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"The Secret Rooms That Were Custom Built to Hide Your Priest"
Secret rooms and hidden doors are generally considered features of haunted houses, but in 16th-century England, they were integral in keeping Catholic priests, and Catholicism itself, alive. With the Protestant Reformation ramping up and Catholicism under attack, a system of safe houses equipped with cleverly hidden “priest holes” kept fugitive clergymen safe from persecution.
When Protestant Queen Elizabeth I ascended to the throne in 1558, the anti-Catholic attitude among much of the British monarchy had reached fever pitch...
Under her rule, it became illegal to practice the Catholic faith in England. Anyone found engaging in Catholic rituals could face punishments ranging from fines to life imprisonment.
Catholic priests were in even more danger. It became high treason (which was often punishable by death) for a Catholic priest to so much as enter England, and anyone found aiding or harboring a priest would be just as guilty. The same went for anyone caught attempting to convert someone to the faith, as it was seen as removing supporters from Elizabeth’s cause.
Needless to say, it was hard out there for a priest. But they and their congregants had crafty ways of coping. Devout Catholics living under Elizabeth’s reign began to worship covertly, establishing a network of homes for priests and other “recusants” to continue the faith in England. Secret symbols like wax discs bearing a cross and a lamb a symbol of the Lamb of God, were used to mark safe houses.
England was once riddled with secret priest holes that kept the clergy safe from hunters.
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