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Page last updated at 12:55 GMT, Tuesday, 8 December 2009
Life of Trawsfynydd Catholic martyr Saint John Roberts

Trawsfynydd saint, John Roberts
The crowds refused to cheer at priest John Roberts' execution

John Roberts may seem an unlikely name for a saint, but this farmer's son from Trawsfynydd was one of the most recent Catholic martyrs in British history.

On 10 December a bi-annual mass is held in his memory at Gellilydan Catholic Church. The 2009 service will see the start of a year-long calendar of events to celebrate his life, 400 years after his death.

John Roberts was born in 1577, the eldest son of Robert and Anna of Rhiw Goch Farm, Trawsfynydd.

Despite being raised a Protestant, it's believed he received his early education from a former monk who had been forced to leave nearby Cymer Abbey after Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries.

He attended St John's College, Oxford, in 1595 before leaving to study law at Furnival's Inn, London.

But during his travels in Europe, he left behind both the law and his former faith as he converted to Catholicism on a visit to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

He moved on to Spain and joined St Benedict's monastery, Valladolid, where he became an official member of their community in 1598 and changed his name to Juan de Mervinia in honour of his birthplace, Meirionnydd.

Saint John Roberts
He's believed to be a descendant of the Welsh princes, including Maelgwn Gwynedd, Hywel Dda and Llewelyn the Great
He was arrested as part of the Guy Fawkes plot to bomb Parliament, but was found not guilty and deported

After his ordination in 1602, he succeeded in secretly landing back in England, despite the government spies on his tail.

He worked with sufferers of the Black Death in London for a while, but was captured several times by the Protestant authorities and sentenced to prison and repeatedly deported.

He founded an English priory of Benedictine monks in Douai, northern France, which led to the establishment of St Gregory's monastery. This community of monks still exists in Downside Abbey, Bath, the main Benedictine centre in Britain.

But John was intent on returning home, even though he knew he would almost certainly be killed if he did so. One day, as he was conducting mass, he was arrested, dragged to Newgate prison, accused of high treason and sentenced to death.


He was hung, drawn and quartered on 10 December, 1610, at 33 years old. It was usual for the prisoner's innards to be drawn when still alive, but the large crowd which gathered at his execution would not allow this. He was very popular among the poor of London because of the kindness he'd shown them during the plague.

After his death, monks took his body back to Douai. Even though his leg was lost to the enemy, other parts were taken to St Gregory's. 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.

John Roberts was made a saint by Pope Paul VI on 25 October, 1970.

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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