The Christian Heritage Centre

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Communicating the faith through stories of the saints and martyrs

Friday 6th September 2019

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Communicating the faith through stories of the saints and martyrs

Sr Emanuela Edwards looks at storytelling and how, even in our hi-tech digital age, it remains a powerful way to communicate the faith.

One of the greatest challenges, if not the greatest, for the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst is the communication of the faith to the people of our time. The Christian faith we possess, and the roots of our Christian Heritage must be rendered interesting and challenging and be communicated to everyone. It should be done in such a way that it can reinforce the faith of those who believe, whilst at the same time reach out to the periphery to speak of God’s love for all even to those who would not usually be interested!

One way of achieving this aim is to use the ancient art of storytelling. Since primitive times, stories have been used to transmit important truths, events and lessons to successive generations. In fact, the faith was originally handed on by the Apostles who testified or told the story of what they witnessed and learned from Christ. Artefacts and relics, like those in the Stonyhurst Collection, physically bring the stories of the martyrs and saints into proximity to those who look upon the objects. Pope Leo I asked, “why should the mind toil when the sight instructs” and indeed, looking at these artefacts and explaining their story presents an opportunity to recount the Christian faith in a captivating way.

Writing in the 4th Century Tertullian said, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the faith”. Encountering the stories of the lives of the saints and martyrs who have shaped our Christian Heritage sows the seeds of the faith in successive generations. Each artefact in the Stonyhurst Collections works like a silent sermon because it testifies to the life and witness of the martyr in question making their stories enter the present time and touch the life of the person viewing the object perhaps causing them to consider its lesson. Therefore, the stories of the Saints and martyrs become living lessons in the faith that can teach and inspire new generations hopefully calling them to a deeper conversion.

Oscar Romero Relic and Triptych. Relic is the property of a private individual on loan to Stonyhurst College. Triptych and bust of Romero are property of Stonyhurst College Photo: Property of Stonyhurst College

One of the most striking stories in the Collections is told by the relic of the rope that bound St Edmund Campion to the hurdle on which he was dragged through the streets of London before his execution. (The actual relic is the property of the British Jesuit Province on loan to Stonyhurst College). That rope tells the story of a Priest who, on penalty of death, nevertheless came to England in 1580 to preach the Gospel, confess and offer the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass to the Catholics driven underground in order to practice their faith. He preached and disseminated his famous Decem Rationes – ten reasons demonstrating the truth of the Catholic religion and was eventually captured, imprisoned and tortured before his execution at Tyburn on the 1st December 1581. His story raises an interesting question: why did St Edmund not yield to the tortures and inducements to conform in order to save his life? By word and deed St Edmund most eloquently testified that the Catholic faith is worth dying for. He did not change the course of his life as he knew that a seed must die to yield fruit (cfr. Jn 12:24). Today, that fruit is harvested in the hearts of those who are told of this heroic Priest whose behaviour was inspired by the truth of Christ and are brought into contact with the faith he died to proclaim.

Drawing of Edmund Campion SJ by Charles Weld, c1850, from a 17th century original painting.

The Collections also have a part of the vestment worn by St Oscar Romero who was killed in El Salvador in 1980 whilst offering the Holy Mass. This relic serves as a poignant reminder that Christian martyrdom is not an ancient reality but that this story still continues today.

Another English martyr whose story is told through the artefacts and relics of the Stonyhurst Collections is St Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor of England, who was martyred for refusing to take the Oath of Succession in 1535. This saint’s story demonstrates how artefacts and relics can show the faith of the saint rather than just tell of it hence providing a more powerful source of Christian inspiration. During the homily for the Canonisation of St Thomas More, Pope Pius XI spoke of the “ardour of his prayer” and the “practice of those penances by which he kept his body in subjection.” Indeed, this can be borne out by close inspection of his golden crucifix with spikes on the back that was worn as a penance by the Saint. Here we learn something of the intimate life of the Saint that was founded on a deep prayer life. In fact, it was this intimacy with Christ that strengthened him to resist the tears of his wife and children over his condemnation and to be, “content to lose goods, land and life as well rather than to swear against his conscience”. In this way, the stories of the Saints also teach us that Christian witness is borne through a closeness to Christ in prayer and is not the fruit of the passing moment.

It is hoped that a visit to this beautiful collection will make the stories of the Saints vibrate in our hearts giving us a living lesson in the truths of the faith. May the stories of the martyrs strengthen us by imparting the knowledge of the faith and the inspiration to live it so that we too can witness to our rich Christian heritage that shaped our past and partake in its reconstruction in our own time.

Sr Emanuela Edwards

Missionaries of Divine Revelation
Trustee of the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst

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19th century visionary asks all to be ecologists

Friday 3rd August 2018

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19th century visionary asks all to be ecologists

The Very Rev. Damian Howard, SJ

Beneath a glass panel in the floor of the Wakefield Museum you’ll find a large caiman, a kind of South American alligator. It is a preserved specimen and part of a collection made by Charles Waterton, an alumnus of Stonyhurst College.

Waterton made several trips to British Guiana (now Guyana) in the early 19th century, building an impressive collection of preserved animals which he later presented to his old school. In 1966, the bulk of this collection was placed on display in Wakefield, and since then has often been back on display at Stonyhurst.

Central to Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’ is the idea of ‘integral ecology’. This recognises that humans are part of a vast network of living beings on the planet upon which we are wholly dependent. That network is itself simply a part of a wider series of relationships with the entire creation: the light of the sun, the waters of the oceans, the minerals we build with, and the air that we breathe.

Pope Francis here joins his voice to those who call us to recognise that our current irresponsible use of the gifts of creation runs the risk of making the Earth uninhabitable by ourselves and other species. We have a duty to care for ‘our common home’.

Charles Waterton’s natural history specimens at Stonyhurst College c. 1890

There is something new here for Christian faith to grapple with. An old-fashioned but distorted outlook took the mandate of Genesis 1:28 (‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all the living creatures that move on earth’) as permission for human beings to dominate the rest of creation, exploiting it as we see fit to meet our needs. Those areas where men and women had not yet settled were ‘wilderness’, the habitat of evil spirits, and destined to be tamed and brought under human control.

Over the centuries, forests were cleared for agriculture, animals domesticated for food, rivers dammed and mines dug. Human beings were fruitful and multiplied, spreading across the globe, seizing the natural resources for themselves.

Left, detail of Charles Waterton’s bird specimens at Stonyhurst College.

By the 19th century, in the wake of the industrial revolution, the harmful effects of this unchecked exploitation were becoming clear. Pollution poisoned waterways and air, slums in the ever-growing cities and diseases such as cholera and TB were rife. Concern about this situation grew and, alongside this, some began to look for alternative lifestyles and modes of development.

Charles Waterton was an early example of this quest. In 1824 he returned from his last visit to Guiana to Walton Hall, his family home in Yorkshire. Over the next few years, he built a nine-foot wall stretching for three miles around his estate, and ran it as a nature reserve, with a lake for wildfowl. He prosecuted a local soapworks when effluent from their factory seeped into the water supply. He wrote extensively on natural history and conservation. These achievements were recognised by Sir Richard Attenborough when he opened a new display of Waterton’s work in Wakefield in 2013.

It may have taken the Church a little while to latch on to these concerns, but when she did she spoke firmly on the matter. By 1971, Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Octogesima Adveniens, was able to write that ‘due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this degradation’ – lines quoted later in Laudato Si’.

Ecumenically, a movement which had been known as Justice and Peace was, by the 1980s, commonly employing the acronym JPIC – justice, peace, and the integrity of creation. This change recognised the fact that there could not be a just and peaceful world unless the Earth’s resources were shared equally. More, it acknowledged that these resources were finite, and it would not be possible for the developing nations to exploit them to the extent that the western countries had been doing.

No-one is surprised these days when a papal document is addressed not exclusively to the Catholic faithful but to all men and women of good will, of all faiths and none; and that is the audience Laudato Si’ has in mind, too. This commitment to work for an integral ecology is a prime example of an area in which believers find themselves collaborating with all sorts of different people. Some of them, indeed, are far ahead of most Christians in their engagement and experience. As well as something precious to offer, we have much to learn. Indeed, the scale of the crisis facing humanity is such that it will require as many as possible to work together if they are to be addressed adequately.

For the Jesuits in Britain, the much-regretted closure of Heythrop College, a college of the University of London, has presented an opportunity to explore new avenues, inspired by the teaching of Pope Francis. Heythrop offered excellent teaching and research in philosophy and theology for nearly 50 years. It is now our intention to redeploy some personnel and finance which once served Heythrop to the new intellectual task of coming to a deeper understanding of integral ecology.

It is important to note that this concept, as Pope Francis expounds in Laudato Si’, is not simply about climate change or recycling, important as these topics are. It means more; it is nothing less than a renewed vision of what it is to be a follower of Christ in the 21st century. Pope Francis wants us to take part in a bold cultural revolution, to reimagine society and our very civilisation in the light of the insight that “all things are connected”.

I believe that this new vision has the potential to bring diverse groups of people together, both inside and outside the Church, maybe even helping us overcome the divisions which still remain as the legacy of the Reformation.

British Jesuits are currently working in three ways. The first is to be a research institute, linked to Campion Hall, our Permanent Private Hall in the University of Oxford. Addressing the challenges we face will require careful interdisciplinary study. This institute will be able to pursue rigorous theological and philosophical research into the situation we face and help us to imagine alternative ways of living, more at- tuned to the Gospel.

The second element will be a centre, most likely in London, where we can provide education for people in the Church and beyond on these issues, and the Christian response to them. This will be aimed particularly at young adults, and is likely to include at least one Master’s level university course. Students will be able to draw on the resources of the Heythrop library, which is one of the largest libraries of Catholic theology and philosophy in the country.

Charles Waterton by Charles Willson Peale, 1824. Photo by Stephencdickson - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

These two academic strands will be complemented by a more practical project, offering people the opportunity to get involved in ecological and other social justice projects, while being guided in ways of reflecting on their involvement and integrating this into their faith. Pope Francis has spoken repeatedly of discernment, and looks to the Jesuits, among others, to help all to further develop this spiritual practice. In time it may prove possible to set up communities which will be able to offer witness to living more harmoniously with the rest of creation.

All of this may seem to be a long way from Charles Waterton and the preserved animals he presented to Stonyhurst. But he was one of the first to recognise the dangers of regarding creation as nothing more than a resource to be exploited for human need – and greed. His collections have inspired generations of young people to think about their place in the natural world, and in each generation since some have gone on to make this study their life’s work.

It is my hope that the new project the Jesuits in Britain are developing will be similarly inspiring, leading many more to commit themselves to caring for our common home for the greater glory of God.

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Stonyhurst yields its mystical treasures

Friday 4th May 2018

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Stonyhurst yields its mysteries

Jonathan Luxmorre

Through the wide windows of a rambling but stately greystone building, the northern Lancashire countryside sweeps toward the Irish Sea in a maze of fields and woodlands. Inside, spring sunlight plays over shelves and glass cases, containing faded books and ancient artifacts amassed over four centuries.

When Stonyhurst College was founded at Saint-Omer in the Spanish Netherlands by the recusant Jesuit Fr Robert Persons in 1593, persecuted Catholic priests faced a mandatory death sentence if caught ministering in England.

More than four centuries later, Stonyhurst, the world’s oldest Jesuit school, houses a remarkable collection of relics relating to the country’s many martyrs. “Many things were being destroyed in Reformation England, so when Catholic boys came abroad to the school, they’d bring vestments, manuscripts and precious objects for safe keeping,” explained Jan Graffius, the collection’s curator. “This makes us part of the story Stonyhurst yields its mystical treasures and means we know what it was like to be targeted,” she said. “At a time when people know little about the struggles of the past, these relics provide a graphic reminder of what Catholics faced in upholding their faith.” 


The collections at Stonyhurst College provide a fascinating insight into the sometimes bloody history of the struggles faced by Catholicism in England
Church vestments form a substantial part of the Stonyhurst Collections

In 1794, when the school was forced to flee the French Revolution, its collection was already extensive. It was lucky to have the current site donated by a former student, Thomas Weld, father of Cardinal Thomas Weld (1773-1837). The Stonyhurst Collection, now being opened to visitors, has continued expanding.

 Its earliest exhibits include a piece of jawbone, documented to early medieval times, said to come from St Stephen. Its most recent relic is a piece of the bloodied vestment worn by St Oscar Romero of El Salvador when he was assassinated on 24th March 1980, while celebrating Mass.

“The idea is to provide an accessible public resource with a narrative tracing back 2,000 years,” Graffius said. “These objects tell their own stories, and people engaging with them can feel uncomfortable, even revolted. But no-one remains indifferent and everyone has questions to ask,” she added.

England’s Catholic Church was effectively outlawed under Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), who implemented her father’s break with Rome while officially seeking a Protestantled compromise, or “middle way”.

 Persecution was stepped up after Pope Pius V declared the Queen excommunicated and deposed in 1570 and following the 1588 rout of the Spanish Armada invasion fleet. It intensified following the failed 1605 Gunpowder Plot by Catholic militants against King James I, although Masses continued to be secretly celebrated at great personal risk by undercover Jesuit priests.

Choking off Catholic education was seen as key to stifling adherence to the traditional faith. It survived, but at a high price. In all, 23 Stonyhurst pupils were executed between 1610 and 1680; three have been canonised as martyrs and a dozen beatified.

The school’s Arundel Library includes works connected with the rebel Jacobite cause, as well as verses by the St Robert Southwell (1561-1595) and holographs by the 19th-century poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, who trained as a priest at Stonyhurst.

The Stonyhurst Collection also contains some macabre items: a piece of the battered skull of the 12th-century martyr St Thomas Becket, preserved after his Canterbury shrine was smashed in 1539; the shoulder blade of a priest executed at Durham in 1590, still bearing knife slashes; and the eyeball of a beatified Jesuit, Fr Edward Oldcorne, brutally killed at Worcester for alleged complicity in the Gunpowder Plot.

Although religious restrictions began to be eased in England after the 1829 Catholic Relief Act, Catholic persecution victims were publicly commemorated only after the canonisation of 40 English and Welsh martyrs by St Paul VI in 1970. The keeping of relics, stamped out with the Reformation, has been much less common here than in continental Europe.

Where they survive, they provide a tangible link with past martyrs and faith witnesses and can be a challenging but valuable asset for the prayer life of Catholics, Graffius said. “For young people especially, without much awareness of history, they can also be a good teaching resource, evoking youngsters like themselves who made difficult choices and decisions,” she said. “Today, we still ask our children to do the right things in a world not very sympathetic to religious values. And though conditions are now quite different, Christians are still being persecuted. It isn’t just ancient history.”

Beyond the window, the Ribble Valley undulates toward Clitheroe over a landscape used by the visiting J.R.R. Tolkein as a setting for his monumental Lord of The Rings trilogy as the latest generation of Stonyhurst pupils returns from afternoon activities.

Having had barely a dozen pupils when it relocated here, the school quickly became one of England’s best, and now welcomes men and women students from around the world.

While a third of its students are non-Catholic, all must attend services in the college’s six churches and chapels and subscribe to the Jesuit ethos of prayer and service. That ethos has produced outstanding alumni, including seven Catholic archbishops, assorted government leaders, artists, missionaries, war heroes and revolutionaries.

Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the sleuth Sherlock Holmes, studied here, as did Joseph Plunkett, executed for his part in Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising, and Thomas Meagher, an Irish-born American Civil War general and later governor of Montana.

Stonyhurst College has called the stunning Ribble Valley home for over two hundred years.

So did Daniel Carroll, a signatory of the US Articles of Confederation and the US Constitution, and his brother John Carroll, founder of Georgetown University and the first American Catholic bishop, along with Oscar-winning actor Charles Laughton and George Walker, greatgrandfather of US President George W. Bush.

 Yet it’s the collection of relics that lends the most poignancy. “A centre like this should be viewed as a cultural resource, an expression of everyone’s search for God,” Graffius said.

“Faith is a lifelong journey, which requires us to open up and ask profound questions – to follow hearts and consciences without fearing the consequences. Objects like these show us how previous generations approached this vital task.”

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St Edmund’s rope binds us to the memory of his sacrifice

Friday 3rd November 2017

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

St Edmund’s rope binds us to the memory of his sacrifice

Christopher Graffius

At Stonyhurst there’s a rope. Among all the treasures of the College this receives the most honour. Housed in a reliquary, it is placed on the altar on the great feast days. The pupil who carries it there, amid the candles and the incense, on its feast day on 1st December, will never forget the experience.

A simple rope, some five hundred years old. The rope that bound St Edmund Campion to the hurdle on which he was dragged to execution. A rope smuggled away from the butchery and worn by Fr Robert Persons, the founder of the college who escaped the martyrdom of his companion, round his waist for the rest of his life. What’s the point of a rope? Is it merely a cultural artefact collected amid the gore? Or does it hold a greater meaning? As the new Christian Heritage Centre rises at Stonyhurst these are questions worth asking.

Museums must have some relevance or the exhibits are merely dry as dust. That simple rope holds a message as important to us today as it was when it played its part in Campion’s sacrifice.

As Westminster Cathedral, Stonyhurst and many other buildings are floodlit red on 22nd November – Red Wednesday – and Christians commemorate the killing of today’s modern martyrs, there is a direct link to Campion and others who have died for their faith.

Stonyhurst College lit up for Red Wednesday in solidarity with those persecuted for their faith

Campion epitomises the heroism of recusant England.

Fr Clement Tigar, who championed the cause of the Forty Martyrs, wrote: ‘In June 1580, when Campion landed on these shores in disguise, he brought with him the spirit of chivalry in defence of the ancient Faith. By his holiness of life, his unquenchable good humour, his charm of manner, his burning eloquence, he put new heart, new courage, new enthusiasm, into the persecuted, dejected Catholics of England.’

It hadn’t always been so. Campion was a scholarship boy and learned early to please the establishment. He was chosen to speak before Queen Mary on her visit to the City and later, as a student at Oxford, to debate before Queen Elizabeth. He was described as “one of the diamonds of England”. Great men offered him patronage. In the turmoil of the Reformation this promised safety. His friend, Tobie Matthew, urged him to embrace the opportunities. Campion accepted ordination as an Anglican deacon and barred himself from the sacraments for twelve years.

His conscience troubled him. Matthew, who told him not to bother, went on to become the Anglican Bishop of Durham and Archbishop of York. As Evelyn Waugh says in his classic biography of Campion: ‘Tobie Matthew died full of honours in 1628, there but for the Grace of God went Edmund Campion.’

‘Hope, greatest and
ever-present to the Dead,
Hope is the Host
which I behold;
Here, be assembled
here,I pray;
Here celebrate God, and for
the afflicted seek peace.’

– An extract from Anima. The
original copy of Anima, which
Edmund Campion composed in
Latin in 1581 as he was
returning to the mission field in
England – and to certain death
– is held in the Collections

A 1581 illustration of St Edmund Campion and his execution.

Nevertheless, many remained loyal to the Church, and  Catholicism was particularly strong in some of the great aristocratic households of the Thames Valley and the Sacred County of Lancashire. It was to these houses, with their secret Catholic chapels and holes in which the sacred vessels and vestments (as well as the priests themselves in time of emergency) could be hidden, that Campion went to minister. In disguise he travelled  extensively ‘through the most part of the shires of England’ (Persons) hearing confessions and saying Mass for the faithful who would have had no access to the sacraments for many years and yet who had kept faith.

During this time Campion wrote Decem Rationes defending the claims of the Church against those of the state church. This document was widely circulated and led to an increase in the government.

He escaped overseas and was reconciled at Douai. He walked to Rome to join the Jesuits. He was assigned as a school master to the college at Prague. He might never have seen England again. A life in community and academia beckoned.

The call to the English mission came as a surprise. Campion answered it despite his fear that he had not the “constitutional courage”. He entered the country disguised as a jewel merchant and with Persons and others began the reorganisation of the scattered and dispirited Catholics. He travelled across the country between safe houses, confessing, offering the Mass, putting new spirit into those worn down by fines and imprisonment. “The harvest is wonderful…I cannot long escape the hands of the heretics; the enemy have so many eyes…I am in apparel to myself very ridiculous…”

With Persons he set up a secret printing press to circulate his ‘Ten Reasons’ for being a Catholic and his ‘Brag’ a justification of his mission and a challenge to the authorities. ‘And touching our Society, be it known to you that we have made a league—all the Jesuits in the world…cheerfully to carry the cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments, or consumed with your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God; it cannot be withstood. So the faith was planted: so it must be restored.’

In the summer of 1581 he rode out of London, pausing at Tyburn to pray under the gallows. “Because”, says Persons, “he used to say that he would have his combat there.” He stopped at the Catholic house of Lyford Grange to say Mass, but there was a priest hunter in the congregation. The Gospel of the day was prophetic, ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets.’

Captured, he was bound to his horse with the sign ‘Campion, seditious Jesuit’ pinned to his hat. He disappeared into the Tower for four months of interrogation and torture. Rumours flew, he had recanted, accepted a bishopric, betrayed his hosts. When he emerged, brought to debate with the Anglican divines, it was the same gentle, eloquent Campion who confounded his adversaries. Except, at his trial, he couldn’t lift his right arm to take the oath because of the racking.

Condemned to death by perjured witnesses and a packed jury, Campion spoke for all Catholics: “In condemning us, you condemn all your own ancestors, all our ancient bishops and kings, all that was once the glory of England; the island of saints, and the most devoted child of the See of Peter.”

He was dragged to execution on 1st December, his feast day. He greeted the crowd “God save you all, and make you all good Catholics.” His final words were to pray for the Queen; that “we may at last be friends in heaven, when all injuries shall be forgotten”.

The Campion Rope, which tied him to the hurdle and is now owned by the BritishProvince of the Society of Jesus.

So to the rope. We all face the same choice, whether to conform or stand for the truth. Today, we will probably not be called to a physical martyrdom. Instead we face the hostility of secularism, of licence masquerading as liberty and the marginalisation of spirit and faith. That’s as much a threat as anything the martyrs faced. Meeting it demands the constant courage and faithfulness that Campion inspires

That’s what the rope means.

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A world of treasures from the Holy Sepulchre to Paraguay

Friday 4th August 2017

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A world of treasures from the Holy Sepulchre to Paraguay

Jan Graffus
An old photograph of the Garden of Gethsemane just outside the city walls of Jerusalem

Stonyhurst College houses an impressive array of artefacts from all over the world, collected by Jesuit missionaries and former pupils, for the purpose of education, edification and the prompting of discussion about the universality of the search for God in the heart of mankind. 

These objects and many others like them will shortly be displayed in a new museum, set in the refurbished Old Chapel, a space which has been a chapel a museum, a library, a common room and is now to combine elements of all of these past incarnations.

An important area of the museum will focus on the global nature of the college’s collections, reflecting the fact that past and present pupils have come from all over the world to study at Stonyhurst. These artefacts tell important stories which have deep resonance for our own times. This article will examine three representative examples from the Old and New Worlds.

A simple brass mission bell from the Jesuit Reductions in Brazil, which dates from the early to mid 18th century, has a fascinating story. The Jesuit missions or reductions, as they were known, located in Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, were unique in missionary history.

South America was colonised by Spain and Portugal in the early 16th century, and, from 1609 onwards, the Jesuits set up missions for the indigenous Tupí and Guaraní peoples. In return for the promise of tributes, the people were to be exempt from the usual policy of encomienda, or forced labour, that prevailed in the rest of Spanish and Portuguese South America. The Jesuits also protected them from the slave traders of the region.

The reductions were run on lines that were based on the early Christian communities described in the Acts of the Apostles. The inhabitants worked communal land, and the produce of their labours was shared out equally – food and dress was the same for all.

The model of the Holy Sepulchre

Free schools and hospitals were established in every community, and the Guaraní were reputed to be a completely literate society. They were skilled craftsmen and made intricate clocks and famously excellent musical instruments. Their working day was six hours long, as opposed to 12 or 14 hours elsewhere in South America, and the remainder was given over to music, dance and worship.

By the mid-18th century there were about 300,000 Indian Catholics in South America living on some 30 missions. In 1759 the Portuguese government, which had long regarded the Jesuits’ work as an attack on their authority, passed a decree expelling them from their territories. In 1767 the Spanish crown followed suit. The Guaraní abandoned their havens and retreated to the rain forests in the years following the expulsion of the Jesuits. Today all that is left of 150 years of a remarkable social and evangelical experiment are ruins. The 1986 Roland Joffé film, The Mission, tells the story of the Jesuit expulsion and the futile war of protest fought by the Guaraní. The film is set in the mission of São Miguel das Missões, which may be the original home of this Mass bell. In 1894, the then provincial superior of the German Jesuits presented the bell to Stonyhurst. 

A wood and mother-of-pearl model of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was created in 1760 by an Italian family of artisans, part of the souvenirs on offer to the thousands of Christian pilgrims who flocked to the Holy Land.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is built over the most sacred site for Christians – the rock of Calvary where Jesus was crucified. It also encompasses the tomb in which he was laid – the Holy Sepulchre.

This is the place where St Helena, the mother of the 4th century Roman emperor, Constantine, was reputed to have discovered the cross to which Christ was nailed. After the failed Jewish revolt against Roman occupation in the year 70 AD, much of Jerusalem was destroyed and the site of the Crucifixion was hidden below a Temple dedicated to Venus. In 325 Constantine, newly converted to Christianity, started to build a huge basilica, encompassing the Rock of Calvary, the site of the Tomb of Christ, and the place where his own mother, Helena, had found the cross.

 In the 7th century, Jerusalem was captured by the Persians and became a Muslim city. The new rulers were generally happy to allow Christian pilgrimage to flourish, and the numbers making the dangerous and lengthy journey grew. In 1009 the Caliph destroyed the church, hacking the site of the tomb down to the bedrock. The shock and outrage reverberating throughout Christian Europe was one of the catalysts for the Crusades, which followed in 1099.

In the 12th century, restoration of the ruined church began, and this continued down to the 16th century when much work was done by the Franciscans. Further work is still needed today, but agreement between the Christian guardians of the site of the Holy Sepulchre is difficult to obtain, and disagreements and tensions are common. Pilgrimages to this most holy of places have been taking place for almost 2000 years, bringing important revenue to the local inhabitants.

The brass mission bell

People who made the journey in the past invariably wanted a tangible reminder of their efforts, and the souvenir trade has prospered in Jerusalem since the 8th-century German monk, Brother Felix, noted with dismay that the sellers of souvenirs followed him even into the church itself. That did not stop him buying many items. This model of the church was at the top end of the market.

It was aimed at the wealthy and fashionable pilgrim and is made from expensively engraved mother or pearl and carved bone. The model comes apart to show the interior, including the Holy Sepulchre itself. It was made in 1760 by an Italian craftsman, Gioani, whose father Giuse had evidently been in the same business and had gained some fame for himself as a maker of these models.

A pair of beaded deerskin Plains Indian Moccasins has another story to tell. Much of early North American Jesuit missionary history is told through numerous letters known as the Jesuit Relations. In addition to relating the stories of such 17th-century Jesuit martyrs as Isaac Jogues (1607-1646) and Jean Brébeuf (1594-1649), they provide invaluable details of the customs and practices of the Indians.

In the early 19th century the region from Saint Louis in Missouri to the Pacific Northwest was opened up by a Belgian Jesuit, Fr Pierre de Smet (1801- 1873) who arrived in America as a youthful missionary, aged 20.

Following the trails laid out by fur traders and frontiersmen, Fr de Smet travelled tirelessly, forming close bonds with many Indian people, for whom he was the one westerner they could trust. He mediated and defended them against exploitation and fraud by traders, settlers and government agents.

For over 20 years he worked for peace between the civil authorities and the Sioux Indians, and was highly respected for his honesty and plain speaking by their chief Tatanka Iyotaka (1831-1890), better known as Sitting Bull. Fr de Smet made no fewer than 19 journeys back to Europe to seek support for the North American missions. On one of these he travelled to Lancashire and spoke at Stonyhurst College. Shortly after Fr de Smet’s death in 1873, an unknown Jesuit gave the deerskin moccasins to Stonyhurst. 


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A life of exploration led Waterton to discover the need to preserve nature

Friday 2nd June 2017

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A life of exploration led Waterton to discover the need to preserve nature

Stonyhurst College is renowned for its impressive collections of art, medieval manuscripts, Catholic artefacts, vestments and relics, displayed throughout the school and in its three libraries, home to some 60,000 books including a First Folio of Shakespeare.

What is less well know is that the College also houses many nationally and internationally significant Natural History collections, which reflect important 19th century developments in science and medicine.

Charles Waterton was a pupil at Stonyhurst College in the late 1790s. He came from a landed gentry family descended from numerous saints, including Vladimir the Great, Saint Anna of Russia, Saint Stephen of Hungary, Saint Margaret of Scotland and Saint Thomas More. 

The family remained staunchly Catholic after the Reformation and as a result forfeited much of their land and wealth, leaving them only Walton Hall near Wakefield. While at Stonyhurst, the young Waterton’s interest in exploration and wildlife was already evident and the Jesuit teachers encouraged him to explore while attending to his studies at the same time.

The painting of Charles Waterton riding on a cayman

They came to an unusual compromise with the 11-year-old boy, as he noted in his autobiography: ‘By a mutual understanding, I was considered rat-catcher to the establishment, and also fox-taker, foumart-killer, and cross-bow charger at the time when the young rooks were fledged. I followed up my calling with great success. The vermin disappeared by the dozen; the books were moderately well-thumbed and according to my notion of things, all went on perfectly right.’

In 1804 he travelled to Guyana to take charge of his uncle’s estates near Georgetown. In 1812 he started to explore the interior of the country, and reached Brazil having walked barefoot in the rainy season. He described his natural history discoveries in his book Waterton’s Wanderings in South America, published in 1821.

Waterton was a skilled taxidermist and preserved many of the animals he encountered on his expeditions for study by scientists and naturalists back in Britain. He employed a unique method of taxidermy, soaking the specimens in what he called ‘sublimate of mercury’, a highly toxic chemical.

 Unlike many traditionally stuffed animals, his specimens are hollow and lifelike. Some specimens displayed his anarchic sense of humour, as he created animals which resembled those with whom he disagreed, such as the Hanoverian monarchy, Martin Luther and an unnamed English Customs official who charged him excessive duty to bring his specimens into the country. 

Other creations reflect his affection for his Jesuit teachers, including a large crab holding a crucifix, beside which is a poem written by Waterton telling the story of the crab that returned St Francis Xavier’s crucifix when he dropped it in the sea in Goa. 

The crab holding a crucifix

Many hundreds of these remarkable animals are preserved to this day at Stonyhurst College, along with a remarkable painting showing Waterton riding on a cayman

Charles Waterton is credited with bringing the anaesthetic agent curare to Europe. In London, with Fellows of the Royal Society, he immobilised several animals, including a cat and a mule, with the substance which he called wourali, after the Guyanan name for the poison where it was used to hunt animals for food. The mule was renamed Wouralia and lived for years at Walton Hall as a local celebrity. This was the first recorded use of a muscle relaxant in a medical context, and was the basis for modern anaesthesia.

Waterton was keen to learn about all manner of poisons, collecting snakes and tarantulas, and used his own body in experiments to discover their effects. He longed to be bitten by a vampire bat, and slept in the rainforest with his feet sticking out of his hammock in the vain hope that the creatures would find them irresistible. He was a passionate conserver of nature, and spent the equivalent of £1million building a nine-foot-high wall around three miles of his estate at Walton Hall, turning it into the world’s first wildfowl and nature reserve.

David Attenborough has described him as a champion of nature conservation and “one of the first people anywhere to recognise, not only that the natural world was of great importance, but that it needed protection as humanity made more and more demands on it”. Waterton was a vehement opponent of slavery, finding the practice inhuman and utterly repellent to his strong Catholic faith. By an extraordinary coincidence one of the slaves with whom Waterton worked in Guyana was to have a significant influence on one of the greatest scientific thinkers of the 19th century

A large preserved jungle spider

John Edmonstone was a black slave, the property of Charles Edmonstone, an expatriate Scot who owned plantations in Guyana. He learned taxidermy from Charles Waterton, who had married Anne, Charles Edmonstone’s daughter.

 John accompanied Waterton on his expeditions into the rainforest to collect animals, learning how to preserve the skins to prevent their decomposition. In 1807 John Edmonstone was freed, and came to Scotland with his former master. He moved to Edinburgh where he taught taxidermy to students at Edinburgh University. 

Charles Darwin came to Edinburgh in 1825 to study medicine, but found himself unsuited for the study of human anatomy and surgery. During his first winter at Edinburgh, Darwin hired Edmonstone to teach him taxidermy for one guinea a week. Edmonstone gave Charles Darwin inspiring accounts of tropical rain forests in South America and may have encouraged Darwin to explore there. Certainly the taxidermy Darwin learned from Edmonstone helped him greatly during the voyage of the SS Beagle, and arguably he might have never embarked on the historic journey without Edmonstone’s mentorship

He spent his childhood in Brussels, where his father was Austrian envoy to Belgium, and moved to England in 1867. As a Catholic, von Hügel was ineligible for entry to Cambridge and Oxford and was educated through Stonyhurst College’s undergraduate programme, where he read Philosophy.

Suffering from bad health, he was advised to travel to a warmer climate and embarked on a trip to the South Pacific in 1874. He collected and recorded whatever information and objects he could find. Entranced by the beauty of Fiji, he learned the language, although his passion for collecting led him into difficulties and he was more than once rescued by the governor who described him as ‘half starved, having spent all his money, and having even cut the buttons off his clothes in exchange for native ornaments’. Back in England, in 1883 von Hügel was appointed curator of the new Museum of General and Local Archaeology in Cambridge, which is now the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. 

He was a surprising choice. Although his scholarship was well known by this time, he was a foreigner and Catholic. Throughout his life he devoted himself to Catholic causes and when Catholics were once more eligible for entry to Cambridge and Oxford in 1895, he immediately founded, together with Henry Fitzalan-Howard, 15th Duke of Norfolk, a hall of residence in Cambridge. 

Established in 1896, St Edmund’s College soon became the preferred college for Catholic students and scholars in Cambridge and now also houses a research institute named after von Hügel. Founded in 1987, the Von Hügel Institute is a Roman Catholic research institute dedicated to the study of the relationship of Christianity

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Stonyhurst Jacobite paintings recall the Catholic ‘kings over the water’

 May 2017

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Stonyhurst Jacobite paintings recall the Catholic ‘kings over the water’

Elizabeth Robinson

The extensive art collection at Stonyhurst College has been built up since the foundation of the school itself in St. Omers, France, in 1593. The collection includes works by Rubens,Turner, Dürer and Rembrandt. As might be expected in a Jesuit college, the art reflects Catholic religion and history. Stonyhurst owes most of its paintings to Fr Thomas Glover, SJ (1781-1849), the Jesuit agent for the English Province in Rome.

‘If all our missionaries would save up a few pounds annually, all their chapels and houses might be in a short time devotionally furnished’ he wrote, and his efforts at Stonyhurst College reflect his industrious gathering of art in Rome, including Flemish medieval diptychs, Italian Renaissance and baroque works.

The Alberoni Collection at Stonyhurst holds interesting pieces of Jacobite propaganda. Ten paintings were collected by Fr. Glover in the 1830s from the villa of Cardinal Giulio Alberoni (1664 -1752). Some of the paintings seem to have been given to him by the Stuarts in return for his support and organisation of the two Spanish-led Jacobite uprisings of 1719.


A painting of Stonyhurst by JMW Turner

These paintings include one by Benedetto Gennari commissioned by Queen Mary Beatrice of Modena of the infant James Francis Edward Stuart, Prince of Wales. This painting hung in the Queen’s bedchamber and shows the Prince as a strong and healthy baby holding a parakeet, in luxurious surroundings. The painting emphasised the difference between the exiled Stuart royal family and the childless English monarchs, William and Mary, who had ousted the Stuarts.

The Alberoni Collection also includes a full length portrait of the young Prince Charles Edward Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, which was painted by Antonio David in 1726. This is the first official portrait of the Prince, and depicts him in the clothing of an adult. The Bonnie Prince is gesturing towards a crown with the feathers of the Prince of Wales and the motto ‘Ich Dien’, portraying him as the rightful heir to the British throne. Many of the paintings at the college have been donated by various benefactors and old pupils of Stonyhurst, but there was also a collection found in situ at Stonyhurst when the pupils and staff arrived in 1794, having been forced to leave their college on the Continent because of the French Revolution.

Stonyhurst had been the property of the Shireburn and Weld families, and was donated to the Jesuits to form their new school. When the Jesuits and their pupils travelled from Liège in 1794, the Stonyhurst mansion had become dilapidated and empty of furnishings. However, entries in Lady Catherine Shireburn’s Inventory Book of Household Goods at Stonyhurst, dated 1713, describe paintings which were clearly left behind by the family. These are still in the college collections today, depicting biblical scenes such as the Nativity, the Circumcision and the Flight into Egypt.

Stylistically they date from the mid17th century and may well have been bought by sons of the Shireburn family during their time at St Omers. According to the Shireburn Inventory, 20 of these paintings were in the family chapel in 1713 and survive at Stonyhurst as a testament to the spiritual life of English Catholic families trying to live their faith under the government penalties of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. 

The painting known at Stonyhurst as The Jesuit Family Tree was acquired in London in August 1834 and contains some two hundred portraits of members of the Society of Jesus. It is described as a ‘Spanish painting’ by Fr Norris, bought from an art dealer who asked £140 for it , describing it to have come ‘from Martin Luther’s house and it was a representation of the First Reformers’. Fr. Norris and Mr Jenkins realised that it was a Jesuit painting, and managed to purchase it with a frame for the bargain price of £52.

The Benedetto Gennari painting of the young Prince James

The painting was commissioned by King John of Portugal, a great supporter of the Jesuit Missions. It depicts the saints and martyrs of the Society in the mid 17th century, including the English martyrs, Edmund Campion, Robert Southwell and Henry Walpole. The painting contains four large landscape scenes depicting Jesuits working in the missions fields of Europe, Africa, Asia and America. It is a powerful reminder of the global nature of the Jesuit missions in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Of great interest to Stonyhurst is the painting of the college by J M W Turner, painted after his visit to the college in 1799. This is the first known image of Stonyhurst, painted by Turner while he was producing drawings of Whalley Abbey for Dr. Whittaker’s History of the Parish of Whalley published in 1801. This watercolour of Stonyhurst was exhibited in London in 1832-33 at the gallery of Messrs. Moon, Boys and Graves in Pall Mall East. This painting is a fascinating record of the original Tudor house at Stonyhurst.

The work by Dürer

The Great Triumphal Car of the Emperor Maximilian I is a massive wood engraving that took the artist, Albrecht Dürer, ten years to create. It is part of a much larger work, never completed, which was intended to be around one hundred and seventy-seven feet long. The print, as it stands, shows the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, processing in a public demonstration surrounded by the four Cardinal Virtues: Justice, Fortitude, Prudence and Temperance. A Winged Victory stands behind the emperor holding a laurel leaf crown with the titles of his military conquests in France, Hungary, Bohemia, Switzerland, Germany and Venice on its wings. 

The female driver of Maximilian’s car is titled Reason and she holds the reigns of Nobility and Power. The twelve powerful horses which pull the car reflect imperial virtues such as Speed, Providence and Gravity. The print was finally completed in 1522 and it was dedicated to Maximilian’s son, Charles V, the nephew of Queen Katherine of Aragon. There are over one hundred prints by Albrecht Dürer in the collections at Stonyhurst many of which are housed on the ‘Dürer Rocket’, a purpose built display case made by college carpenters in 1911.

The works described comprise a small part of the art collection at Stonyhurst which is used to help pupils and visiting researchers alike. It acts as a visual reminder of the global nature of Catholicism, and the teachings of the Church. The paintings act, as Fr Glover, hoped they would, as a devotional repository of inspirational art.

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Relics of how brave Catholic missionaries cracked China

Friday 3rd March 2017

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Relics of how brave Catholic missionaries cracked China

‘The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself…. In many ways, throughout history down to the present day, men have given expression to their quest for God in their religious beliefs and behaviour: in their prayers, sacrifices, ritual, meditations, and so forth.

‘These forms of religious expression, despite the ambiguities they often bring with them, are so universal that one may well call man a religious being.’ 

This quote, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the Vatican’s website, underpins the selection of astronomical artefacts in this article. These artefacts span different religions and cultures. The collections at Stonyhurst include some remarkable scientific artefacts, reminders of the significant role played in astronomy by Jesuits in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Some, such as the Viatorium, were part of a missionary enterprise by the Jesuits, whose scientific expertise gained for them access to regions and countries which would otherwise be forbidden territory. 

The Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst exists to provide a suitable setting for the rare and significant collections which the college has acquired over the centuries. Through careful, scholarly interpretation and explanation, these objects have a vital role to play in the education and illumination of all who come into contact with them.

The watercolour of Fr Matteo Ricci SJ was made by Charles Weld, a pupil of Stonyhurst College in the early nineteenth century. He spent much time in Rome from 1845 to 1850 copying paintings of significance to the Jesuit order. An inscription by Charles Weld at the bottom of the paper records that the original painting hangs in the Museo Borgiano at the Collegio Propaganda Fide in Rome. It is assumed that the original painting was by a Jesuit lay brother living in China with Matteo Ricci.

China in the 1550s was a self contained world with its own distinctive ancient culture. Since the eighth century, Christian missionaries had been trying to gain a foothold there without any real success. 

The watercolour of Fr Matteo Ricci SJ by Charles Weld, a Stonyhurst pupil in the early 19th century

In 1552 St Francis Xavier died in sight of mainland China, without ever setting foot on Chinese soil. That same year, Matteo Ricci was born in Italy. He became a Jesuit at the age of nineteen and in 1582, he arrived as a missionary in China. Ricci was highly educated, having studied mathematics, astronomy, literature, philosophy and mechanics.

He reported back to his superiors: ‘I have applied myself to the Chinese tongue and can assure your reverence that it is a different thing from German or Greek … the spoken tongue is prey to so many ambiguities that many sounds mean more than a thousand things … As to the alphabet, it is a thing one would not believe in had one not seen and tried it as I have.’

Ricci quickly adopted the dress and habits of the people around him, and became fluent in Mandarin. His intellect and wisdom earned him great respect in China, and it was his scientific expertise that finally won him an invitation to Peking (now called Beijing) from the Ming emperor, Wan-li (1573-1620), who heard about his collection of European clocks.


The viatorum Fr Schall used in his missionary work in China in the 17th century

The emperor was greatly impressed with Ricci’s learning and kept him at court for 10 years, never actually meeting him, but his favour opened to the Jesuit the doors to Chinese society. Ricci lectured widely on physics, philosophy and Western science, attracting thousands to hear him.

He died at the height of his fame in 1610, fully aware that he had achieved little in the way of converts to Christianity but hoping that he had prepared the way for subsequent missionaries to build on his reputation. His epitaph read: ‘The man from the distant west, renowned judge, author of famous books.’ More than a thousand Jesuit missionaries were to follow him to China in the hundred years after his death. One such was Johann Adam Schall von Bell, a German Jesuit astronomer from Cologne who was sent to Peking as a missionary in 1622. Schall was noticed by the emperor of China, Zhu Youjian, through his faultless predictions of the timings of two lunar eclipses. He wanted permission to preach Christianity but he needed the emperor’s approval

As a test of his scientific skill, in 1627 the emperor ordered him to reform the Chinese calendar which was based on the movements of the constellations, and which over many centuries had become unreliable through inaccurate astronomical observations. Fr Schall worked on the project until 1635, and the recalibrated calendar earned him great fame and respect, as well as the all-important permission to carry out his evangelising work. 

Schall was a respected and honoured scholar at the Chinese court, but on the death of Zhu Youjian in 1644, he was thrown into prison and condemned to death. 

He was saved by a severe earthquake in Beijing which was seen as a judgement on the sentence on such a notable scholar. He was released from prison and spent the last year of his life in the capital, dying in 1666.

The Viatorium was used for astronomical and surveying tasks. The case carries an inscription with Fr Schall’s name and the date 1638. The lid has characters which translate as Sun and Moon dial for a hundred wanderings. 

The circular brass plate on the lid shows the phases of the moon, and the twelve two-hour periods into which the Chinese day was divided. The dial shows the days of the month and the twenty-four solar periods of the year. Inside the box is a space which once contained a compass and a Chinese proverb advising the reader to be aware of the fleeting passage of time and of the need to use it wisely

The college possesses a celestial globe made for Islamic scientists. This brass globe, which maps out the heavens for astronomers, is the eleventh oldest Islamic globe known to exist.

It was made in India at the court of the great Mughal emperor, Jahangir (1569-1627), whose son, Shah Jehan (1592-1666), built the Taj Mahal. Jahangir was a cultured man, keen on science, who welcomed western scholars and scientists, particularly Jesuit astronomers, to his court.

The globe is inscribed ‘Qaim Muhammed ibn Isa ibn Allahdad Asturlabi Lahuri Humayuni’ and is dated 1623.

Qaim Muhammed was an astrolabe maker in Lahore, part of a remarkable family which had produced fine quality astronomical instruments for four generations. Their family firm was renowned for its celestial globes such as this one. The globe is seamless, made by a process known as the lost wax method, also used by western Renaissance sculptors. It seems likely that the highly prestigious and expensive globe was commissioned by Itiqad Khan, the brother of Jahangir’s wife, Nur Jahan.

The principal stars of the heavens are indicated by silver dots inlaid into the brass and arranged in Islamicate zodiac form. The circle of the sun’s path is clearly marked, as are the lines that divide the sphere into celestial longitude and latitude. The globe shows all the visible stars and the forty-eight constellations listed by the ancient astronomers such as Ptolemy. It is constructed in such a way that the observer has to imagine that he is placed in the heavens looking down on the constellations, while the earth is hidden inside the globe.

The celestial globe used by the Islamic scholars

 The faith of Islam requires its followers to pray five times a day at specified positions of the sun, and facing Mecca. Using spheres such as this one, in conjunction with other instruments, astronomers were able to use the stars to pinpoint the correct location of Mecca and the exact times for prayer. 

The importance of dates and times for Islamic prayer was also the reason for the creation of a small, beautifully illuminated Persian manuscript, which intermingles mathematical tables, with prayers and instructions for ritual washing.

As the Catholic catechism acknowledges, man has historically sought the meaning of his own existence, and wondered at the glory of the heavens, using his God-given intelligence and ingenuity to try and puzzle out the laws of the Universe.

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Romantic relics from Stuart queens and Jacobite princes

Friday 6th January 2017

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Romantic relics from Stuart queens and Jacobite princes

With Burns’ Night nearly upon us, it seems an appropriate time to examine some of the remarkable Stuart and Jacobite artefacts preserved at Stonyhurst College. These objects have powerful and romantic stories to tell, and have long been a source of fascination.

The Book of Hours of Mary, Queen of Scots is perhaps the most famous, associated with the romantic, doomed queen, although it was not originally made for her. The book is the property of the British Jesuit Province, and came to Stonyhurst in 1794 via the Jesuit Seminary at Liege. It is a beautiful, lavishly bound prayer book printed in France in 1558. The exterior is rich red velvet which extends below the bottom edge of the book in a deliberately.

The front of the book carries silver-gilt letters spelling MARIA, a gilt pomegranate and a Tudor rose. The back bears the letters REGINA and an enamelled coat of arms surmounted by a queen regnant’s crown.

The original owner is easily identified: the pomegranate of Katherine of Aragon, the Tudor Rose of Henry VIII, and the royal arms of Queen Mary Tudor of England. The queen must have ordered it from France, but died before the book was complete. Somehow it passed to her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, who was at that time married to the French Dauphin and it stayed in her possession throughout her life.

On 7th February 1586 Mary, who had been imprisoned in England since 1568, was informed that she was to die the following morning. She spent her last night settling her affairs, distributing her personal possessions amongst her ladies, Elizabeth Curle and Jane Kennedy, and praying. It was probably at this point that the queen gave the book to Elizabeth Curle. At seven the next morning she was taken into the great hall at Fotheringay, accompanied by Jane and Elizabeth. All three read psalms from prayer books, and so it is almost certain that this book was on the scaffold with Mary, though not in her hands.

The red velvet cover for a Book of Hours which belonged to Mary Queen of Scots

After the execution, Elizabeth Curle moved to Antwerp to join the substantial group of English and Scottish Catholics in exile. In 1620, she bequeathed her possessions to her nephew, Hugh Curle, a Jesuit priest, and he in turn left them to the Jesuits when he died in 1638, with specific funds dedicated to the support of poor Scottish seminarians. The prayer book became part of the Jesuit Library at Liege Seminary, and moved to Stonyhurst in 1794.

Perhaps the most renowned of the many relics housed and venerated at Stonyhurst is the Holy Thorn, often called Mary Queen of Scots’ Thorn. It too belongs to the British Jesuit Province, and has been associated with the college since 1665. It consists of a single thorn from the Crown of Thorns originally kept in the Sainte Chapelle in Paris entwined with freshwater pearls within a gold and enamelled reliquary from the late Elizabethan period.

The Fourth Crusade which sacked Constantinople in 1204 saw the dispersal of the renowned Byzantine Imperial collection of Passion Relics. In 1238, the Crown of Thorns, with many other relics reputed to have been discovered by St Helena in fourth century Jerusalem, was sold to Louis IX, King of France. These arrived in Paris in August 1242 to national rejoicing, and Louis built the Sainte Chapelle at a cost of 60,000 livres as a fitting shrine for the relics. We first hear of this particular thorn in John Gerard’s famous account of his life as a Jesuit missionary in Elizabethan England. He describes how the thorn came into his hands in 1594.

‘At this time I was given some very remarkable relics, and my friends had them finely set for me. They included a complete thorn of the holy crown of Our Lord which Mary, Queen of Scots, had brought with her from France (where the whole crown is kept) and had given to the Earl of Northumberland, who was later martyred. While he lived, the earl used to carry it round his neck in a golden cross, and when he came to execution he gave it to his daughter, who gave it to me. It was enclosed in a case set with pearls.

Possibly it was a wedding present on Mary’s marriage to the French Dauphin in April 1558. The widowed queen brought the thorn back to Scotland when she returned there after the death of her young husband. 

Her later misfortunes in Scotland are well known. Mary crossed into England in May 1568, and was taken to Carlisle Castle. Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland was active in raising opposition to Elizabeth, with the intention of freeing Mary, placing her at the head of an army, and, ultimately, on Elizabeth’s throne. The thorn must have been given as a pledge of her gratitude for his support. Following Percy’s execution after the failed Rising of the Northern Earls, the thorn passed to his daughter, Elizabeth, and thence to her confessor, Fr John Gerard. By 1666 it was recorded as being at St Omers College. It was the property of Mary, Queen of Scots for only a relatively short time, yet such was her fame that the relic has always been associated with her name

The Holy Thorn, a thorn said to be from Christ’s crown of thorns

A more startling group of Jacobite relics includes a piece of the flesh of James II, his hair, a piece of flannel, and linen soaked in his blood. A few scraps of manuscript pasted beside the objects record, ‘Ex carne Jacobi 2i Regis. Accepi a P. Hen:Humberston/ K J haire & a piece of his Flesh allso a Piece of the Flanell wastecoate he dyed in/ Of ye Blood of King James ye 2nd’

Stonyhurst College is home to a rich variety of relics from Britain's Catholic history

Henry Humberston was ordained as a Jesuit in 1669. He worked in England during the 1680s and was well known to James. In 1701 he become the Rector of St Omers. James II died on 16th September 1701 and bequeathed his large intestine to St Omers, as a mark of honour; bowels were believed to symbolise compassion. The framed fragment is the only surviving remnant, the rest was destroyed during the French Revolution. Many shortbread tins boast an image of Bonnie Prince Charlie in improbable tartan. There are very few surviving pieces of fabric that can be proved, beyond reasonable doubt, to have been on the back of Charles Edward Stuart, but such a fragment survives at Stonyhurst, with a manuscript note.

‘This piece of cloth is part of a kilt left by Prince Charlie in the House of Campbell, Island of Glass, 30th April 1746.

‘Robert Hemsley Tarber (?) House, got it from a descendant of Campbell’s and sent it to Walter Armstrong of Tarff House, Kirkcowan, who gave it to JS Maitland on 19th April 1887.

‘In landing on the island Prince Charlie got wet. His kilt was not dry in the morning when he wished to start, so he left his own behind and took one of Campbell’s kilts.

‘The above was told me by W Armstrong, of Kirkcowan.

‘Glasgow, April 1887. JS Maitland, HM Inspector of Factories.’

The tartan made in the same pattern as an actual piece worn by Bonnie Prince Charlie

Immediately following the defeat at Culloden on 16th April 1746, Prince Charles and some companions escaped to Borrodale on foot, arriving on 20th April. The prince was well acquainted with Angus and Catriona Macdonald of Borrodale, having stayed with them in July 1745 when he landed in Scotland. One of Charles’s fugitive companions described how the prince acquired the Borrodale tartan,

‘Early upon the 20th (April) his royal highness got up and went straight to Arisaig to a town called Glenbiastill, where the prince got a sute of new Highland cloaths from Angus Macdonald of Boradale’s spouse, the better to disguise him and to make him pass for one of the country.’

The prince then fled to Scalpay, known in Gaelic as Eilean Glas – the Island of Glass on the Maitland manuscript note. On arrival at Scalpay ‘every stitch they had as stiff as buckrum from the salt water.’

Their new host, Donald Campbell, provided the prince with a change of clothing, and so he left his wet Borrodale clothes behind.

The design of the tartan is simple: a black check on a lavender blue ground with an overlay of fine red and yellow stripes. The fabric, as it appears today, has darkened with time, but when new it would have been bright and eye-catching. In 1995 the original tartan was recreated and named Lady Borrodale’s Gift, in honour of Catriona Macdonald. The tartan is now worn by girls at Stonyhurst College as part of the school uniform.

These stories have considerable romantic associations, which overlay a more sobering undercurrent of religious dispute, war, rebellion, persecution and disenfranchisement. It is important that such issues are examined openly and without partisanship, as part of the religious and historical education of young people in Britain.