Yesterday evening, we were generously welcomed at the Venerable English College in the Via Monserrato. The College is the oldest English institution outside of England which has continuously existed on one site. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, it became a missionary college for English priests to return to their homeland; 44 priests of the College were martyred, beginning with St Ralph Sherwin, St Alexander Briant and St Edmund Campion.
The College Church is dedicated to the Holy Trinity and St Thomas of Canterbury. Thanks to a generous benefactor, the decoration of the entire Church is to be cleaned and restored. This major work will take at least a year, possibly two. Together with Mgr Nicholas Hudson, the Rector, I climbed onto the scaffolding so has to have a close look at the ceiling.
In this photo, you can see a small square that has been left uncleaned, showing the contrast:
and here is another photo from up on the scaffolding.
There will be quite a bit of gold leaf used in the restoration work. In Italy, the fine arts commission, known universally as the "Belle Arti" exercise considerable authority over such work. In this case, they spent some time coming to a decision about the exact brightness to be used in the gold leaf.
One of the most important elements of the work will be careful cleaning and restoration of the pictures in the tribune. These give a history of the saints and martyrs of England and Wales. They show some of the martyrs from penal times and depict their sufferings in some detail as an encouragement to their successors. This example shows the torments of some of the Carthusian martyrs:While the works are in progress, Mass is celebrated in the "Martyrs' Chapel". The centrepiece for this chapel is a painting of the martyrdom of St Thomas of Canterbury which has also recently been restored. It is currently hanging in the old "Guardaroba" prior to being re-hung in the Chapel. We also had a chance to see the beautiful third library. Here is an image from our last visit:
Over the years, students have kept a scrapbook of newspaper cuttings. This is now a fascinating and unique historical record, going back to the early 19th century. These books have been re-covered, the older volume retaining the original binding.
Finally, we repaired to the Salone which serves as a common room for the staff and a fine room to receive visitors. I took a photo of the painting of St John Fisher. This confirms my impression that it is similar to the recently re-discovered painting at the John Fisher School which was blessed on the day of the consecration of the school chapel in January. My guess is that one of the priests at the Fisher school, perhaps an alumnus of the English College, knew of the painting there and arranged for a copy to be made. I am sorry that the photo below (of the painting in Rome) is not very good. It does need restoring - if there are any devotees of St John Fisher with some money to spare, it would be welcomed for this purpose.
Talking over old times, the Rector brought out a reminder of my days at the College. There was an old sepia photo of a gita to Tusculum during the 1880s. A group of us went out there to recreate the photo 100 years on.
In this closer picture, you can possibly see myself, Fr Guy Nicholls and Bishop Paul Hendricks if you look carefully!