England’s Reformation, inaugurated by Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and James I, was largely political. The genuine reformers, the Puritans and Separatists, were oppressed. But then, so were the Roman Catholics.

“Good Queen Bess” used fines, gallows, gibbets, racks, and whips against those who said Mass, honored the pope, or harbored a priest. Reputed Catholics had no peace. Often in the middle of the night, thugs would burst in and drag them away to be scourged, fined, or seared with glowing irons.

Nicholas Owen, probably a builder by trade, designed countless hiding places for endangered Catholics. He hid them in secret rooms and between the walls and under the floors. He hid them in stone fences and in underground passages. He designed nooks and crannies that looked like anything but hiding places.

He was a slight man, nicknamed “Little John,” so the royalists long discounted him of hiding so many. He seemed too small to move stones, break walls, and excavate the earth. But he viewed his work as divine. He always began construction of a hideaway by receiving the Eucharist. He prayed continually during the building, and he committed the spot to God.

He also proved a master at devising getaways for helping Catholics escape prison. He was an escapist himself, having several aliases and disguises. Perhaps no one saved the lives of more Catholics in England during those days than Nicholas Owen.

But Nicholas was at last betrayed. Taken to the Tower of London, his arms were fixed to iron rings and he was hung for hours, his body dangling. Weights added to his feet increased the suffering, yet not a word of information passed his lips. The tortures continued till March 2, 1606, when “his bowels broke in a terrible way” and he passed to his reward. He was canonized by the church and is honored each year on March 22, in Catholic tradition the feast day of St. Nicholas Owen.

God will bless you, even if others treat you unfairly for being loyal to him. You don’t gain anything by being punished for some wrong you have done. But God will bless you, if you have to suffer for doing something good. After all, God chose you to suffer as you follow in the footsteps of Christ, who set an example by suffering for you. (1 Peter 2:19-21)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Mar.22.

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