... in priest-holes

Published on 13 Aug 2019
Tudor manor with moat

This weekend I went to a family get-together with a difference: a Golden Wedding Anniversary of my father's cousin and her husband in a Tudor manor-house. My father's cousin's husband is a historian and has written extensively about the house, so gave us a guided tour. 

The house contains many examples of Catholic recusant history, but particuarly thrilling for me and indeed for his brood of grandchildren were the priest-holes and escape routes. They think that many of the priest-holes were the work of Nicholas Owen SJ, who was a master carpenter. Even though you'd be expecting them because you knew they'd be there, the places where the priest-holes were hidden really were astonishing: under a stair, behind a wooden panel, and one of my favourites was the false chimney which served as an escape route.

The heroes were the men who hid in them, but also those who helped to keep the secrets, and of course the master-carpenter himself. 

I felt deeply touched to see these signs of people who shared my faith being prepared to risk their lives and hide in these cramped corners for their religious ideals. One thing that really touched me was that the fact that apparently the priests often hid in pairs, because if you were going to face the darkness, cramped conditions and fear for your life, you needed a companion. 

We may not all have a chance to be a hero or a martyr in this way, but it is good to remember this witness and also remember the many ways people can be heroes. Good to remember too, that they can't do it alone.