This is a story of religious intolerance. It is from a time when religious beliefs were seen as absolute truths and those beliefs affected every part of your life. This is the story of Lyveden New Bield.
Sir Thomas Tresham was a Roman Catholic at a time in English history when that was considered almost treasonable. He was persecuted his whole life and spent many years in prison.
To protect themselves, the Catholics developed a whole series of signs and symbols to celebrate their faith. Even numbers and plants had religious meaning. If you were in the know, you could “read” these signs. If you were not, you would not even notice them.
The real story of Lyveden New Bield is easy to miss.
When you first see Lyveden New Bield, it is very easy to see an old ruin in a nice setting. If this is all you see, you will miss what this place is all about. (So when you are offered the free audio guide, do take it.)
First of all, this is not a ruin. It is a half built building. It is a statement of Sir Thomas Tresham’s Catholic faith. It is unfinished because Sir Thomas was persecuted to the point where he ran out of money and the builders just walked off the job.
Just one example of how the Catholic faith was built into this house, is the use of numbers. The numbers 3, 5 and 7 were important numbers him. 3 represents the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. God created man with 5 fingers and 5 toes. So 5 is part of God’s design. He also created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th. So 7 is another religious number.
Once you start to look for these numbers, you will see them in the measurements, the proportions, the number of walls, windows even the decorations. But when soldiers were sent all across England to destroy all things Catholic, they did not recognise this as a Catholic building. So Lyveden New Bield has survived almost untouched for hundreds of years. Today The National Trust is in charge of uncovering and understanding its secrets.
And the Gunpowder Plot
Sir Thomas died in 1605. Later that year, on 5th November, his son Francis was involved in the Gunpowder Plot to kill King James I and blow up the Houses of Parliament. The plot was discovered and Francis came to an unknown, but you have to suspect, rather unpleasant end in the Tower of London.
And that is why 403 years later, we are off to a Guy Fawkes fireworks party next weekend at Castle Ashby.