Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 23 January 2012

St Nicholas Owen

Today is, in this archdiocese, the feast day of St Nicholas Owen. This is a slightly revised version of a post I wrote last year.

Statue of Nicholas Owen
A modern statue of St Nicholas Owen

Image: Church of St Nicholas Owen Little Thornton website

St Nicholas was the Jesuit laybrother who used his remarkable skills as a carpenter and stonemason to construct numerous ingenious priest holes to safeguard mission priests in the late sixteenth century. He was born in Oxford c.1550 in a house on the junction of what is now Queen Street and St Ebbe's Street, and his whole family were of Catholic and recusant sympathies. He died as a result of torture in the Tower of London on March 2nd 1606, having been apprehended in the follow-up to the Gunpowder Plot. His refusal to the point of death to disclose the names of priests and their hiding places safeguarded the Catholic mission at this critical time

The recent Oxford DNB life of him by Michael Hodgetts can be read here. There is also an online biography of St Nicholas, who was canonized in 1970 here, and there are some linked articles here about his life and about his capture and death.


Patricius said...

I thought St Nicholas Owen's feast day was 2nd March.

Once I Was A Clever Boy said...

March 2nd is his date od death, but this is the appointed date in the Birmingham archdiocese - I think they must have chosen the date of his capture at Hindlip Hall in 1606.

Patricius said...

Thanks. Sadly, the original Hindlip House has not survived having burned down early in the 19th Century. The present Hindlip Hall is the headquarters of the West Mercia Constabluary but I believe that an underground tunnel in brick and thought to be of Tudor provenance was discovered in the grounds back in the 1970s or thereabouts. It would be wonderful if something of St Nicholas Owen's work had survived at the site!

Once I Was A Clever Boy said...

Pictures suggest that the old house at Hindlip was very attractive, and is a sad loss historically and architecturally. The present house was designated as the base for the British government in the plans drawn up for moving it out of London in the event of a German invasion in the Second World War.

John F H H said...

Have you read Hogge's God's Secret Agents? Details below. It is a good account of the recusant and Jesuit priests under Elizabeth, sympathetically written.

Once I Was A Clever Boy said...

I have read the book, and would and do recommend it.