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Stonyhurst yields its mystical treasures

Friday 4th May 2018

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

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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A world of treasures from the Holy Sepulchre to Paraguay

Friday 4th August 2017

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

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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For Hopkins nature was charged with God’s glory

Friday 3rd March 2017

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

For Hopkins nature was charged with God’s glory

Fr Samuel Burke OP

Over recent months, a series of articles in this newspaper has showcased the great treasures of the new Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst.

The Stonyhurst Collections serve to explain, cherish and bring to life the inspiring history of the Christian faith in Britain. This final article explores the inspiration that the beautiful countryside of the Ribble Valley, which surrounds Stonyhurst, provided to the Jesuit priest and poet, Father Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Hopkins’ poetry is highly distinctive in theme. It brims with the conviction that the natural world is, as he put it, “word, expression, news of God.” To look upon creation was, for Hopkins, to see God’s glorious majesty or what he called the ‘inscape’ of things: an aesthetic experience which was “near at hand” for those who “had eyes to see it… it could be called out everywhere again”.

He took delight in seeing things as God made them, however small and commonplace. Confiding in his journal, he once wrote, ‘I do not think I have ever seen anything more beautiful than the bluebell I have been looking at. I know the beauty of our Lord by it.’

Stonyhurst seen across the fields from the south

In an earlier letter written to a friend whilst he was studying Classics at Balliol College, Oxford, Hopkins provides another insight into his playful curiosity and his deep love of the natural world, strikingly evident in the poetry he would later write: ‘I have particular periods of admiration for particular things in Nature – for a certain time I am astonished at the beauty of a tree, its shape, its effect.

‘Then, when the passions so to speak has subsided, it is consigned to my treasury of explored beauty, while something new takes it place in my enthusiasm.’

And it was a ‘treasury of explored beauty’ that he amply amassed during his three periods at Stonyhurst in Lancashire, even if his poetic output whilst stationed there was relatively modest.

With child-like enthusiasm, Hopkins records in his diary his first experience of the arresting beauty of the place when he first arrived at ‘the seminary’ (properly called St Mary’s Hall, now the Preparatory School at Stonyhurst) as a Jesuit Scholastic in early September 1870, aged 26 for his studies in philosophy.

On the night of his arrival, after being shown to his room at the front of the building on the top floor, Hopkins remained awake until dawn in order to witness the ‘beautiful range of moors dappled with light and shade’, a panoramic view that included the majestic Pendle Hill, which he likens to a ‘world-wielding shoulder’.

Hopkins had arrived at the seminary early, in fact. With the other scholastics on holiday, and classes not due to start until the following month, GMH had the leisure of exploring the spectacular environs of Stonyhurst, which he did with abandon, for as he would write in a later poem ‘…nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things’.

He roamed hills, woodlands and Lancashire meadows ‘smeared yellow with buttercups and bright squares of rapefield in the landscape’. Hopkins’ way of seeing the world was deeply influenced by the writings of the Franciscan theologian, Duns Scotus.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

A journal entry for 3rd August 1872 records his discovery of Scotus’ Scriptum Oxoniense super Sententiis in the Badeley library on the Isle of Man during a vacation he took from Stonyhurst.

Hopkins describes his find as ‘a mercy from God’ and comments that he was ‘flush with a new stroke of enthusiasm.’ He was to write of his fondness for the theologian in a later poem, Duns Scotus’ Oxford. 

This first stay at St Mary’s Hall, Stonyhurst, as a Jesuit scholastic, lasted three years (1870-1873). In those days it was an austere regime, which at times proved challenging for the young man. 

Hopkins attended two one hour lectures in the morning and did a further three hours of study from 5 – 8pm. Religious observances and time for recreation were fitted in around these fixed times, and the only permitted conversation was at mealtimes. 

Although he might have expected to become a teacher at one of the Jesuit schools, on completing his philosophy studies, Hopkins was initially sent back to Manresa, the Jesuit Noviciate House at Roehampton, to serve as Professor of Rhetoric, before proceeding to St Bueno’s where he was subsequently ordained as a priest. 

Later, as a priest, he twice returned to Stonyhurst. His second stay was for a His third lasted for just over a year from September 1882 to December 1883, when – though sad to leave – he was called to University College Dublin. On both occasions he taught Classics as a tutor to the Gentlemen Philosophers, a group of Catholic laymen who received their university education at Stonyhurst.

As Catholics were forbidden to take degrees at Oxford and Cambridge, and indeed forbidden from doing so by Catholic bishops, they enrolled for external Bachelors degrees at the University of London. During the time he spent at Stonyhurst, Hopkins continued to deepen his love of the world around him. As part of his interest in God’s created order, Hopkins developed a great interest in astronomical matters, facilitated by the fine observatory at Stonyhurst, which provided research for the Vatican Observatory and is still in use today.

He writes poetic descriptions of the peculiar sunsets he saw there: ‘A bright sunset lines the clouds so that their brims look like gold, brass, bronze, or steel. It fetches out those dazzling flecks and spangles which people call fish-scales. It gives to a mackerel or dappled cloudrack the appearance of quilted crimson silk, or a ploughed field glazed with crimson ice.’

It wasn’t just the sun which caught his attention. He would find beauty — “the grandeur of God” — in all manner of places, some of them fairly unlikely. Stories abound of his eccentric behaviour at Stonyhurst, such as the time when he hung over a frozen pond to observe bubbles trapped beneath the ice or was seen staring at the gravel outside St Mary’s Hall.

Hopkins had a particular love for “the three beautiful rivers” near Stonyhurst. One of them, the Calder, runs close to the nearby remains of a Cistercian monastery, Whalley Abbey. Another, the River Hodder, sits beneath the school in a thick wood and was used by Hopkins and others for bathing, even if precarious after heavy rainfall. 

The third and most significant of these rivers, the River Ribble, gives its name to the Ribble Valley, the wider expanse that surrounds Stonyhurst and the eponymous poem, Ribblesdale, one of at least five poems which Hopkins wrote during his stays at Stonyhurst. 

The poem tells how nature cannot speak for itself but must find its voice through a human translator, as it were. And, as the following verses demonstrate, few voices were as finely tuned as that of Hopkins:

The River Hodder, well known to Hopkins

Earth,sweet Earth,sweet landscape,
with leavés throng
And louchéd low grass, heaven
that dost appeal
To, with no tongue to plead,
no heart to feel;
That canst but only be, but dost
that long
Thou canst but be, but that thou
well dost;strong
Thy plea with him who dealt, nay
does now deal,
Thy lovely dale down thus and
thus bids reel
Thy river, and o’er gives all to
rack or wrong.
And what is Earth’s eye, tongue,
or heart else, where
Else, but in dear and dogged man?
– Ah, the heir
To his own selfbent so bound,so
tied to his turn,
To thriftless reave both our rich
round world bare
And none reck of world after,
this bids wear
Earth brows of such care, care
and dear concern.

Other poems he wrote at Stonyhurst comprise The Wreck of the Eurydice, with resonances of his earlier and more confessional Wreck of the Deutschland; The May Magnificat and The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air we Breathe – two poems in honour of Our Lady, whose image was and remains prominent in various statues inside the building and grounds; as well as the . In that poem, Hopkins confronts the dreadful reality of the loss and decay of the beauty that he holds dear:-

HOW to keep—is there any any, is
there none such, nowhere known some,
bow or brooch or braid or brace, lace,
latch or catch or key to keep
Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty,
beauty, … from vanishing away?

As the poem progresses, Hopkins proceeds to take solace in the beauty that lies ‘yonder’ in God, who is ‘beauty’s self and beauty’s giver’.

In the midst of a world marked by loss and decay, a walk in the countryside can do us untold good lifting our spirits as such rambles did for Hopkins.

The Christian Heritage Centre is establishing a Hopkins’ walking route around Stonyhurst in his memory to accompany the Tolkien Trail, already available.

On such pleasant walks, we can gaze upon the beauty around us and can say with Hopkins: ‘I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes / Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour’.

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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.

The Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst is home to unique Catholic collections – items which draw on this country’s Christian story. This registered charity is currently creating accommodation for scholars, retreatants and those wishing to deepen their Christian Faith. Theodore House will be followed by a Visitors’ Centre which will enable parishes, schools and the general public to have even greater access to these amazing collections.

Visit www.christianheritage or contact to learn more

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‘The road goes ever on and on down from the door where it began …

Friday 7th April 2017

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

‘The road goes ever on and on down from the door where it began ... ’

David Alton
Stonyhurst College now forms the start of the Tolkien Trail

The Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst, in Lancashire’s beautiful Ribble Valley, is a treasure trove of artefacts and memorabilia associated with so many chapters of Britain’s rich Christian story. It is home to over 60,000 objects and 50,000 books, including a Shakespeare folio and manuscripts of the Bard’s relative, the Jesuit poet, St Robert Southwell.

Mark Thompson – a former Director General of the BBC, now editor of the New York Times – who has contributed to the creation of the Christian Heritage Centre, says that the restored historic libraries were a major source of inspiration for his desire to go into journalism: “You read something like Inversnaid and it really brings the texture of that landscape to life. “You’re really lucky to live in that part of the world. You have a feeling that this is a special, unspoilt place. It’s amazing.”


J.R.R. Tolkien

In the Victorian era another young man, Arthur Conan Doyle, honed his writing skills in this same environment while today the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst is promoting a special connection with two of the Catholic world’s most influential writers – the author J.R.R.Tolkien and the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins. To help visitors get closer to these two men and to understand their Catholic faith, the CHC is making available two wonderful walking trails – guaranteed to inspire.

The author of Lord of the Rings – one of the world’s top ten best-selling books – was a regular visitor to this beautiful part of Lancashire, the sacred county, when one of his sons, Michael, was a teacher at the college, and another, John, trained there for the priesthood (while the English College in Rome was closed during the Second World War). Tolkien’s name appears in the college visitors’ book many times, along with that of his wife, daughter and sons. Since 1954, 150 million copies of Lord of the Rings have influenced vast numbers of readers. Less well known was the contribution he made in 1966 to the Jerusalem Bible – translating the little Book of Jonah. With his friend, C.S.Lewis, and the other ‘Inklings’ Tollkien used his amazing skills as a storyteller to open our eyes to the only story that really matters.

Tolkien was the son of a widowed Catholic convert – Mabel – whose family rejected her when she became a Catholic. On Mabel’s death in 1904, at the age of 34, a death “hastened by the persecution of her faith”, as Tolkien remarked in 1941, he was shunted between relatives until a lodging was found for him by an Oratorian priest, Fr Francis Morgan, who became his legal guardian.

In 1963 Tolkien wrote about the effect that these experiences and formative years had on him: ‘I witnessed (half comprehending) the heroic sufferings and early death in extreme poverty of my mother who brought me into the Church.’ His great closeness and devotion to Mary, the Mother of God – began with the premature death of his own mother. He said that Mary ‘refined so much of our gross manly natures and emotions as well as warming and colouring our hard, bitter, religion.’

Of Fr Francis he wrote: ‘I first learnt charity and forgiveness from him’ and he said that he taught him the story of his Faith ‘piercing even the ‘liberal’ darkness  of which I came, knowing more about ‘Bloody Mary’ than the Mother of Jesus – who was never mentioned except as an object of wicked worship by the Romanists.

In a letter to Fr. Robert Murray SJ, Tolkien said of the Virgin Mary ‘Our Lady, upon which all my own small perceptions of beauty, both in majesty and simplicity is founded’. Elsewhere he had said: “I attribute whatever there is of beauty and goodness in my work to the Holy Mother of God.” Tolkien saw Mary as the closest of all beings to Christ, as literally “full of grace” describing her as “unstained” and that “she had committed no evil deeds”. He saw her as the Christ bearer who paves the way for the Incarnation: about which he says “the Incarnation of God is an infinitely greater thing than anything I would dare to write.”

He would have particularly loved the Lady Statue, erected in 1882, that commands the entry to the Avenue and which leads the walker from the village of Hurst Green into the college grounds. Tolkien attended Mass in the now beautifully restored church of St.Peter – and cultivated his great love of the Blessed Sacrament and nurtured his belief in regularly receiving Holy Communion: “I fell in love with the Blessed Sacrament from the beginning and by the mercy of God never have fallen out again.”

He told his son, Michael, that: “The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion….frequency is of the highest effect.”

He described the Holy Eucharist as “the one great thing to love on earth” and that in “the Blessed Sacrament you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that….eternal endurance which every man’s heart desires.”

The Blessed Sacrament appears in Lord of the Rings as the lembas, the mystical bread – the bread of angels – which both nourishes and heals. Lembas, we are told, “had a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone, and did not mingle it with other goods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure.”

That Tolkien’s faith was based on personal encounter with God and a deep spirituality is revealed in an exchange that he had with a stranger (whom he identified with his wizard, Gandalf) and who said to him:“Of course, you don’t suppose, do you, that you wrote all that book yourself?” Tolkien replied “Pure Gandalf!…I think I said “No, I don’t suppose so any longer.”

I have never since been able to suppose so. An alarming conclusion for an old philologist to draw concerning his private amusement. But not one that should puff up anyone who
considers the imperfections of “chosen instruments”, and indeed what sometimes seems their lamentable unfitness for the purpose.”

Tolkien tells us that: “ Lord of The Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work, unconsciously at first, but consciously in the revision”. Elsewhere he states “I am a Christian (which can be deduced from my stories), and in fact a Roman Catholic”. In 1958 he wrote that the Lord of the Rings is ‘a tale, which is built on or out of certain ‘religious’ ideas, but is not an allegory of them.’

In 1956 in a letter to Amy Ronald he wrote: ‘I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a long defeat – though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.’

Map of the Tolkien Trail

And the Lord of the Rings is full of those glimpses and riddled with wisdom and common sense about everything from the constant battle against evil and the overcoming of seemingly impossible odds, to the nature of friendship to the place of courage: “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. 

“I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve. 

“It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish. 

“Still round the corner there may wait, a new road or a secret gate 

“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens. 

“It’s a dangerous business going out your front door. 

“Courage is found in unlikely places.” 

But central must be an understanding of power and evil represented by the Ring itself: “The board is set, the pieces are moving. We come to it at least, the great battle of our time.” Principal among those who would face the great battle were Tolkien’s Hobbits – the people of the Shire – and the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst walking trail enables walkers to experience some of the stunning local landscape that, during Tolkien’s visits, would have inspired him.

Appropriately enough, the village of Hurst Green boasts its own Shire Lane while Ribblesdale and Rivensdale seem, at times, interchangeable. The verdant countryside is dominated by the dark shape of Pendle Hill, famous for its association with witches, sorcery and black magic in the 16th century. Inspiration here for Mordor, the Middle Earth’s Misty Mountains and The Lonely Mountain?

And on completion of the ‘Tolkien Trail’ where better to quench your thirst
 than at the Shireburn, named for the Catholic family who built Stonyhurst:

‘Ho! Ho! Ho! To the bottle I go To heal my heart and drown my woe Rain may fall, and wind may blow And many miles be still to go But under a tall tree will I lie And let the clouds go sailing by’

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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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Relics reveal rich tapestry of England’s Catholic past

Friday 3rd February 2017

The CHC @ The Catholic Universe

Relics reveal rich tapestry of England’s Catholic past

The Pedlar's Chest, used to smugle vestments during the Reformation

Stonyhurst College cares for a spectacular and rich array of historic vestments in its collections, many of which were smuggled across the Channel to the school during the time it was based in St Omers near Calais, between 1593 and 1762.

Vestments were particularly singled out for destruction in Reformation England. In the eyes of the Elizabethan government, they represented priestly authority and the celebration of the forbidden Mass.

From the onset of the Dissolution of the Monasteries until the late 17th century, vestments in England and Wales were systematically sought out and destroyed by government agents, keen to suppress all signs of Catholic worship. Ironically a good many which survived the reign of Protestant Edward VI and were brought out in the reign of his Catholic half-sister, Mary Tudor, were subsequently seized and destroyed in the reign of Elizabeth I.

There are numerous examples of Catholic families and communities hiding precious pre-Reformation vestments from the searchers, storing them in attics, in hidden compartments and even burying them, in an attempt to preserve them. Very few survived, and many of these were sent abroad for safekeeping, to the English seminaries and Colleges in Rome, Valladolid, Douai and St Omers.

Many pre-Reformation vestments were richly embroidered with the intricate needlework known as opus anglicanum. The embroideries were removed from the chasubles and dalmatics to make them easier to hide and transport abroad. Once at St Omers, they were re-attached to new, rich fabrics and used in the celebration of Mass for the young boys attending the college. They symbolised England’s Catholic past and were a sign of hope for the restoration of the Catholic faith in England in the future.

The Lamb Chasuble, which is still used on special occasions at Stonyhurst

 Medieval examples such as the beautiful St Dunstan’s Chasuble survive at Stonyhurst today, smuggled from Canterbury to St Omers, and then brought back to England when the college moved to its present location in 1794. The Dunstan Chasuble is the property of the British Jesuit Province, and is cared for at Stonyhurst. It features highly intricate embroidered 14th century images of saints associated with Canterbury, and probably once adorned a cope, or copes. Thomas Becket features in four scenes, as might be expected for Canterbury’s most famous saint and martyr. The panel depicting his martyrdom is spectacularly fine, and has retained much of its colour and freshness. When these embroideries arrived at St Omers they were re-shaped into their present form on a Roman chasuble, which takes its name from a delightful image of St Dunstan of Canterbury pinching the nose of the devil with tongs.

The St Norbert Cope, made from the umbrella of an Indian maharajah’s elephant

Another rare medieval chasuble was commissioned in the 1490s by King Henry VII for use in Westminster Abbey. It was originally part of a massively expensive and prestigious matching set of twenty-nine copes, a chasuble, dalmatic and tunicle. These were woven in Florence from cloth of gold and red silk velvet damask, with interloped threads of gold, in a technique known as riccio sopra riccio, or richness upon richness. The design features red rose of the House of Lancaster, the portcullis badge of Henry’s mother, Margaret Beaufort (the Tudor’s main claim to royalty came through Margaret) and embroideries showing the Good Shepherd and angels incensing a monstrance. Of the set (which was taken to the Field of Cloth of Gold by Henry VIII), only two pieces remain; this chasuble and a cope.

Both arrived at St Omers early in its history and were known to have been used in ceremonies at the college as early as 1609. 

A poignant reminder of the personal cost paid by Catherine of Aragon for refusing to fall in with her husband’s desire to annul her marriage, can be seen in a set of chasuble, dalmatic and tunicles bearing rich embroidery of grapes and vines. This set is said to have been embroidered by Catherine and her two ladies-in-waiting during her incarceration at Kimbolton in the fifteen months before her death. The set was restored on arrival at St Omers in the late 17th century, and then again in the 1850s, but much of the original embroidery and design remains.

The college also commissioned new chasubles for use in its three chapels. There were many communities of English nuns in the Low Countries in the 17th century, exiled from home because of their faith. It is likely that some of the exquisite Flemish embroideries at Stonyhurst originated in English convents in places like Bruges, Louvain, Antwerp and St Omers. The Lamb Chasuble features rich gold scrolls, laid out like a formal garden parterre, and in between are brilliantly coloured tulips, roses, lilies, violas and honeysuckle, which symbolise different aspects of Mary’s virtues. On the back is a solid panel of silk embroidery with silver and gold thread showing the Lamb of the Apocalypse, lying on the Book with Seven Seals. This chasuble is in remarkably original condition, and is used on special occasions at Stonyhurst.

Missionary priests in 17th century England found it difficult to minister the sacraments to the Catholic communities they visited, as many houses had no place to hide the vessels, books and vestments necessary. It was dangerous for priests to carry these items with them as they were proof that the owner was a priest, which carried the death penalty. Many, however, took that risk as there was no alternative. 

In the container known as the Pedlar’s Chest, at Stonyhurst, there is a unique collection of simple vestments made from ladies’ dresses, along with a travelling altar stone, pewter chalice, alb, rosary ring and a quantity of church linen including altar frontals, chalice veils, burses and amices. These were used by priests travelling the Lancashire countryside, visiting remote Catholic farmhouses, manors and hamlets.

The chest itself is made from pine and is covered with ponyskin. The interior is lined with crudely printed wallpaper of hunting scenes. It is exactly the sort of container used by travelling salesmen, or chapmen, using fell ponies over the rough packhorse routes of rural England, and it was this persona that the priests adopted, travelling in disguise.


The St Dunstan Chasuble, featuring scenes from the murder of St Thomas Becket

The packhorse trails had the advantage of bypassing villages with their government-paid ‘watchers’ waiting to interrogate travelling strangers. The paths were rugged and uncomfortable, but they linked Catholic houses, and allowed priests disguised as pedlars to arrive at the back door offering threads and patterns, thimbles and pins. Secret signs and words were exchanged with the lady of the house and the priest was taken to a discreet room to unpack the vestments and celebrate Mass.

A later vestment tells the story of the changing situation for Catholics in the early 19th century. The Arundell Cope is a sumptuous robe, made from rich, dark red velvet, embroidered with jewels, pearls, gold and silver thread. The velvet was originally used for the coronation robes of James Everard, 10th Baron Arundell of Wardour, who wore them to Westminster Abbey for the crowning of George IV in 1821. His attendance at the coronation was an indication that Catholics were becoming accepted after centuries of exclusion. 

There is a final, intriguing item worth looking at. Known as the St Norbert Cope, it has a hood decorated with rich 17th century embroidery showing that saint holding aloft a monstrance. The fabric of the cope is bizarre; deep purple, gold and silver asymmetric designs, fringed with silk and paisley motifs. It was originally the umbrella of an Indian Maharajah’s elephant