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November 10, 2022 — A king. A cope. And a faith under siege. Intrigued?

Today’s episode covers all this and more. Our guest, Dr. Jan Graffius, the curator of collections at Stonyhurst College in the UK — the oldest surviving Jesuit school in the world — is our guide through a riveting history that traces the rise and fall of the Catholic Church in England through the lens of a single piece of art: a cope commissioned by Henry VII.

Copes are common liturgical vestments. But this one — one of the most expensive items commissioned by a king — was meant to unite the power of Church and State to strengthen a dubious claim to the throne but ultimately became a symbol of Catholic resistance and was smuggled out of the country.

This cope and the stories that surround it remind us of the power of art to point to both spiritual and temporal power — and the dangers therein.

The George Reliquary of Thomas More (British Province)
Known as the George because of the figure of the dragon-killing saint, this exquisite artefact was a reliquary, originally containing an unknown relic. It was made for Thomas More at the height of his political power, almost certainly commissioned from Hans Holbein, and is one of the artistic treasures of 16th-century art. Inside is a watercolor of More, again most likely by Holbein, which at some point in the 17th or 18th century was damaged beyond repair through exposure to damp or water. The George was presented to St. Omers College by Fr. Thomas More, SJ, in 1755. (C1530 Gold and enamel)
 This richly illuminated prayer book was owned by Lady Katherine Bray, lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth Plantagenet, wife of Henry VII. Katherine left it to her godson, Dean John Colet, one of the leading Humanist scholars of the 16th century. Katherine Bray Hours (Stonyhurst), C 1450 Flemish illuminated manuscript.

You can see this cope and more as it travels across the United States in the exhibition, “The Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance England.”

The dates below let you know when the exhibition is in your area:
• New York: 3 October 2022 – 8 January 2023
• Cleveland: 21 February 2023 – 14 May 2023
• San Francisco: 26 June 2023 – 24 September 2023

Learn more:
The Met
The Cleveland Museum of Art
About Stonyhurst

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