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Stonyhurst's Collections

Published on Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Stonyhurst's Collections

Stonyhurst is home to quite a collection of remarkable and historical artefacts. It is, in fact, known to be the oldest museum in the English-speaking world dating back to 1609. Those who know its magnificent buildings will surely understand why it is apt that such fascinating historical collections should be housed there.

The History:

The College of Stonyhurst was first founded in the 16th century in Europe where sanctuary was offered to medieval objects that were at risk of being destroyed. Owing to reasons including Catholic persecution and the French Revolution, Stonyhurst was forced to move across Europe and eventually settled in its current home of rural Lancashire in 1794.

The Collections:

Stonyhurst’s Collections are housed within their museum, three historic libraries and archives that one can find within the majestic Stonyhurst buildings. Many of the artefacts can be seen around the College itself. Such a collection needs to be carefully looked after to ensure its longevity for generations to come and this is meticulously carried out by Dr Jan Graffius; Curator, and Joseph Reed; Archives Manager, together with their teams.

The Museum:

The varied (and mostly historical) acquisitions are housed within the museum and are thoroughly juxtaposed with their new surroundings; a modern state-of-the-art facility housed in the former chapel. Such items include:

- A thorn from the ‘Crown of Thorns’ once placed on the head of Jesus leading up to his crucifixion

- Significant works by J.M.W.Turner, Rembrandt and Albrecht Durer

- Historic clothing and fabrics

- Photography by the likes of Roger Fenton, Alexander Hill Gray and Tim Hetherington, and

- An Egyptian mummy, together with various other archaeological finds

The Archives:

Whilst some of the publications housed in the libraries date back to the early years of the school’s history, the largest collection comes from the 19th and 20th century. One can also find various records and items from the medieval to the 20th century.

The Libraries:

The Arundell is one of our three libraries and it is home to a fine collection of around 4,000 volumes, not least including a First Folio of Shakespeare. Many rare, early printed books are housed in the libraries alongside Mary Tudor’s Book of Hours used by her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots.

The Bay Library is distributed around separate bays, which is how it got its name. While historically interesting, is still used as a working library and also contains newer publications. It’s peaceful surroundings provide the perfect place for quiet reflective study.

Finally, the library known as ‘The Square Library’ is home to over 300 texts from the theological collection from St Omers. Nowadays, it is used as a reading room for visiting researchers and a museum teaching space.

As part of the vast collections, the following texts can frequently be found on display:

- First Folio of William Shakespeare

- Prayer books of Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth of York

- Arthur Conan Doyle’s school reports

- Charles Waterton’s extraordinary 19th century Natural History collections

- Rare surviving medieval and 17th century Church vestments

- Objects connected with the Gunpowder Plot

- Baroque silver and artworks by Durer and Rembrandt

- Three historic libraries with books dating from 1471

For more information, feel free to get in touch with us!

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