The mystery object found in church

August 6, 2021

A few months ago, a strange wooden object appeared in the Shaw Room at St Francis Xavier Church in Liverpool.

It was quite battered; nobody knew what it was and it seemed destined for the bin. I thought the woodwork looked as though someone talented had made it and wondered whether it would make an interesting plant pot. I got permission to take it home and it stood around for a few weeks while I waited for inspiration. But it was such an odd shape that I couldn’t think how to use it.

I sent some photos of it to Br. Ken Vance, a Jesuit working in Edinburgh, knowing that if anyone could say what it was, he would be able to. He got right back to me saying that it had been used in 1958 at a Mass to mark the death of Pope Pius XII. In those days it was white and was used at Mass as a stand for a paper Papal Crown which had a small Orb and Cross on the top. However, Br. Ken thought it was much older than that and probably dated back to Br Shaw’s time, who was sacristan for many decades straddling the 19th and 20th centuries: the Church meeting room is named after him.

So, now we knew what it is. I had also sent photos to Professor Maurice Whitehead, Director of Heritage Collections at the Venerable English College in Rome, a Friend of St Francis Xavier, and expert on UK Jesuit history. He told me that he’d never seen anything like it before and suggested we offer it to Dr. Jan Graffius, Curator of the Stonyhurst Collections... which we did. We got a speedy, enthusiastic reply from Jan saying “Yes, please”.

Covid had delayed delivery of the stand to Stonyhurst, but it was eventually taken there this July during the College holidays. Jan was incredibly busy with a major re-housing of thousands of museum items, but she kindly broke off for a bit to take charge of the stand and gave my sister and I a quick museum visit.

So, if you see anything old and possibly of interest (not people!) around the church, please check before throwing it out. It might be of historic interest.

Written by Judith Callaghan, a Friend of SFX Church Liverpool

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