Owen, Nicholas, St.

views updated


Called "Little John," English martyr and Jesuit lay brother; b. Oxfordshire, date unknown; d. London, March 2, 1606. Owen probably was the son of Walter Owen of Oxford, and the brother of Henry, a Catholic printer, and Walter and John, priests. Nicholas first appears in Catholic history as a prisoner in London in 1582. He was the open champion of the innocence of Edmund campion, whose servant he is said to have been. Soon after the arrival of Henry garnet in England (July 1586) Owen, then at liberty, entered his service, in which he remained for the next 18 years.

He was employed principally in the construction of hiding places in Catholic centers established by his master, since he was a superb carpenter, mason, and architect. A few authentic examples survive, e.g., at Sawston Hall near Cambridge; Huddington Court, Worcestershire; Coughton Hall, Warwickshire, which point to his limitless ingenuity. The fullest contemporary appreciation of his character and work was written by John gerard: "I verily think no man can be said to have done more good of all those that laboured in the English vineyard. For first, he was the immediate occasion of saving many hundreds of persons, both ecclesiastical and secular, and of the estates also of these seculars, which had been lost and forfeited many times over if the priests had been taken in their houses." Since he knew the hiding places of most priests in England, he was certain to receive very severe treatment if captured.

He was finally taken at Hinlip Hall, near Worcester, on Jan. 23, 1605. With Ralph Ashley he was forced out of hiding by starvation, and tried to pass himself off as a priest to save Garnet. The ruse failed. Taken to London, Owen was mercilessly tortured in the Tower. As a result of a fall from a horse he had a rupture, which legally exempted him from racking, but this was ignored by the Council. When he gave no information injurious to any Catholic, the torture became more violent. On March 2 while Owen was on the rack, his entrails burst out; he survived some hours in agony. On his death the Council gave out that he had committed suicide, but few believed it. He was beatified by Pius XI on Dec. 15, 1929, and canonized by Paul VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

See Also: england, scotland, and wales, martyrs of.

Feast: March 12; October 25 (Feast of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales); December 1 (Jesuits).

Bibliography: a. butler, The Lives of the Saints, rev. ed. h. thurston and d. attwater (New York 1956) 1:579581. h. foley, ed., Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus, 7 v. (London 187782) 4.1:245267. j. gerard, The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest, tr. p. caraman (New York 1952); The Condition of Catholics under James I. Fr. Gerard's Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot, ed. j. morris (2d ed. London 1872). j. n. tylenda, Jesuit Saints and Martyrs (Loyola Press, Chicago 1998), 6769. m. waugh, Blessed Nicholas Owen (Postulation pamphlet; London 1961).

[g. fitzherbert]

About this article

Owen, Nicholas, St.

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article