Saint of the Day – 10 December – Saint John Roberts (1577-1610) Priest Martyr, Monk, Missionary. Born in 1577 at Trawsfynydd, Merionethshire, Gwynedd, northern Wales and died by being hung, drawn and quartered on 10 December 1610 at Tyburn, London, England. Additional Memorials – • 25 October as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, 1 December as one of the Martyrs of Oxford University.
John Roberts was the eldest son of Robert and Anna of Rhiw Goch Farm, Trawsfynydd. He was a descendant of the Welsh Princes, including Maelgwn Gwynedd, Hywel Dda and Llewelyn the Great.
Despite being raised a Protestant, it is believed that he received his early education from a Monk who had been forced to leave nearby Cymer Abbey after Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.
John studied at St John’s College at Oxford. However, he left without earning a degree and entered as a law student at one of the Inns of Court. He travelled throughout the continent and more so, Paris and through the influence of a Catholic fellow traveller, he was converted to Catholicism. By the advice of John Cecil, an English Priest, he decided to enter the English College, at Douai in 1598.
He left College the following year for the Abbey of St Benedict and was sent to make his novitiate at San Martin Pinario, Santiago de Compostela. He made his profession towards the end of 1600. He was Ordained and set out for England in December 1602. Although a Government spy observed him, John and his companions succeeded in entering the country in April 1603 but he was arrested and banished in May. He soon managed to return to England, and worked among the plague victims in London. In 1604 while preparing to leave for Spain with four postulants, he was arrested again. Not recognised as a Priest, he was released and again banished but he returned to England, once again.
In 1605, he was found at the house of Mr And Mrs Thomas Percy, who was involved in the Gunpowder Plot. Although he was not found guilty of being involved, in July 1606. he was imprisoned in the Gatehouse Prison at Westminster for seven months and then exiled This time he was gone for fourteen months, nearly all of which he spent at Douai where he founded and became the first Abbot of a house for English Benedictine Monks, who had entered through Spanish Monasteries. This was the beginning of the Monastery of St Gregory at Douai.
In October 1607, John returned to England. In December, he was again arrested and placed in the Gatehouse at Westminster. After several months, he escaped. He lived in London for about a year and in May 1609, he was taken to Newgate Prison. He would have been executed but the French Ambassador interceded on his behalf and his sentence was reduced to banishment. He visited Spain and Douai but returned to England within the year. He was captured again on 2 December 1610, just as he was concluding Mass. They took him to Newgate in his Vestments. On 5 December he was tried and found guilty under the Act forbidding Priests to minister in England.
On 10 December he was hung, drawn and quartered along with Father Thomas Somers at Tyburn, London. His body was recovered and taken to St Gregory’s at Douai. His arm was found in the possession of the Spanish Royal family before being returned to Santiago de Compostela, where he served as a novice. One of his fingers is kept in the Sacred Cross Church, Gellilydan, while another is at the Tyburn convent and one more in Taunton.
He was Beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886 and Canonised by Pope Paul VI as one of the “Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.”
His life is commemorated in Trawsfynydd’s heritage centre, Llys Ednowain. There is an information board about him outside the centre, one of six posted along a walk past significant locations in his life.
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