February 24, 2017 — A new exhibit featuring artifacts of St.
Thomas More has opened at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington,
D.C. “God’s Servant First: The Life and Legacy of Thomas More” runs through
March 31 and includes a number of artifacts from a Jesuit school in England.
“I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first,” is what
St. Thomas More reportedly said before being beheaded in 1535, for refusing to take an
oath recognizing that King Henry VIII had supremacy over the Church of England.
Sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and the Christian
Heritage Centre at the Jesuits’ Stonyhurst College in England, the exhibit
includes more than 60 artifacts. Most are from the Stonyhurst College
Collections, one of the world’s most extensive collections of items related to
the history of Catholicism in English-speaking countries.
More served as England’s Lord Chancellor, the second-in-command
to the king, from 1529-32. He resigned from the post after refusing to support
Henry VIII’s attempts to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, whom the
monarch divorced and exiled before marrying Anne Boleyn.
A relic of St. Thomas More’s tooth and jaw bone is seen through in a
glass case at the St. John Paul II National Shrine. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
More was canonized in 1935, and in 2000, St. John Paul II
made him the patron saint of statesmen and politicians. The pontiff said More’s
life and martyrdom offered a testimony that “spans the centuries” and “speaks
to people everywhere of the inalienable dignity of the human conscience.”
Relics of the saint — a piece of his jawbone and one of his
teeth — and a 1624 copy of More’s most famous book, “Utopia,” are some of the
artifacts on display. Many of the objects in the exhibit were given to
Stonyhurst College for safekeeping by descendants of family members and friends
of the martyr.
A display depicting the 1535 execution of St. Thomas More by Henry VIII is seen at the St. John Paul II National Shrine. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
The number of artifacts remaining in existence is
remarkable, said Jan Graffius, the curator of collections at Stonyhurst. King
Henry VIII had More imprisoned in the Tower of London for more than a year
before his execution, and subsequent monarchs made Roman Catholicism virtually
illegal and had all traces of Catholicism wiped out. “These things bring us
very close to the human beings at the center of this story,” Graffius said. “It
connects us to a time when people of the past were facing the same problems we
Patrick Kelly, the St. John Paul II National Shrine
executive director, said that St. Thomas More’s example “remains thoroughly
“He is an eloquent example of courageous Christian
discipleship, and it is our hope that this exhibit will inspire others to
imitate his virtues and his extraordinary fidelity to God and to a well-formed
conscience,” Kelly said.
First: The Life and Legacy of Thomas More, is on display through March 31, 2017, at the Saint John Paul II
National Shrine (3900 Harewood Road, N.E., Washington, D.C.). The shrine is
open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, go to jp2shrine.org.
News Service, Crux]