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It was not only difficult to engage in illegal Catholic ritual in the Protestant British Isles, it could be downright dangerous. In his autobiography, the Jesuit missionary William Weston described the risks accompanying an active Catholic devotional life in the late 16th century. Weston related how one layman who hosted a Mass in his home was wise to prepare for trouble by keeping his sword “ready for action.” The layman needed it after a servant imprudently opened the door to an insistent knocking. The maid shouted a warning as a group of pursuivants stormed in. Dressed in a surplice to assist the priest, the layman snatched up his weapon and drove the intruders back, eventually trapping them in the lower part of his house while he returned to help the priest hide. Together, they stripped off the altar and their vestments and stashed the “Massing stuff” before the priest concealed himself. Only then did the man return downstairs to greet his visitors. When they asked him about the surplice they had seen him wearing, he responded with incredulity: “What, I in a surplice? Do you really think I am one of those people who go about in surplices?” The man then bribed the searchers to depart.


A Companion to Catholicism and Recusancy in Britain and Ireland: From Reformation to Emancipation is volume 101 of the Brill's Companions to the Christian Tradition book series.

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This is an author-produced, peer-reviewed version of this book chapter. The final, definitive version of this document can be found online at A Companion to Catholicism and Recusancy in Britain and Ireland: From Reformation to Emancipation, published by Brill. Copyright restrictions may apply.

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