"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." (Father John Gerard S.J. 1564 - 1637)
Nicholas Gooden Owen is understood to have been born in Oxford around 1550 into a devout Catholic family, suffering under the Penal Laws directed against Catholics.He trained as a carpenter and for thirty years witnessed to his great Faith by going about the country building "Priest Holes" - these were secret hiding places within English homes where Priests could hide secure from the King's Commissioners enforcing the Penal Laws.

Calling himself "Little John"- for he is said to have been abnormally short - close to a dwarf perhaps - he travelled around the country plying his Priest Hole making trade. He asked for no payment other than his accommodation and sustenance, and sufficient food to get him to his next job.He always worked alone and at night in order to minimise the chance of betrayal.The total number of projects he completed is not known, but it seems likely to have been in the hundreds. He worked for the Jesuit Priest Henry Garnet ((Martyr 1555-1606) for some years and became a Jesuit lay brother in due course.

Following the Martyrdom of Saint Edmund Campion, Nicholas publicly proclaimed Saint Edmund's innocence of the charges brought against him, Nicholas was arrested for a time and later released. But in 1594 he was arrested again and this time tortured but disclosed nothing. He was fined, but the fine was paid by an admiring Catholic family and so his release was again received - for the authorities had no inkling of his achievements, merely thinking him an accomplice of Priests in some general way.

But in 1606, the time of the Gunpowder Plot hysteria, he contrived to give himself up in order to facilitate the escape of several nearby Priests. Lord Cecil, the Secretary of State said of his capture: It is incredible, how great was the joy caused by his arrest.. knowing the great skill of Owen in constructing hiding places, and the innumerable quantity of dark holes which he had schemed for hiding Priests all through England."

He was at first delivered to the Marshalsea Prison, that strange institution which held men convicted by Court Martial for offences committed at sea, those who had committed "unnatural crimes",political figures and intellectuals accused of sedition or other inappropriate behaviour and debtors from London at the whim of their Creditors. A good indication of its operation and peculiarity can be gained from Dickens' story "Little Dorrit". From there he was transferred to the Tower of London.
In the Tower, Saint Nicholas was most cruelly tortured. He was strung up by the wrists and increasingly heavy weights were tied to his feet until at last "his bowels gushed out with his life". He died in 1606 - most authorities say on 2nd March, a few make the date 12th November. He was canonized on 25 October,1970 by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

The Tower of London
The Tower of London is notorious for the high profile political prisoners it has held including: the Princes in the Tower,  Ann Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, Princess Elizabeth before she became Elizabeth I,Sir Walter Raleigh, in addition Blessed Margaret Pole and Saint Thomas More and many other heroes of the Faith.

Saint Nicholas Owen had the body of, maybe, a near dwarf - but he had the heart and spirit of a Giant with achievements to match.

Saint Nicholas Pray for us that we may have the grace to aim for your courage and vigour in defending the Faith, and be blessed with even a fraction of your achievements in the same cause. Amen.


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