Under the persecution of Catholics in England, many houses had priest holes built into them to conceal men of the cloth when searches were conducted by the Crown.
Concealed in walls, under floors and staircases, behind paneling, and many other places all fashioned to conceal their occupant.
A prominent priest hole builder was Saint Nicholas Owen, who devoted his life to constructing priest holes to protect the lives of persecuted priests.
“With incomparable skill Owen knew how to conduct priests to a place of safety along subterranean passages, to hide them between walls and bury them in impenetrable recesses, and to entangle them in labyrinths and a thousand windings. But what was much more difficult of accomplishment, he so disguised the entrances to these as to make them most unlike what they really were. Moreover, he kept these places so close a secret that he would never disclose to another the place of concealment of any Catholic. He alone was both their architect and their builder. No one knows how many he made. Some may still be undiscovered.”
Below is a famed tale, telling of Oliver Cromwell’s persecution, a fleeing Charles II, Father John Huddleston, and a priest hole.
“When Oliver Cromwell and his Parliamentary forces executed King Charles I, his son Charles II carried on for two years fighting the English Civil War, but after losing a battle he had to flee. Cromwell’s troops were all over the countryside looking for him, and there was a huge reward for his capture. Charles II was 6’2”, a giant in those days, and easy to recognize. So he went to the Catholics for help because he knew they were used to hiding people. Various Catholic families moved him from house to house, and often homes where he had recently been hiding were searched by Cromwell’s troops. In one house he became friends with a priest who was living there, named John Huddleston. One day the two of them had to hide in the priest hole while troops questioned the Catholic homeowner.
Nine years later, in 1660, when Cromwell was dead and Charles II was restored to the monarchy, he granted rewards to all the people who had helped to save his life. Fr. Huddleston eventually became a chaplain to Charles II’s queen, who was Catholic. And years after that, when Charles II was dying and converted to Catholicism on his deathbed, it was Fr. Huddleston who received him into the Catholic Church and heard his last confession.”
Want to read the tale of Charles II deathbed conversion to Catholicism? Read more on uCatholic.