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Saint Nicholas OwenS.J., (c. 1562 – 1/2 March 1606) was a Jesuit lay brother who was the principal builder of priest holes during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and James I of England. After his final arrest, he was tortured to death by prison authorities in the Tower of London. He is honored as a martyr by the Catholic Church and was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970.

He was born in Oxford, England, around 1562 into a devoutly Catholic family and grew up during the Penal Laws. He was apprenticed as a joiner in 1577 where he acquired skills that he was to use in building hiding places. He entered the service of Henry Garnet S.J. around 1588 and for the next 18 years built hiding places for priests in the homes of Catholic families. He frequently traveled from one house to another, under the name of "Little John", accepting only the necessities of life as payment before starting off for a new project.

St Nicholas Owen was only slightly taller than a dwarf, and suffered from a hernia. Nevertheless, his work often involved breaking through thick stonework; and to minimize the likelihood of betrayal he often worked at night, and always alone. The number of hiding places he constructed will never be known. Due to the ingenuity of his craftsmanship, some may still be undiscovered.

For many years, St Nicholas Owen worked in the service of the Jesuit priest Henry Garnet, and was admitted into the Society of Jesus as a lay brother. He was arrested in 1594, and was tortured at the Poultry Compter, 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, and is believed to have masterminded the famous escape of Father John Gerard, S.J. from the Tower of London in 1597.

Early in 1606, Owen was arrested a final time at Hindlip Hall in Worcestershire, giving himself up voluntarily in hope of distracting attention from his master Fr. Garnet who was hiding nearby with another priest. Realizing just whom they had caught, and his value, Secretary of State, Robert Cecil exulted: "It is incredible, how great was the joy caused by his arrest... knowing the great skill of St Nicholas Owen in constructing hiding places, and the innumerable quantity of dark holes which he had schemed for hiding priests all through England."

After being committed to the Marshal sea, a prison on the southern bank of the Thames, Owen was then removed to the Tower of London. He was submitted to terrible "examinations" on the Top cliff rack, dangling from a wall with both wrists held fast in iron gauntlets and his body hanging. As his hernia allowed his intestines to bulge out during this procedure, the rack master strapped a circular plate of iron to his stomach. When he remained stubborn, it is believed that he was transferred to the rack, where the greater power of the windlass forced out his hernia which was then slashed by the plate, resulting in his death. However, St Nicholas Owen had revealed nothing to his inquisitors. He died in the night between 1 and 2 March 1606. Father Gerard wrote of him:

"I verily think no man can be said to have done more good of all those who laboured in the English vineyard. He was the immediate occasion of saving the lives of many hundreds of persons, both ecclesiastical and secular."

The torture of Saint Nicholas Owen, S.J.
an engraving by Melchior Küsel (17th century)

The torture of St. Nicolas The torture of St. Nicolas

St Nicholas Owen was canonized as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales by Pope Paul VI on 25 October 1970. Their joint feast day was initially celebrated on the anniversary of the canonization. That feast has been moved in England to 4 May. His individual feast day is on 22 March. Catholic stage magicians who practice Gospel Magic consider St. Nicholas Owen the patron saint of Illusionists and Escapologists, due to his facility at using "trompe l'oeil" when creating his hideouts and the fact that he engineered an escape from the Tower of London.


Saint John Wall, O.F.M., (1620 – 22 August 1679) was an English Catholic Franciscan friar, who is honored as a martyr.

He was born in Preston, Lancashire. When of age, he entered the English College, Douai (in modern-day northern France) in 1641, and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1645. He returned to his homeland for several years, saying Mass for the Catholics who stayed loyal to the papacy. He returned to Douai and there he entered the Order of Friars Minor, taking the name Friar Joachim of St. Ann. He was soon named Master of novices, serving in that office until 1656, when he returned to England, settling in Worcestershire. There he became a Governor (Six Master) of the Royal Grammar School Worcester.

In 1678, after 22 years of ministry to the Catholics of the nation, he was apprehended under suspicion of being a party to the Titus Oates plot and sent to the Worcester jail. His trial was on 25 April. After being sent to London he was brought back to Worcester and executed for being a Catholic priest and exercising as such. He was a much respected local figure and the crowd's reaction showed that their sympathies were entirely with him. Many of the onlookers, who were mostly Protestants, wept, and the Sheriff reportedly cried out "End Popery? This is the way to make us all Papists!"[

His remains were buried in the cemetery adjoining the Church of St. Oswald of Worcester, while the head was taken to the Franciscan friary of Douai, to which the martyr belonged, where it is still preserved and venerated. Previously, his feast day was observed within the Franciscan Order on the date of his death, 22 August. It has been moved and is currently observed on 12 July, a date he shares with his brother friar and fellow martyr, St. John Jones, O.F.M.. In the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham his feast day is celebrated on 23 August.

He was an outstanding academic, perhaps the most intellectually distinguished English Catholic priest of his generation.


Blessed Edward Oldcorne or Oldcorn alias Hall (1561 – 7 April 1606) was an English Jesuit priest. He was known to people who knew of the Gunpowder Plot to destroy the Parliament of England and kill King James I; and although his involvement is unclear, he was caught up in the subsequent investigation. He is a Roman Catholic martyr, and was beatified in 1929.

Bl Edward Oldcorne was born in York in 1561, the son of John Oldcorne, a bricklayer, and his wife Mary. His father was a Protestant, and his mother a Catholic who had spent some time in prison due to her faith. He was educated at St Peter's School in York; school friends were John and Christopher Wright and Guy Fawkes.

Bl Edward Oldcorne was educated as a doctor, but later decided to enter the priesthood. He went to the English College at Reims, then to Romewhere after ordination in 1587, he became a Jesuit in 1588.

In late 1588 Bl Edward Oldcorne returned to England, in the company of John Gerard. In early 1589 he went with Henry Garnet to the West Midlands, visiting Coughton, Warwickshire and settling at Baddeley Clinton. He then worked chiefly in Worcestershire for 17 years.Oswald Tesimond assisted him after 1596; Thomas Lister, another Jesuit, also supported Bl Edward Oldcorne's mission but found the requirements of the covert life difficult.

Bl Edward Oldcorne sometimes stayed with Thomas Abington, whose house at Hindlip Hall was near Baddeley Clinton. There he converted Thomas's sister Dorothy. The house was then was adapted by Nicholas Owen to help conceal Catholic priests.

On 3 November 1601, Bl Edward Oldcorne went on a pilgrimage to St Winefride's Well at Holywell in north Wales to obtain a cure for a cancer of the throat. The cancer cleared up and in 1605 about thirty people returned with him to give thanks for his recovery. Amongst this group were the priests Oswald Tesimond, Ralph Ashley, and Henry Garnet, as well as Nicholas Owen and John Gerard .

Also in the group was plotter Everard Digby and his wife, whose priest was Bl Edward Oldcorne. The timing of this second pilgrimage and the people involved later aroused suspicion. The government investigation used this gathering as circumstantial evidence to implicate some of those there in the plot.

When the Gunpowder Plot was discovered, Bl Edward Oldcorne was at Hindlip Hall, his base for fourteen years. In December, he was joined there by Nicholas Owen, Henry Garnet and Ralph Ashley who were hiding because they were under suspicion of involvement. Hindlip was searched in January but the four were not discovered: Garnet and Bl Edward Oldcorne were in one hiding place whilst the two lay brothers were in another. Their conditions were poor, and after eight days they surrendered. Bl Edward Oldcorne was arrested with Garnet by Sir Henry Bromley and held briefly at the castle at Holt in Worcestershire before being taken to the Tower of London. It has been said that Bromley would have abandoned his search much earlier but he had information from Humphrey Littleton that Bl Edward Oldcorne and possibly Garnet were hiding there.


Holt Castle (in 2008), where Bl Edward Oldcorne was briefly held

Bl Edward Oldcorne was tortured, but no evidence was found to connect him to the Gunpowder Plot. He recounted under interrogation that on 8 November 1605 there arrived Tesimond from Robert Wintour's who told Mr (H)Abington and himself that "he brought them the worst news that they had ever heard, and they were all undone." Tesimond said that certain people had intended to blow up the parliament house but they had been discovered a few days before it was meant to happen.


Edward Bl Edward Oldcorne and St Nicholas Owen,

engraving by Gaspar Bouttats

Some allege that Bl Edward Oldcorne was executed just for his priesthood. Others suppose that it may have been because he was notorious or because he had provided safe refuge through Father Jones for the plotters, Robert Wintour and Stephen Littleton; or for providing a hiding place for his superior Henry Garnet at Hindlip. At his trial, Humphrey Littleton asked for his forgiveness and it was said that he believed he deserved to die for revealing his friend's whereabouts.[9] Two letters of his are at Stonyhurst, the second written from prison. On the day before his execution John Floyd, a fellow Jesuit, was arrested for trying to visit him.[12]

Bl Edward Oldcorne was executed at Red Hill, Worcester, together with John Wintour, Humphrey Littleton and Ralph Ashley, his servant. It is said that, as Bl Edward Oldcorne waited on the ladder to die, Ashley kissed his feet and said, "What a happy man am I to follow in the steps of my sweet father". Bl Edward Oldcorne died with the name of St Winifred on his lips.[1] When Ashley came to die he prayed and asked for forgiveness and noted that like Bl Edward Oldcorne he was dying for his religion and not as a traitor.

Bl Edward Oldcorne's portrait was painted after his death for the Church of the Gesù. A number of his relics survived.[3] A particularly grisly relic is one of his eyes which he lost when the executioner decapitated him: it is said that the force of the blow was so great that his eye flew out of its socket. A secondary school, Blessed Edward Bl Edward Oldcorne Catholic College, named in his honor, is in Worcester. His right eye and the rope that bound him are kept as relics at Stonyhurst College. They believe that the eye was taken by a Catholic sympathizer whilst his body was being parboiled after her was quartered.

Abington's wife Mary was the sister of William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle; Lord Monteagle was later to become a pivotal figure in the capture of the gunpowder plotters. The authorship of Monteagle's letter has been a significant problem to historians. One of the candidates put forward is Bl Edward Oldcorne.


The Blessed Arthur Bell (13 January 1590 – 11 December 1643) was an English Franciscan martyr. He was found guilty of being a Roman Catholic priest by a court sitting under the auspices of Parliament during the English Civil War. He was executed at Tyburn in London.

Bl Arthur Bell was born at Temple-Broughton near Worcester on 13 January 1590, a son of the lawyer William Bell. When he was eight his father died and his mother gave him into the charge of her brother, Francis Daniel of Acton in Suffolk, a man of wealth, learning and piety. When Arthur was twenty-four he was sent to the English college at St.-Omer. He later went to Spain to continue and complete his studies.

Bl Arthur Bell received the habit of the Franciscan Order at Segovia, Spain on 8 August 1618, and shortly after the completion of his novitiate and ordination to the priesthood, was called from Spain to labour in the restoration of the English province of the Franciscans. He was one of the first members of the Franciscan community at Douai, where he subsequently fulfilled the offices of guardian and professor of Hebrew. In 1632 Bl Arthur Bell was sent to Scotland as first provincial of the Franciscan province there; but his efforts to restore the order in Scotland were unsuccessful. In 1637 he returned to England, where he laboured until November 1643, when he was apprehended by the parliamentary troops at Stevenage in Hertfordshire on suspicion of being a spy. A search of his papers provided evidence that he was a Roman Catholic priest, and on that basis he was committed to the Newgate prison.

He was condemned as a priest on the evidence of James Wadsworth, Thomas Mayhew or Mayo, and Thomas Gage. The circumstances of his trial show Bl Arthur Bell's devotedness to the cause of the Catholic faith and his willingness to suffer for the faith. When condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered it is said that he broke forth into a solemn Te Deum and thanked his judges profusely for the favour they were conferring upon him in allowing him to die for Christ. Bl Arthur Bell was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 22 November 1987. 

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