HIDE YOUR KIDS, HIDE YOUR WIFE, HIDE YOUR… PRIEST?
In medieval England, Catholic clergy played a high-stakes game of hide-and-seek. http://slate.me/1UI3jdj
- •When Protestant Queen Elizabeth I was crowned in the mid-16th century, many English Catholics were none too pleased.The queen retaliated by making Catholicism illegal.
- •Priests were considered traitors to the crown, and subject to death if caught (along with their worshippers).Rather than relinquish their beliefs, Catholics began to practice their faith underground — sometimes literally.
- •They developed a clandestine network of safe houses marked with symbols like crosses and lambs.The devout even smuggled Jesuit priests into the country.
- •Eventually the Queen wised up, and unleashed an army of priest-hunters, or “pursuivants.”Pursuivants raided the estates of wealthy Catholics, torturing and murdering any priests they found.
- •In response, these landowners built secret compartments called priest holes.Favorite locations included: inside fireplaces, under staircases, and behind false walls.
- •The priest holes were tiny but numerous — some houses had as many as twelve.
- •Priest-hunters caught on, and started conducting elaborate measurements and impromptu demolitions.Especially determined pursuivants would even stake out a suspected fugitive for weeks, leading some priests to die of thirst or starvation.
- •The most prolific architect of priest holes was a Jesuit brother named Nicholas Owen, who began his work in 1580s.He was nicknamed “Little John” due to his diminutive height, but he had the courage of a man twice his size.
- •When he was captured in 1606, he was tortured in the Tower of London.But he refused to give up the name of a single priest or the location of a single hole.
- •In 1970 he was sainted by Pope Paul, and is now considered the patron saint of illusionists.