Hot, Holy Ladies - meet the women who kept the faith alive

March 8, 2022

Jesuit Collections is proud to present an exciting new exhibition that reveals the hidden histories of Britain’s ‘Hot, Holy Ladies’ – the Catholic women who kept their faith alive during the religious turmoil in England and Scotland. The phrase ‘Hot, Holy Ladies’ was first used as a sarcastic insult in 1602, aimed at an impressive and effective group of strong-minded female supporters of the Jesuit Catholic mission.

The exhibition launches with the release on March 8th – International Women’s Day - of an online film about the life of one of the most prominent of these women, Helena Wintour, who put her embroidery skills and personal wealth at the disposal of England’s beleaguered Catholic communities in the 17th century.

Related to some of the failed Gunpowder Plotters, Helena defied expectations about the role of women to become a leading figure among those who had to practise their beliefs in secret. In particular, she created several extraordinarily beautiful vestments, to be worn by priests who carried out their ministry in secret. These vestments will be the subject of six short films, released online on 4th April.

In this exhibition, Helena’s entire surviving life’s work will be on display, illustrating the inspiration and legacy of this extraordinary woman.

The exhibition will also feature high profile relics such as the Mary Queen of Scots’ Thorn. Artistic commissions associated with royal women from the 15th to the 17th centuries including the sumptuous Henry VII Cope, and Elizabeth of York’s Prayer Book will also be on display, alongside a gold, enamelled and pearl crucifix belonging to Thomas More’s wife, Lady Alice, and a series of silver gilt reliquaries commissioned by Anne Vaux, who was instrumental in rescuing the Jesuit missionary, John Gerard, in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot.

The artefacts draw on the rich collections of the British Jesuit Province and Stonyhurst College, with significant loans from Douai Abbey Library.

The exhibition will open online on 16th April, and for visitors to Stonyhurst College in Lancashire in July and August 2022, with supporting films and podcasts online from March 8th onwards.

A video introduction to the exhibition can be found here.

Timeline of the exhibition

- A film exploring the life of Helena Wintour will be launched online to coincide with International Women’s Day on the 8th March.

- Six short films exploring Helena’s artistic work will be available online from 4th April.

- A podcast featuring Rebecca Somerset from the British Jesuit Archives in conversation with Stonyhurst College curator Dr Jan Graffius will be launched on 8th April.

- The Hot, Holy Ladies exhibition can be seen in person at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire from 8th July. Tickets will go on sale after Easter.

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