A MAKER OF REFUGES
Saint Nicholas Owen - The Priest Hole Maker
Jesuit Lay brother
In our 2010 film we present the story of one England's greatest carpenters and builders, Saint NICHOLAS OWEN, an Englishman who spent almost 30 years travelling England, constructing the most ingenious hiding spaces, priest holes and secret rooms in country houses, many of which can be visited and viewed today.
To provide hidden places throughout England during Penal times for hunted Catholic missionary priests to hide and escape capture, imprisonment and often death for keeping alive the Catholic Faith in England.
Nicholas Owen is one of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales, a specific group of men and women who gave the ultimate witness to the truth of their Faith during the persecution of the Catholic Church in England over the 14th - 17th Century.
ALMOST NOTHING is known of the early life and background of Nicholas Owen; but he was a craftsman of great skill in a little body, who saved the lives of unnumbered priests by his ingenuity in constructing hiding places for them. It is known that Nicholas had three brothers: John became a priest and worked on the English mission; Walter was a Deacon when he went to the English College, Valladolid, where he died, probably after his priestly ordination; Henry, the third brother, was a printer of underground Catholic literature and suffered imprisonment for his activities.
Nicholas Owen followed in his father's trade as a carpenter and builder, which soon became his vocation. Sometime before the year 1580, Nicholas was secretly received into the SOCIETY OF JESUS as one of the FIRST ENGLISH LAY BROTHERS.
Nicholas spent 26 years travelling all over England constructing hiding places for priests all over country houses, with incredible skill and extraordinary ingenuity. He disguised their construction in such a way that the access to them was virtually undetectable.
Built into walls, chimney breasts, underneath staircases and between floors, many examples of his hiding places still survive to be seen today. How many hunted Catholic priests took refuge inside these clever little rooms and holes and managed to be spared the gallows, torture or imprisonment?
Certainly a great deal of our great Missionary priests owe their lives to Saint Nicholas Owen.
What was especially exceptional about Saint Nicholas Owen was that he never made any hiding place the same, so as not to provide any clues that might lead to the discovery of others. Sometimes he made FALSE HIDING PLACES to fool the hunters and searchers so that, having found a decoy empty, they would depart, leaving the real hiding place undetected.
Saint Nicholas Owen often pretended to be carrying out repairs to a property during the day, but at night his real work began. He carried out his incredible mission singlehandedly, in great secrecy, at night.
Saint Nicholas Owen came to be nicknamed 'Little John' because of his small stature, which enabled him to get into some very small spaces. Nicholas worked especially close with Father John Gerard. In 1605, a large party of Catholics made a pilgrimage to St Winifred's Well in Holywell, Wales. Nicholas Owen joined the group and took the opportunity to renovate some of his hiding places in the houses they passed or stayed at en route to and from Wales.
Nicholas Owen was eventually caught and arrested in 1606. He was tortured mercilessly on 26th February during which he uttered nothing but "Jesus" and "Mary".
He died in terrible agony, tortured to death while refusing to deny the Catholic Faith or give up any of the priests that he so eagerly served.
Father Gerard afterwards wrote of him:
"I verily think no man can be said to have done more good of all those who laboured in the English vineyard...he was the immediate occasion of saving the lives of many hundreds of persons, both ecclesiastical and secular...How many priests then may we think this man did save by his endeavours..."
Our film 'SAINT NICHOLAS OWEN: THE PRIEST HOLE MAKER' has this inspiring, daring, devout and ingenious English Martyr tell his own story and is a good way to encounter one of our great English heroes.
SAINT NICHOLAS OWEN: THE PRIEST HOLE MAKER DVD
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