St Philip Evans SJ and St John Lloyd
the Holywell Bones identified
A portrait of a man in stained glass. He is wearing brown garments, a rough, a blue outer garment and a blue hat. Above his head is a tennis racket and three tennis balls. Underneath the figure is written St Philip Evans 16 79

Depiction of Philip Evans in stained glass

Let’s examine a possible identity for these two men. Philip Evans and John Lloyd were held together in Cardiff prison for months and executed on the same day in 1679. They became close friends during their incarceration and are always referred to as joint martyrs.

Philip Evans was born around 1645 in Monmouthshire. He attended St Omers Jesuit College and joined the Jesuits when he was twenty. In 1675 he returned to his native Wales to work as a missionary priest in the south of the country. In November 1678 the fury of the Oates plot hit South Wales, and both John Arnold and William James, who we have already met in relation to the death of David Lewis, were determined to hunt out and capture Philip Evans, who was well known in the area as a Catholic priest. Evans was captured on December 2nd 1678 and committed to Cardiff Gaol. After some weeks in solitary confinement he was permitted to share a cell with another condemned Welsh priest, John Lloyd. A close comradeship grew up between the two men, and they provided each other with much needed moral and spiritual support in the last seven months of their lives.

John Lloyd was older than Evans, and little is known about his early life. He was born in Brecon, and trained as a priest in Valladolid, returning to work in South Wales in 1654. His older brother, William, was also a priest and was the superior of the secular priests in the region - William was to die in prison of ill-treatment before the authorities were able to carry out his sentence of death.

John Lloyd was arrested, at the hands of John Arnold and William James like Philip Evans, a few weeks before Evans’ capture. John Lloyd and Philip Evans were tried together, condemned together, shared a prison cell together, were executed together and were beatified together in 1929, in recognition of the close bonds of their mutually supportive spiritual and comradely friendship.

In the foreground of this photograph is a carved image of Jesus on the cross. Four men dressed as soldiers have been carved at the base of the cross looking up at Jesus. In the background is a stained glass window. Two figures, Thomas Garnet and Philip Evans, are depicted in the window

Stonyhurst war memorial with martyrs' window

John Lloyd and Philip Evans were condemned to death for their religion at the Spring Assizes in 1679. A sympathetic gaoler allowed them some freedom in their last months of life, and Evans- a skilled musician- was permitted to borrow a harp. He had been a chorister at school in St Omers, and composed canticles from memory; after all, he had only left school some fifteen years earlier. He was a dedicated and excellent tennis player; another skill he had picked up in his school days. He was playing tennis in the grounds of the prison on July 21st 1679 when the news was brought to him that he and Lloyd were to die the following day. According to accounts he received the news cheerfully and asked to be allowed to finish the game before the two men were taken back to their cells and shackled.

They were both hanged, drawn and quartered the next day. It was common, at the execution of more than one priest, for the killing of the first man to be unusually protracted and violent, in the hope that this would prompt the others who would follow to recant their religion and avoid death. John Lloyd was forced to watch the agony suffered by Philip Evans while he waited for his own time to die. Witnesses commentated on the unusual ferocity with which the barbaric sentence was carried out on both men.

It further seems likely that the anti-Jesuit fury of John Arnold was visited on the remains of Philip Evans, whose body was subjected to savage treatment after death  and whose head was impaled on a spike. The bones we have just seen, sheared through by sharp blades, indicate a greater degree of dismemberment than was normal.

John Lloyd as a secular priest seems to have been spared that last, final indignity, which indicates an explanation for the intact skull. If indeed these are the bones of Evans and Lloyd, it is fitting that they were kept together after death, as a mark of their close friendship in the last months and moments of their lives.

The title page of a Welsh bible

Catholic Welsh language bible, 1679

This Catholic Welsh language bible was printed in 1679, the same year that Evans and Lloyd were executed. It is very likely that it was owned and read by some of the Welsh Catholics who were part of the community cared for by one of the two men.

The evening before his death Evans wrote to his younger sister, Catherine Barbara, who was a nun in Paris. She kept the letter throughout her life.  

‘Dear Sister, I know that you are so well versed in the principles of Christian courage as not to be at all startled when you understand that your loving brother writes this as his last letter unto you, being in a few hours hence to suffer as a priest and consequently for God’s sake. What greater happiness can befall a Christian man?’