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Throughout the persecution of the Catholic Church in England during Penal times, missionary priests travelled the country bringing the outlawed Sacraments of the Church and celebrating the illegal Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As hunted men carrying the threat of death upon their shoulders every day, these heroic priests required safe places to hide, especially in the homes of Catholic recusants where they stayed to rest and offer Mass, hear Confessions and administer the Sacraments of the Church to the persecuted Catholic faithful.
God graced an ingenious layman with the gift of creating secret rooms, priest holes and safe places in houses throughout England, many of which remain undiscovered today. Saint Nicholas Owen was a carpenter from a devoutly Catholic family in Oxford. His skill was unsurpassed and he became a key figure keeping the Catholic Faith alive in England.
For a time, Saint Nicholas Owen was Saint Edmund Campion’s servant and was arrested for protesting Saint Edmund Campion’s innocence when his master was arrested and executed. Saint Nicholas Owen was released and thereafter entered the service of Fr. Henry Garnet, the head of the Jesuits in England, and travelled with him for the next 18 years. During this time, Saint Nicholas constructed endless ingenious safe rooms and holes in fascinating secret locations that still earn the admiration of historians today.
He was arrested in 1594 and was tortured but revealed nothing. He was released after a wealthy Catholic family paid a fine on his behalf, the jailers believing that he was merely the insignificant friend of some priests. He resumed his work, oftentimes at night, and is believed to have masterminded the famous escape of Father John Gerard from the Tower of London in 1597.
Early in 1606, Saint Nicholas Owen was arrested a final time at Hindlip Hall in Worcestershire where he gave himself up voluntarily in hope of distracting attention from Father Garnet who was hiding nearby with another priest. When the authorities realised just whom they had caught, and his value, the Secretary of State Robert Cecil exulted: "It is incredible, how great was the joy caused by his arrest... knowing the great skill of Owen in constructing hiding places, and the innumerable quantity of dark holes which he had schemed for hiding priests all through England.”
Saint Nicholas was ruthlessly tortured in the Tower of London since he had an extensive knowledge of the underground Catholic network and much more. But Saint Nicholas Owen held firm and refused to disclose anything. He died under torture and was declared a Martyr for the Catholic Faith. Saint Nicholas Owen was canonised one of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales.
Learn about the inspiring life and missions of Saint Nicholas Owen: the Priest Hole Maker, in this film set during the dangerous Penal Times in England. Our unique film production style has been internationally praised for not only presenting information, details and facts but a prayerful and spiritual film experience. As seen on EWTN.
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