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English and Welsh Jesuit book culture: some aspects relating to the Low Countries, circa 1600-1794

Miræus lectures, Wednesday 2 December 2009
Maurice Whitehead (Dept. of History and Classics, Swansea University, GB)

The creation of the English Province of the Society of Jesus in 1623 formalised a process of development which had begun from the arrival of the first English Jesuits on English soil in 1580. Despite extensive legislation banning the existence within the kingdom of England of Catholic priests in general and of Jesuits in particular, the new province comprised a sophisticated, clandestine network of territorial ‘colleges’ or missionary districts across the whole of England and Wales.

These administrative units were complemented by a significant extra-territorial presence of English Jesuit establishments within both the Flandro-Belgic and Gallo-Belgic provinces of the Society of Jesus. These included the English Jesuit college, founded in 1593 with Habsburg support at Saint-Omer in the Spanish Netherlands for the education of English-speaking boys (known commonly in the English-speaking world as St Omers College – or, more simply, St Omers); a novitiate house nearby, across the River Aa, at Watten, opened about 1624; an English College for philosophical and theological studies, founded at Leuven in 1614, but transferred to Liège in 1624; a house of third probation – or tertianship (the final part of the formation of a Jesuit) – at Gent, founded in 1624. Additionally, there were English Jesuit missionary outposts in North America – in Maryland (1634) and Pennsylvania.

The material needs of Jesuits serving the English Jesuit Province – including their supply of books – was the responsibility of a succession of Provincial Procurators who were resident at first in Brussels and later in Antwerp.

This work-in-progress/workshop presentation seeks to explore some aspects of an, as yet, little researched subject: the book culture of the English and Welsh Jesuits at home and in continental Europe. Drawing on recent research in England and Wales, as well as in Belgium and France, the presentation will demonstrate some new findings and will invite the audience to help resolve some questions and mysteries, the answers to which may well still lie hidden in libraries and archives in Belgium.