Friday, January 13, 2012

Priest Holes

From Christine at Laudem Gloriae:
Under the reign of "Good Queen Bess", a law was passed prohibiting the celebration of Mass, on pain of extradition. On a second offense, the guilty priest would be sentenced to a year in prison, and on the third offense, jailed for life. In some cases, the offending priest would be put to death, usually by hanging, drawing, and quartering. Another law was passed that punished with death any Catholic who should convert a Protestant.

It was during this time that the Jesuit priest and martyr Nicholas Owen was called on to design and build priest holes in all the great Catholic manses in England. He spent the greater part of his life doing so.
With incomparable skill, he knew how to conduct priests to a place of safety along subterranean passages, to hide them between walls and bury them in impenetrable recesses, and to entangle them in labyrinths and a thousand windings. But what was much more difficult of accomplishment, he so disguised the entrances to these as to make them most unlike what they really were. Moreover, he kept these places so close a secret with himself that he would never disclose to another the place of concealment of any Catholic. He alone was both their architect and their builder, working at them with inexhaustible industry and labour, for generally the thickest walls had to be broken into and large stones excavated, requiring stronger arms than were attached to a body so diminutive as to give him the nickname of 'Little John,' and by this his skill many priests were preserved from the prey of persecutors. Nor is it easy to find anyone who had not often been indebted for his life to Owen's hiding-places.
--Fr. Tanner, Vita et Mors

Fr. Owen was caught and tortured on the rack. Asked to reveal all the hiding places he had built, he refused, and died in the midst of his torments.

Some of the following were built by Fr. Owen, while others' origins are unknown.

A false fireplace leads into the attic...

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