The Bar Convent has revealed new research into the personal crucifix belonging to York priest Father Edward Oldcorne, who was hanged, drawn and quartered in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot.
Special collections manager Dr Hannah Thomas carried out the new research and discovered that the crucifix is the only item known to have survived the raids on the Catholic houses in the wake of the Gunpowder Plot in 1606.Dr Thomas said: “This is one of the most remarkable items in our possession and on display in the Bar Convent’s exhibition.
“We have been working closely with experts such as Michael Hodgetts, who has painstakingly researched the history of all known priest’s hiding holes in England and Wales, and we are now confident in believing that this is the only item surviving from a series of raids which took place at the houses of known Catholic associates across the Midlands in 1606, following the discovery of the plot in November 1605.
“The search at Hindlip lasted an incredible 12 days, and for most of that time Father Oldcorne remained hidden in a tiny, concealed room, in fear for his life. This little object is now the only surviving witness to those terrifying days, which ended with the public executions of Oldcorne and his colleagues.”
The crucifix, dated from the late 16th or early 17th century, was discovered in the priest’s hole where Father Oldcorne had gone into hiding. He was suspected of involvement in the plot because he was a Catholic priest and a Jesuit.
There was no evidence to link Oldcorne to the Gunpowder Plot and so he was instead put to death for his Catholic faith on April 7 1606.
The label on the crucifix, which is thought to have been added in the 1950s, reads:
“Missionary case and crucifix found in a priest’s hiding place at Henlip Castle [Hindlip Hall], Worcester, where Fr Oldcorne SJ ministered and was arrested. Born York. Racked 5 times. H.D.Q [Hanged, Drawn, Quartered] April 7th 1606. Worcester.”
The crucifix is on permanent display in the exhibition at the Bar Convent, the oldest living convent in England. The foundress of the order was Mary Ward – niece of Gunpowder Plotters John and Christopher Wright, and Thomas Percy.
Father Oldcorne, who was friends with Gunpowder Plotters Guy Fawkes and brothers Christopher and John Wright at St Peter’s School, York, was under suspicion as a Catholic priest and a Jesuit.
He had worked secretly as a Catholic chaplain at Hindlip Hall, Worcester, for 14 years. In December 1605, Father Henry Garnet and lay brother Nicholas Owen, who were also suspects, also sought refuge at Hindlip Hall, said to be the safest Catholic house in the country as it had so many concealed hiding places.
Along with Father Oldcorne’s servant, Ralph Ashley, all four men went into hiding in two separate priest’s holes and, although the house was raided several times, they were never discovered. However, conditions in the priest’s hole became unbearable and, after eight days, they surrendered.
Father Oldcorne was tortured, but despite there being no evidence to suggest he was involved in the Gunpowder Plot, he was still put to death as a Jesuit priest. He was hanged, drawn and quartered on April7 1606. Ralph Ashley, was executed alongside him. Both were beatified in 1929.
Nicholas Owen worked in the service of Father Henry Garnet and is said to have masterminded Father John Gerard’s escape from the Tower of London in 1597.
He spent 18 years of his life building priest’s holes in the homes of Catholic families, despite ill health and injury and without payment.
It is said that his work was so ingenious that many of his hiding places still remain undiscovered. He died while being tortured during the night of March 1 and 2 1606. He was declared a saint in 1970.
Father Henry Garnet had been told of the plot some months before, but in confession, so was forbidden by canon law to reveal it. However, he did protest the plan and attempted to deter the plotters. Despite this, he was found guilty of treason and was hanged, drawn and quartered on May 3 1606.
Pic: courtesy Anthony Chappel Ross