9 February 2017

Pitt Rivers Museum

Have you recently had a look round the Pitt Rivers Museum?  Frankly, apart from the splendid stuffed reproduction of Dr Dawkins at the entrance, it looked much the same as it did when it was unmade over; dark, pokey, and Victorian, with the exhibits (which the old soldier collared from colonials and fuzzy wuzzies and donated to the University) all crammed into cases in great profusion. They are housed thematically rather than regionally or chronologically, which means one can't rely on striding immediately up to something that exactly matches one's current research interest. The good news: it does mean that an idle stroll can reveal an unexpected goody and provocations to thought.

Today's goody: a small pewter chalice with a very small cuppa at the top, clearly for recusant use, "found in a cave near Killarney". I don't know whether most of my readers will be familiar with the Macgillicuddy Reeks, the highest mountains in Ireland, but the idea of such a chalice being used in penal days by a fugitive or travelling priest among the mists and torrents of that mysterious landscape is quite haunting.

A few years ago there was in Dublin an exhibition of Catholic art and artefacts of the Recusant period, revealing that some very posh stuff of continental standard was produced or bought by wealthy Catholics and Religious Communities. The little chalice that General Pitt Rivers bought back from the Liberator's own county is at quite the other end of the scale. And, I presume, from very much earlier than the Liberator.

I wonder if it dates from the around the period when our parners in ecumenical dialogue caught the Irish Provincial of the Franciscans on the Great Scariff and hacked him to pieces.


JMcCarthy said...

Wonderful as usual Father. Speaking for myself, I never think of my ancestors as recusant, though I suppose that's what they were (no shortage of McCarthys in Kerry, either..). My mother actually explained to me as a child that recusants were English people who held onto the faith! On the other hand, most Irish Catholics of my era and before think "Faith of Our Fathers" is about them.

The papal adoption suggestion of yesterday seemed a bit lese-majeste to me: presumptuous for me to adopt a really saintly and learned pontiff and depressing to immerse one's thoughts in anyone else. I adopted Cardinal Merry del Val years when I read the pot-boilery but wonderful novel The Cardinal by Henry Morton Robinson. Someone in a comment section quoted his epitaph "Give me souls, forget the rest. . ."

Prayerful said...

Franciscan Faith: Sacred Art in Ireland AD 1600-1750, a book published by the National Museum for an exhibit of silverware belonging to the Irish Franciscan Province. There might be the most simple looking Penal Cross of the 1730s or a fine silver Monstrance which was used by the Friars Minor of Galway at around the same time.

Despite the wrecking of Henry VIII, and Acts of Banishment against priests and monks, a good many religious houses operated quietly, or as in Sligo, the Dominicans continue to live in around their supposedly dissolved house, and continued until they moved to a new house in 1848, 'the Friary'. Tragically its fine conventual church was demolished, apart from the apse, in 1971, and replaced with something of quite studied ugliness.

The National Museum has a good collection of religious objects, albeit scattered between Kildare St and Collins Barracks.