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Nicholas Owen

(c. 1550—1606) carpenter and Jesuit lay brother


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(c.1550–1606), Jesuit lay brother and martyr. He was born of an Oxfordshire recusant family and was trained in early life as a carpenter and builder. This enabled him to construct hiding-places for priests in various country houses with extraordinary skill and ingenuity over a period of twenty-six years. Thus he helped to save the lives of many priests and the fortunes of many recusant families. Examples of his work survive at Sawston Hall (Cambs.), Hinlip Hall and Huddington Court (Hereford and Worcester), Harrowden (Northants.), Coughton Hall (Warwicks.), and Broadoaks (Essex), most of which were built single-handed, at night, in complete secrecy.

Three times Owen was imprisoned: once after the arrest of Edmund Campion, whom he served and praised, again after the imprisonment of John Gerard, whose escape he planned and executed, and again, while serving the Provincial Henry Garnet, at Hinlip Hall. Here Owen, after a fortnight without food in his own hiding-hole, gave himself up to the pursuivants in the hope that they would call off the pursuit of the priests. He was taken to the Tower and mercilessly racked, although legally exempt from this torture owing to a rupture. As he constantly refused to give information about the whereabouts of priests, he was again racked, until on 2 February he died in agony after his vital parts had burst out under torture. The Council asserted that he had committed suicide, but few contemporaries believed it. He was canonized by Paul VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. Feast: 25 October.

From The Oxford Dictionary of Saints in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Christianity.


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