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Campaigners seek to save secret chapel where martyr last prayed

The Gunter Mansion where Catholics hid during the Reformation

Campaigners are rushing to save a historic house in Wales where the country’s last Catholic martyr prayed before his execution.

Abergavenny’s historic Gunter Mansion is under threat of sale and so a rescue mission has been launched by the Welsh Georgian Trust, which has six months to raise £235,000 to purchase and restore one of the town’s most priceless buildings.

The trust’s spokesman, Andrew Beckett, told the Abergavenny Chronicle: “The Gunter Mansion is by far the most important building at risk in Abergavenny today. It would be a tragedy for the town if we fail in our aim of saving this building. There are six months left for us to raise the purchase price. Although we have support from a number of grant giving bodies we need to raise the balance of funds by crowdfunding and individual contributions.

“An illness of the member of our team who has been leading on crowdfunding has unfortunately delayed our launch date. However we hope to go live with the crowdfunding in the next few weeks.”

The mansion houses a secret chapel which was discovered in 1907 which was used by persecuted Catholics during the Reformation.

Abergavenny was considered a sanctuary for Catholic dissidents between 1660 and 1670 and the secret chapel was where martyr St David Lewis prayed before his execution in 1679.

In a post on their website, the Welsh Gregorian Trust explained: “Gunter Mansion is a hugely important survival from a pivotal time in British history. It was a key focal point in the religious struggles immediately following the Restoration in the 1660s and 1670s. At this time the future of Britain as a Protestant nation was far from certain, with a resurgence in Catholicism seen as a major threat to the fragile peace.

“The Catholic activities in Abergavenny, and Gunter Mansion in particular, were catapulted to centre stage, being discussed in Parliament and directly contributing to the febrile atmosphere engendered by the Titus Oates plot” – a supposed Catholic conspiracy to kill King Charles II that, despite being entirely fabricated, led to mass executions.

In 1678 a shocked House of Common was told that “very great numbers” went to the house in Abergavenny for Mass.

The trust is hoping to raise enough money to buy the building and carry out immediate repairs to allow the chapel to be opened to the public with a small centre about Welsh Catholicism.