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Hundreds are expected to attend 400th anniversary mass for our forgotten saint; MUCH-LOVED CATHOLIC PRIEST JOHN ROBERTS WAS EXECUTED.

Byline: JAMES MCCARTHY

HE was the priest who braved an outbreak of the plague and the wrath of the King of England by snubbing the law to spread the Catholic faith.

But while the name Dewi Sant is venerated across Wales, farmer's son St John Roberts has all but been forgotten.

This year is the 400th anniversary of his martyrdom, with up to 1,000 people expected to attend an open-air mass in his honour this weekend at Cymer Abbey, near Dolgellau.

The 17th century missionary was gruesomely hanged, drawn and quartered in London in 1610 on the orders of judge Justice Coke.

The 33-year-old was caught by government agents after saying mass in a house, having been followed by former priest turned spy John Cecil, who had compiled a dossier on the unfortunate Roberts for James I. Expert Keith O'Brien is chairman of Llys Ednowain Heritage centre in Trawsfynydd.

Roberts - born in 1577 - grew up in the village on Rhiw Goch Farm. He was the eldest son of Robert and Anna.

Unlike 16 others executed with him, he was not disembowelled alive after being dragged through the streets on a hurdle - a piece of glorified fence.

Mr O'Brien said: "The crowd were so incensed he was being hanged, drawn and quartered that they insisted he be hanged to the death so he did not feel the pain."

Even though Roberts was dead he was still disembowelled.

His heart was then held aloft by the executioner who proclaimed: "Behold the heart of the traitor!" But the angry crowd did not provide the standard response of: "Long live the King!" There was deathly silence. Mr O'Brien said: "The executioner was probably a bit worried about his own future because these were the people that remembered how kind John Roberts had been to them during the plague, not caring about his own health but caring for them."

The government had been trying to pin something on Roberts for years.

That the priest, also a monk, had helped countless plague victims meant nothing in the king's eyes.

He was arrested on several occasions but always escaped after Church intervention.

He was even locked up on trumped up charges when the government attempted to link him to the Gunpowder Plot in 1605.

Mr O'Brien said: "Following the execution the authorities knew how important the relics would be to the Catholics.

"For the bits of his body they made a great big hole and chucked his bits to the bottom.

"The remains of the 16 other people - thieves and what have you - they were chucked on top of the remains of the priest to prevent the Catholics getting to him."

But they were not to be deterred.

"In the early hours they got to the body, to the arms and legs and torso," Mr O'Brien said.

"But they were surprised, and lost one of the legs.

"The other two arms and the torso and the other leg were embalmed by Dona Luisa de Caravajal."

His limbs were then sent to France, and to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, where he had served as a novice.

Today, ne of his fingers is kept by Bishop Edwin Regan in Blaenau Ffestiniog.

Bishop Regan said: "He had a great sense of humour.

"On the day of his execution he saw the pot for boiling the parts of his body when they were cut off.

"It's reported he said, 'Ah, I see you're preparing breakfast for us.' "It's not much of a joke but under the circumstances, it's not bad."

The bishop is to lead a bilingual service honouring Roberts tomorrow in the 12th century Cymer Abbey, near Dolgellau.

Assisting will be Swansea's Bishop Thomas Burns and Monsignor Robert Reardon, representing Archbishop of Cardiff Peter Smith.

Peter Smith, Archbishopelect of Southwark, said: "It's a sad but undeniable truism that a genuine prophet is hardly ever honoured in his own country.

"But I'm hoping that this magnificent mass will help make St John Roberts as famous in his native Wales as he is in countries like France and Spain." National Assembly presiding officer Lord Elis-Thomas will be attending.

He said: "Cymer Abbey is such a perfect location to commemorate the martyrdom."

FIVE MORE WELSH MARTYRS ST JOHN JONES from saying: "Adieu, Father Clynnog Fawr, near Caernarfon, was ordained in 1585 before being captured and imprisoned in Lloyd! Though only for a little time, for we shall soon meet again." St John Lloyd, from Brecon, said: "I never Cambridgeshire's Wisbech Castle.

was a good speaker in my life."

He escaped and became a Franciscan monk in Rome but was executed in London in 1598.

ST PHILIP EVANS, of Monmouth, was executed in Cardiff after priest hunter John Arnold put a pounds 200 bounty on his head. ST DAVID LEWIS was condemned to death in March 1679 on a charge of high treason for saying Catholic mass. He was hanged in Usk on August 27, 1679.

ST JOHN LLOYD was a secular priest executed with St Philip Evans. Before they died St Philip Evans addressed the crowd SAINT RICHARD GWYN was hanged, drawn and quartered for high treason in 1584. He was conscious during his disembowelling. His last words were: "Iesu, trugarha wrthyf" or "Jesus, have mercy on me."

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The the relic finger of St John Roberts The 'forgotten martyr of Wales' - St John Roberts, of Trawsfynydd, Gwynedd
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 5, 2010
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