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Rome Reports

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Oldest British archive outside of England presents exhibition in Rome


The oldest British archive outside of England has opened its doors to the public in Rome. For its “Memory, Martyrs and Mission” exhibit, the Venerable English College seeks to inspire the future by remembering its nearly 700-year past. 

MAURICE WHITEHEAD
Curator, “Memory, Martyrs and Mission”
“This idea of continuity. There are many challenges in the Church today, and there always have been. I think it helps people's understanding of this continuity over many centuries.”

The College was founded as a hospice in the mid-14th century before being converted into a residence for seminarians, as it remains today. The institution provided a safe haven for Catholic English and Welsh students fleeing religious persecution in their homeland. 

As indicated in the name of the exhibit, many who returned paid the ultimate price for their faith. Thus, the exposition honors these individuals and their peers who courageously practiced their faith.

In addition to the College's archives, items were drawn from two other affiliated institutions in England and France, taking visitors on a journey through the English Church up until World War II. 

MAURICE WHITEHEAD
Curator, “Memory, Martyrs and Mission”
“These pieces of jigsaw, when locked together and brought together – for the first time ever in some cases or reunited after more than 200 years – show a much bigger, clearer picture than we've been able to understand hitherto.”

Notable pieces include relics of English martyrs and even the zucchetto of Pope Benedict XIV, as well as the map of Rome he commissioned in the mid-1700s. 

While most visitors are seeing these items for the first time, each new student at the College is given a tour of the archives to be informed on the roots of the Church's mission before moving it forward. 

MAURICE WHITEHEAD
Curator, “Memory, Martyrs and Mission”
“That aspect of mission goes on right down to the present day and into the future. We emphasize the future, too. It's a continuum. The students today are very aware of their heritage going back to England and Wales, in the full knowledge that they are continuing a long tradition of mission.”

As the exhibit in Rome is now drawing to a close, organizers are hoping to bring their vibrant collection to England, shedding light on a pipeline of clergy-to-be that continues today.