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This year, as I have for the last few years, I had the pleasure of organising and leading the annual Catholic Record Society conference excursion, which was a visit this afternoon to the silver department of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. The conference itself took place at Murray Edwards College, and the excursion brought the proceedings to a close. Dr Victoria Avery of the Fitzwilliam Museum very kindly allowed us to see and even handle a number of pieces of ecclesiastical silverware from the museum’s collection that are not normally on display. These include pre-Reformation and sixteenth-century chalices from Spain and the Low Countries and a number of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century communion cups that belong to churches in the Diocese of Ely who have lent them to the Fitzwilliam Museum for safekeeping. Notable pieces include a large 1693 communion cup from St Mary’s church in Ely and a flagon of around the same period from Ely Holy Trinity, a now vanished parish whose parish church was the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral. Another interesting piece was a 1667 flagon donated to Redgrave church in Suffolk by Elizabeth Bacon. Although the Fitzwilliam has no pre-Reformation English silver (or recusant silver for that matter!) these were all fascinating pieces to view and it was a rare privilege to be able to touch them in conservators’ latex gloves!
Sadly I was unable to attend the conference itself, but the excursion allowed me to have interesting conversations with Prof. Veronica O’Mara of the University of Hull, who is preparing an edition of a medieval manuscript produced at an East Anglian nunnery and owned in the eighteenth century by George Tasburgh of Bodney; the Tasburghs are a family on whom I have conducted a considerable amount of research. I was also able to speak about her fascinating research to Helen Kilburn of the University of Manchester who has recently been awarded the Catholic Record Society’s PhD studentship to pursue research on Catholic slave-owners in colonial Maryland.