LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A crucifix that once belonged to a priest executed after England’s notorious Gunpowder Plot is currently on display in the country’s oldest still operating convent, located in the northern city of York.
Father Edward Oldcorne was friends with Robert Catesby, the instigator of the 1605 plot hatched by a group of Catholics to blow up the House of Lords. Other conspirators included John and Christopher Wright, Robert and Thomas Wintour, Thomas Percy, Guy Fawkes, Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, John Grant, Ambrose Rookwood, Sir Everard Digby and Francis Tresham.
Fawkes was in charge of the explosives, is the figure most associated with the plot.
Even though he wasn’t involved in the plot, Oldcorne was executed by being hanged, drawn, and quartered the next day, convicted of the crime of being a Catholic priest.
Oldcorne’s crucifix is the only known item to survive of the thousands of objects seized during raids on Catholic houses following the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605.
Dr. Hannah Thomas, the special collections manager at the Bar Convent, told the BBC that “we are now confident in believing that this is the only item surviving from the raids” following the incident.
“In the aftermath of the plot, Catholic houses were raided across the country and priests went into hiding; hide-and-seek became a matter of life or death,” she said.
The BBC report said the exhibition, which runs until Nov. 16, includes research about how priest’s hiding holes were constructed within the fabric of buildings.
After the Gunpowder Plot, Catholic priests were mercilessly pursued and went into hiding. The BBC said Oldborne was captured along with his servant Ralph Ashley, Father Henry Garnet and lay-brother Nicholas Owen. All were put to death, but researchers say Garnet was the only one to have any knowledge of the plot, which he actually had opposed.
The Bar Convent is also offering “Hide & Seek: The Trail,” which explores how Catholic households hid their faith during the Tudor and Stuart reigns.
“From hiding holes and disguises to invisible ink and objects concealed as everyday household items; find the clues and explore the collections to uncover the ingenious ways that Catholics kept their true religion hidden from the authorities and escaped being caught!” the convent has advertised.
What is now the Bar Convent was founded in 1686, when it was still illegal to be Catholic. Their foundress was Mary Ward, who the convent says pioneered the idea of religious women working as missionaries – including by providing an education for women.
It is the oldest convent still in use in the UK and offers regular visits exploring its unique history. In addition to its exhibitions, it includes a chapel, café, garden and guest house.
It also has a library collection of rare books from 1508‒1850, which is available by appointment. The convent says the collection gives remarkable insight into the historical and religious context in which they were written, published, distributed and used when Catholicism was illegal in England and Wales.
“They also reveal how the founding women used the books to establish the teachings of their own religious order despite it also being suppressed by the Catholic Church,” the institution says.