Monday, 26 August 2013

Catholic Archives Society review

I am very grateful to Margaret Harcourt Williams and the Catholic Archives Society for this detailed review of the symposium and concert - HT

The World is Our House and the Cwm Library project

The World is Our House, a symposium on international Jesuit culture was held in Hereford in June and organised by, among others, Professor Maurice Whitehead of Swansea University.  

Hereford Cathedral Library holds the Cwm Library, the largest surviving seventeenth-century Jesuit library in Britain, which at present is being analysed in a joint project between Swansea University and Hereford Cathedral.  An aim of the symposium was to set the Library within its early modern Jesuit historical and international context and the title is a phrase used by the 16th century Jesuit Jerónimo Nadal, emphasising the international nature and mobility of the Jesuit order.

Cwm is on the border of Herefordshire and Monmouthshire and from 1622 was the Jesuit College of St Francis Xavier.  In 1678, during the unrest associated with the Popish Plot, it was raided and its library taken to Hereford Cathedral.  From the mid 20th century onwards, Interest has increased in the 150 or so books then identified as from the Cwm Library and it is now the subject of a doctoral thesis by Hannah Thomas of Swansea University.

The day was divided into two parts.  In the morning Professor Peter Davidson of Aberdeen University and Drs Adam Mosley and Peter Leech, both of Swansea University, spoke on Jesuit Arts, Science and Music in the early modern period, thus providing an overview of the cultural contribution made at that time by the Jesuits.

The afternoon talks concerned the Jesuits in late sixteenth and seventeenth century England and Wales.  Father Thomas McCoog SJ began with an overview of the work of the Jesuits in England and Wales; Jan Graffius of Stonyhurst spoke on Helena Wintour and Mary Bodenham, both of whom made lavishly decorated vestments, and Hannah Thomas completed the programme with a talk on the Cwm Jesuit Library itself.

Hannah Thomas presented delegates with the story of the project so far: she explained that she began by examining many volumes in the Cathedral Library and that by noting signatures, initials and other marks of identification she increased significantly the number of books in the Cathedral Library that had once been part of the Cwm Library.  However, she acknowledged that the full size of the Library is still unknown: the books taken to Hereford were found together in an outbuilding so may have been placed there deliberately to avoid the whole building being searched.  Also, books may have been borrowed and away from the Library when it was raided.  The existence of at least one outside the Cathedral’s collection is known, in the archives of the Catholic Archdiocese of Cardiff.  

Hannah explained that the Jesuits may have been warned of the raid and hidden some books.  The bishop of Hereford at the time was Bishop Croft, whose father had converted to Catholicism and had died with the English Benedictines at Douai in France; Bishop Croft himself was briefly a Catholic.

Hannah showed us an interesting message from Bishop Croft in which he asked government officials if he could keep the books in Hereford rather than sending them to London as was usual with such confiscated property.  He explained that the Cathedral Library was the best place for them and mentioned that they included one or two that would enhance his own collection.  

Hannah also spoke of other discoveries made, key inscriptions identified and analysed, research questions unanswered and the next steps the project is going to take.  

Additionally, there were exhibitions of early Jesuit books from the Cwm, of music from Dr Leech’s own collection and of sacred treasures from Stonyhurst.  The Cathedral’s Mappa Mundi and Chained Library could also be seen.  

The day ended in St Francis Xavier’s Church, Hereford, with a concert of music associated with Jesuits in the early modern era, including works by William Byrd, Tomás Luis de Victoria, Matthew Locke, Marc-Antoine Charpentier and others.

The organisers of the Symposium, in a generous gesture, gave everyone who attended a copy of ‘The Way of Perfection’ a short story by Jane Stevenson, produced in a limited edition for the Symposium by the St Omers Press, Stonyhurst.

This note was first written for the Bulletin of the Catholic Archives Society, due out in autumn 2013.  Hannah Thomas has agreed to speak at next year’s CAS Conference, see

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