' here at this crossroads in Roath. You cannot sit quietly and contemplate and pray. You would not take a photograph to treasure as a souvenir of your visit to Cardiff.  A holy place or sacred space is usually seen as a ‘thin space’: a place where heaven and earth feel very close to one another.  A place where a person has a strong sense of the presence of the divine.

Death junction in Cardiff , however, is in so many respects more sacred and holy than those places generally regarded as ‘thin spaces’ which make people feel good or revive that drooping spirits.  For here, a place which saw so much death and evil and in which two saints were brutally butchered we stand in a place of the skull – a Welsh Golgotha. A Cardiff sacred site that has not been sanctified by a convent or place of prayer or filmed for a glossy TV program on holy places.   Here, in this place, two men felt very close to God and such was their faith in God’s love and mercy that they went willingly and joyfully to meet evil and overcome it.  Through their faith these two men sanctified a place which was a bye-word for death and evil.  When we stand amidst the traffic of  the old gallows field we are not, apparently, in a 'divine landscape'. We are not in the midst of a wood sacred to the ancient druids. We do not stand in an enchanted space.  We are standing, however, in a profoundly spiritual place - but not the kind of spiritual space for those after a beautiful experience.  Amidst all the noise and traffic fumes we stand in a space which gives us none of the 'experiences' we associate with holy places.  But here is the contradiction: as Jesuits like St Phillip Lloyd and Teilhard understood, we are called to see Christ in all things.  We stand in space, but also in time.  The blue plaque is a prompt to step back in time, and recall the faith and courage of these men.  We see Christ in the beauty of the world - as captured by TV producers and presenters - but we also see Christ in the ugly and the ordinary.  We see Christ is all things bright and beautiful, but also in the dark and the disgusting.  So, we should take joy and hope from the fact that it was from this corner of what was a killing field in 1679, two men from Wales made their journey of faith from Cardiff to heaven.  They went from darkness and despair, to light, love and hope.   

We are not all called to be martyred like Saint John Lloyd and St Phillip Evans, but we are all called to close the gap between heaven and earth: as we say in the Lord’s prayer ,‘Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’  When we do God’s will, we  help to make even the most evil places into sacred spaces.  So, if you ever find yourself in this holy place stop by the blue sign, look around and ask these two great saints to pray for all those who are persecuted for being followers of Christ.  Ask them to pray for all those who do not live in holy places, but places which have been spaces within which human beings have lived lives devoid of love and peace and full of hate and violence.  Pray and ask their help so that our hearts may be open to the fire of the Holy Spirit. 

St Phillip Evans, who played his harp in prison as he awaited his execution, play your harp in heaven for us and pray for us. 

St. John Lloyd, who admitted on the scaffold that he had 'never been a good speaker', pray for us  that we might find the courage to speak the gospel to a world that has so many death junctions. 


  1. Very good entry about these two martyrs, thank you. I wrote the book Britain's Holiest Places on which the BBC series was based (which shows a small selection of the most photogenic and interesting). My book lists many sites marked by a plaque or small monument where Christians were executed by other Christians (though not this site in Cardiff), and I couldn't agree more that these are both holy and merit devotional interest.

    However I would add that each holy place in Britain is not simply a site where good and uplifting things have happened. All of them are marked by death and defacement. Holy places are where good and bad things happen alike, lighting rods for the most extreme parts of human nature. Our holiest monastery in England was on Lindisfarne, and that is also the place where the Viking Age began too, the start of half a millennium of murder and looting as well as a place of prayer and miracle. Golgotha definitely.

  2. Dear Nick, thanks for your comments. Of course, I know your wonderful book, Britain's Holiest Places - and I would urge people to go and buy it - and one for a friend! I agree, of course. Your excellent book is a mine of information as well as all the 'photogenic stuff - but that visual stuff is really marvellous! The text is most useful and provides a good guide to all the sites. I posted the blog on 'death junction' because I felt that all too often we ( I !) tend to see holy and sacred places as being in some senses just beautiful or extraordinary. But the holy and the sacred are all around us. It is the ordinary and the ugly that is more difficult for us to sanctify. On a personal level as someone who was born in this part of Cardiff, and past it regularly as I was growing up, it was the poem by Francis Thompson ( The kingdom of God) which helped me to see the 'world invisible'. Your book and the tv series does a great job in helping people to rediscover- or discover for the first time - the sacred spaces of Britain. I think Thompson's poem taught me to see the ordinary through the thin veil covering the intangible and unknowable. Standing on that busy, dirty and dangerous intersection I would often imagine Jacob's ladder pitched not between heaven and Charing Cross (as did Thompson) but between Heaven and the 'gallows field' in Cardiff. And closing my eyes I could see the two martyrs climbing the ladder! The door to heaven opened just above Crwys road and Christ walked on water - not of Genesareth but of Taff! I think that your book can help people to see the world differently and see the holiness of the commonplace shine through. On reflection I think that it is what icons can also help us to do. An icon can provide a window through which we can see and 'clutch' the world 'invisible, intangible, unknowable, and inapprehensible'. Since I have had this icon, I think it has helped me see holiness in apparently common place spaces. Your book too can help us re-enchant a disenchanted, deeply materialistic world! So pleased to see the TV programme back on our screens!

  3. That's very kind, thank you! And as someone who lives in a house full of icons I can return the support by saying every prayer corner would benefit from your work. In fact I'm sure I've seen your work and heard your name elsewhere, now I look again at your website, my wife paints icons too!

    Anyway I'm sure our paths will cross some day, given our intersection of interests. I am continuing to work on projects promoting the sacred sites of Britain, going a bit deeper into the early church and what they practised at holy places. I'll drop you an email I think, but if others are interested I will keep Ian and others posted as I progress.

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  5. Hello!

    Does anyone know what the witnessed miracles were that these two priests performed? (In order for them to become saints).

  6. Hello, I am interested in St Philip Evans and St John Lloyd and Was wondering If anyone knows what the miracles, that they both performed and had witnessed, were in order for them to become Saints?

  7. Hello, I am interested in St Philip Evans and St John Lloyd and Was wondering If anyone knows what the miracles, that they both performed and had witnessed, were in order for them to become Saints?