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Priest holes


Priest catchers were professional lawmen in the era of the underground Catholic Church in England (1535-1679). They raided houses where they suspected a Mass was being celebrated, guarded the ports to prevent priests from coming into the country, and searched the houses of known Catholics for the secret panels, which disguised the “priest holes.”

St. Nicholas Owen, who was called “Little John,” was a Jesuit lay brother, and master carpenter who, for twenty-five years, designed and built many of the hiding holes in great Catholic homes throughout England. These “priest holes” were where hunted priests frequently hid undiscovered for days while the priest catchers ripped the house around them apart. St. Nicholas was eventually betrayed and tortured in the Tower of London for six days until his death. On the Rack the only words he said were “Jesus” and “Mary.” He suffered from a hernia and his torturers fastened an iron girdle around him in order to try to keep him alive long enough to reveal the whereabouts of other hiding places. He was hung by his wrists for six hours at a time, with weights tied to his feet. Little John remained silent until his bowels burst, dying a martyrs death in terrible agony without betraying his secrets.  

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