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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Somerset

Fourth Centenary Exhibition Review

On 21st January 1623 the establishment of an English Province of the Society of Jesus was approved by Fr Mutio Vitelleschi SJ, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus 1615-1645.


To celebrate the 400th anniversary of the now British Province, a special Mass was celebrated on Saturday 21st January 2023 at Farm Street Church. As part of the celebration the Archives put on an exhibition for those attending the Mass to visit before or after the service.


We were delighted to have almost 60 visitors view the exhibition, which is the highest visitor number for one of our exhibitions to date. The feedback on the day was positive though also noteworthy that many said "we did not know that there were any archives here". This lack of awareness highlights the importance of putting on exhibitions to raise the profile of the Archives. It is also a wonderful opportunity for showcasing the range of records that are contained within the British Jesuit Archives.

Photograph of a display case taken from above showing three open books and three closed books with labels.
Display of books published in 1623

Given the richness of the collection, it is always a challenge to decide what material to display when organising an exhibition. We decided to focus on records from post 1623. As we knew of at least 12 books printed in 1623 in our antiquarian book collection (we may yet discover more as our cataloguing continues) we utilised our two display cases to exhibit some of these. They included books from the Jesuit English College Press in St Omers, a book in French of short biographies of prominent Jesuits and a pamphlet describing a tragedy that occurred in London when a building collapsed while Fr Drury SJ was preaching.


Deciding what to exhibit from the archives collection proved harder as we wanted to have a range of interesting and ideally visually pleasing records whilst also being conscious of preservation requirements and not displaying items that are particularly fragile. Although we of course planned to enforce a 'do not touch' policy as well as displaying notices to this effect, we have had previous experience of visitors picking up items on display as most of the exhibition would be out on our reading room tables rather than in cases. Also, we were anticipating this being a busier exhibition with less oversight possible.


In the end we had six general topics: Jesuit Formation, Jesuit Education, Jesuit Daily Life, Jesuit Writers & Speakers & Artists, Farm Street Church and Leaders, though of course there was some overlap with records fitting several of these topics. The records displayed included letters from the Kennedys to Fr Martin D'Arcy SJ, watercolour drawing of Mount St Mary's College by Peter Knott SJ, a photograph of Fr Ronald Hull SJ having his hair cut, a volume of Fr Driscoll's motets as sung at Farm Street Church, sermon by Fr Martindale SJ, ... There would have been sufficient records for each of these categories to be an exhibition of its own, but hopefully there was something of interest for our visitors among the displayed range.


One slight regret was that we did not exhibit any of Fr Edmund Campion SJ's material. We had not realised that an extract from his Brag would be read out during the service nor that Fr Damian Howard SJ, the Provincial, would mention in his homily that Campion material was kept in the Archives. This unfortunately resulted in visitors arriving at the exhibition asking to view Campion’s work and us having to state that although we have material, nothing had been selected for the display. The decision to not display any pre-1623 material was largely due to the difficulty of exhibiting such precious records. For this reason it was the right decision not to have Campion material out, but on the day it felt somewhat disappointing. With hindsight, we will consider how we can improve our exhibition facilities for future events.


Finally, here are a few of the items that were included in the exhibition:

A small notebook is displayed open showing a watercolour picture on the right hand page. A label is displayed in front of the book with the following text: Watercolour sketch book. Fr Leslie Walker SJ (1877-1958) was one of the Province’s artists. On display is one of a collection of sketch books, most of which were kept by Fr Walker during his time as a military chaplain in the First World War. This one shows a variety of rural scenes and life in the noviciate.
Watercolour Sketch book (Ref SJ/51/11/2)
A range of photographs is displayed on a grey card with a label which states A selection of photographs for Barmouth, often called Barmouth villa.  A holiday house in Wales where the Jesuits went on holiday, particularly the Philosophers and Theologians until the 1960s.  It was the custom that the Philosophers used the villa in the last two weeks of July and the Theologians in the first two weeks in August. The original villa house is called Aber House and still stands in the centre of Barmouth.  In 1879 Aber House was sold and Fronoleu Terrace, a larger and more suitable house was bought outside of Barmouth in Llanaber.  When Fronoleu house was full, a house across the road, on the slope down to the beach was used for the overspill.
Holidays at Barmouth
A notebook is displayed open to manuscript writing with an illustrated manuscript outline for Pentecost Sunday. Beneath the book is a label which reads Manresa, Roehampton, was a house of formation from 1862-1962. A porter or beadle was someone responsible for co-ordinating the more practical aspects of a community. In the noviciate a porter acted as a kind of intermediary between the novice-master and the other novices, helping to make sure the timetable ran smoothly.  This volume from 1947 contains some beautifully illustrated daily schedules for feast days.
Manresa Porter's Journal (Ref 28/1)

If you would like to know more about any of the items included in this blog post or would like to arrange for an appointment to view records in the Archives please get in touch.

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