Thursday, May 4, 2017

Priest Holes, Old and New

Cherie was in the Tavern yesterday taking about a snap she had taken of her husband lifting up a stair in an old house wherein a Priest could be hidden. It was from a period in English history which may be returning in this violently anti-christian time. Priests would say Holy Mass only in secret, usually in a country house with just a few of the faithful Catholics in attendance. The King's men might be outside sniffing for incense. Woe betide the family and the priest if he was found. It was a hanging offence.

So secret hiding places were built into the walls and floors, usually tight, dark  grubby places. The Holy Mass was a hurried affair, much like the Novus Ordo today. Stripped down; crude prayer; harried. Not at all the long praise and adoration; the contrition; the measured Passion of Christ; the  Latin cadences and hymns.  It was stark and scary.

Under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, which began in 1558, Catholics were persecuted by law and priests were imprisoned, tortured, and frequently executed. As a result of this oppression, wealthy Catholic families began building secret chambers and passages in their homes called ‘priest holes’ in order to hide priests when the pursuivants or ‘priest hunters’ came searching.

During the 16 th century, Europe was under the religious leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. However, over time, protests against the Catholic Church and its influence eventually led to the formation of the Protestant movement. The separation of the Church of England from Rome under Henry VIII in 1537 brought England alongside this broad Reformation movement, which came to influence the Church of England decisively under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. 

During Elizabeth’s reign, the constant threat posed by recurring plots involving the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots heightened the severity of the situation and an Act was passed making it High Treason for a Catholic priest to enter England or for anyone to aid a priest that did. To enforce the Act, ‘priest hunters’ were given the job to hunt down and capture any such priests.  Arrest meant imprisonment, and often torture and execution.

In 1540, the Jesuit religious order was created to assist the Catholic Church in opposing the Protestant movement. Jesuit priests snuck into England to support Catholic families and many of these families hid the priests in their homes.

Once the pursuivants or ‘priest hunters’ were established, it was no longer enough for these families to claim the priests were simply friends or cousins. Now with the risk of torture and death, the priests had to be carefully hidden away if the pursuivants ever came knocking on the door.

Priest hunters took their job very seriously, sometimes searching a house for days or even weeks. They would move furniture, lift floorboards, bang the walls for sounds of a hollow cavity, and plunge their swords between cracks and crevices. They counted windows from the outside and inside, and measured the height of ceilings and the length of walls, in the hope of detecting hidden chambers.

Priest holes needed to be disguised very well and were frequently built into fireplaces, attics, and staircases. Sometimes, a network of passages led to the final hiding place, at other times the priest hole was hidden inside another chamber, making it more difficult to find.

However, more often than not the priest holes were tiny with no room to stand or move. Priests sometimes had to stay for days at a time with little to no food and water, and no sanitation. Sometimes, they would die of starvation or suffocation if the priest hunts went on for too long.

Clearly, the priest holes had to be very cleverly constructed to evade such extensive searches.

Today it might be even more difficult unless your country house is very large. But the 'secret room' is making a come back.

And ingenious modern technology is helping. Companies are specialising, making secret rooms for businesses and for private homes.

 The private individual who is remodelling his home, renovating or rebuilding an older, heritage home, may well take note and plan for some secret rooms too.  Some are quite smart, although not likely to deter a pursuivant.

No, for that you may need a 'safe room'. Perhaps it should be called the 'Snowflake'.

There are many places you could construct even a modest and comfortable extra and secret room.  Perhaps give some thought to these: not all secret and not all for a coming persecution, but some are fun nonetheless.

Pity those persecuted Catholics of old and today's christians, as in the middle east. They do not have many options.

Drink to them.

Aid them.



  1. Some ingenious and fun modern hideaways, I wonder what I could do with my house ;-)

    As you say I am not sure these modern varieties would pass the test of the ruthless priest hunters, who had an eye for a deception of space. In those days it was Nicholas Owen who was the master of disguising the hideaways. He later became St Nicholas Owen due to his faith.

    1. Thank you for mentioning St Nic. He was a clever builder and I did mean to say a word or two of him. But I am pleased I could leave it to you.

  2. Under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, which began in 1558, Catholics were persecuted by law and priests were imprisoned, tortured, and frequently executed.

    Terrible times, like the horrors of Bloody Mary.

    1. Catholics are now almost 'emancipated'. There are still 'Offices of State' that a Catholic cannot attain.

  3. *sighs* Politics get in the way of the truth of the teachings of Jesus.

    I find stupid unenlightened provocative comments offensive.

    The Jesuit priests for example, John Gerard are an inspiration to anyone who professes to be a Christian. It is clear that he (John) knows the true nature of Christ and his teachings. How else could he have endured and overcome so much...

    Jesus gave us his teachings and sacrificed his life for us (mankind) so that we could be saved.

    That is the truth we need understand without getting distracted by earthly things.

  4. One must be distracted by earthly things - Matthew 22:39. There is a ministry of care for our fellow man we must undertake, not be internalized into our own personal life. In fact His whole life was going about personally ministering, speaking out against wrong - that is the model to follow, not asceticism. And it takes the courage the Lord alone can give, as many things will be thrown your way.

    1. There are different followings. The the monk, the soldier, priest, grain merchant, farmer, tinsmith, medicine-man and blogger, yea even unto Tavern Keepers, make their work and calling Holy by doing their daily tasks well and offering them as a Prayer. Many things are indeed thrown our way to derail us.

  5. Quite right. One of those callings is living a blameless life and being an example, even a garden of sanctuary for the oppressed.

    Then there are people like me, also called upon but in the old tradition of the Christian soldier and this is just as valid. You see the type in Ephesians 6:9-about 14 from memory. Our job is to wade into the temporal world and insist on a Christian perspective, e.g. on abortion.

    Without that, the enemy would have no setbacks and the ordinary person would never know about the perspective.

    But as you say, the passive Christian is also needed as an example of how to live.


Ne meias in stragulo aut pueros circummittam.

Our Bouncer is a gentleman of muscle and guile. His patience has limits. He will check you at the door.

The Tavern gets rowdy visitors from time to time. Some are brain dead and some soul dead. They attack customers and the bar staff and piss on the carpets. Those people will not be allowed in anymore. So... Be Nice..