It might be just a few miles from Durham Cathedral, yet Ushaw College’s treasures are largely unknown to all but the select number who resided there before its closure as a Catholic seminary in 2011. Ushaw College has been on its present site for just over 200 years. However, as an institution, it traces its origin back to the foundation in 1568 of the English College at Douai, in northern France, by William, later Cardinal, Allen, to train Englishmen as Catholic priests for ministry in their home country, which was by then officially Protestant.
Jacobite pincushion, embroidered with the words “God Bless P.C. [Prince Charles] and Down With The Rump”, c.1745
Nevertheless, those at Douai and, even into the 20th century at Ushaw, viewed themselves as having a longer pedigree. In the 16th century, Allen and his group of Oxford-educated Catholic exiles viewed Elizabethan Oxbridge as having slipped into heresy. Hence, they were the true Oxbridge, keeping the flame of scholarship alive until the return of England to the Catholic faith.
Westminster vestment, 1460-90, from the royal wardrobe of Richard III
This mindset helps explain the hugely important library at Ushaw, which contains several globally unique works, not to mention unbound copies of the first issues of The Pickwick Papers and John Henry Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua; first editions of the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan and Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises; and a rare, complete set of the Louis XIV-aggrandising Cabinet du Roi, a 16-volume set of plates which catalogues the king’s royal houses; their interiors, gardens, paintings and sculptures. The list goes on.
The Sloane Chalice, commissioned for Pope Paul V, 1605-1621
Of equal note are the college’s other treasures, not to mention its architecture: Ushaw has the rare privilege of boasting contributions from every one of the Pugin dynasty. The collections are currently curated by staff from Durham University museums and libraries.
St Cuthbert’s Ring, c.1200