Treasures of Ushaw

The amazing items detailed in this section are held within our permanent collections: they are not always on general display, however, they may be included in certain exhibitions and displays where appropriate.

Durham Cathedral Priory books and bindings (8th Century onwards)

Ushaw is home to more than 50 books that were once in the collection of the monks of Durham Cathedral Priory. The collection includes a fourteenth century Bible, a translation of Ranulph Higden’s Polycronicon dating from 1495 and an edition of Erasmus’s Liber de praeparatione ad mortem from 1534. Many of the volumes contain the names of the monks from the period and their annotations; two contain loose letters by the monks. One of the books was bound in a fragment of the Christmas liturgy (pictured), written in Northumbria in the eighth century. 

St Cuthbert’s Ring: Gold and uncut sapphire (13th) century

During the Middle Ages a pilgrim deposited a heavy gold ring set with an uncut sapphire in St Cuthbert’s tomb in Durham Cathedral. Today, this date is presumed to be sometime during the 13th century due to the ring’s style and shape. We may never know who left the ring but it was clearly an act of veneration and homage.

Following the Dissolution, the ring was held in England and France; it was donated to Ushaw in the middle of the nineteenth century. For 150 years the Ring was worn by the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle during ordination ceremonies at Ushaw. During his lifetime Cuthbert was known and respected for his spirituality, his teaching and his considerate contemplation, qualities which, no doubt, led the unknown 13th century pilgrim to bestow the gold and sapphire ring upon him.

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Esh stole and maniple panels: Embroidered silk on linen (1330-1350)

This medieval stole and maniple dates from a time when the work of skilled English embroiderers was highly prized. The value of the work was recognised to the extent that the majority of the textiles surviving from the period 1250 to 1350 are now on the continent, presented, during that period, by English monarchs as diplomatic gifts. As a consequence, English work of this period is rarely found in the country of its production, giving the small panels held at Ushaw greater significance.

The panels, produced with silver-gilt thread and silk on linen, portray unidentifiable female saints and three bearded apostles.

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Book of Hours (Horae) Bruges (c.1408-1409)

Books of Hours were private prayer books produced for lay individuals in the Medieval and Renaissance periods. This particular volume is significant due to the various handwritten notes and prayers that were added to its pages in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The first of these annotations was made by John Heineman, the Bruges scribe who wrote the book’s text. His inscription was a request for readers’ prayers; crucially, he also dated his message – 21 January 1409 – giving later scholars the precise date of the book’s completion.  

Westminster Vestment: Embroidered textile (1460-1490)

This sumptuous vestment, embroidered in the Flemish style, contains a Crucifixion scene on the back. The vestment’s name refers to the tradition within the Walton family (from whom Ushaw acquired the piece via Father Gibson in 1867) that it was used at Westminster Abbey prior to the Reformation. There is no evidence to support this. However, more credible evidence exists suggesting that some of the fabric came the royal wardrobe of Richard III.

Tunstall Vestment: Embroidered textile  (c.1470)

The reverse of this fine vestment (pictured) features four saints within a cross shape. On the right is St Andrew with a saltire cross. On the left is St Thomas with a book and a spear, the attributes relating to his martyrdom in India. St Barbara is embroidered at the base of the cross. The central figure has not been conclusively identified although it has been speculated that it may be St Stephen at the time of his stoning. Two additional unidentified saints are depicted on the front of the vestment.  

By tradition, it is understood that this vestment once belonged to Cuthbert Tunstall (1474-1559), Prince-Bishop of Durham in the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. Tunstall, commonly known as the last Catholic Bishop of Durham, died in Lambeth Palace where he was under house arrest for refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy.

The Esh Missal: Manuscript in modern binding  (Late fifteenth century)

Missals contain instructions for the celebration of mass throughout the year. This volume – the only pre-Reformation liturgy which has never left the parish for which it was bought – provides insight into the Reformation era. Throughout, the word ‘papa’ has been erased and in certain sections and margins ‘henrico’ and Rex Henricus’ has been inscribed. The Missal’s history is known. It was given to the parish chapel at Esh by John Rudd, lawyer and Dean of Lanchester, in the late-15th century. It was protected at the Reformation by the Catholic Smythe family of Esh Hall and passed to Ushaw in the mid - 19th century.

Liber chronicarumHartmann Schedel,  Nuremburg, 1493

In the late 15th century, publishing was costly in terms of both money and time. Schedel’s chronicarum (a chronicle of world history) was no exception. Schedel required financial backers to cover the costs of wages, materials and woodcuts. The financiers were only in a position to recoup their money once the book was published meaning secrecy was paramount to prevent the book being pirated during the two years of its planning and execution. Of course, all secrecy disappeared once the volume was on the market and Schedel’s work was soon plagiarised by Johann Schensberger who published his copy in Augsburg in 1497. Ushaw’s Library contains both the original version and the pirated copy.

Pictured here is a page from the original volume and a corresponding pirated page from the copy. The illustrations in the copy are less detailed and more crudely handled.

Opus Anglicanum Chasuble: Powdered velvet  (c.1500)

With English Opus Anglicanum embroidery and Italian velvet, this vestment has been cut down from a larger vestment, probably a cope, at some point in the 17th century. Its provenance is unknown. However, there is a possible connection to the Catholic families of Standish and Dicconson, Lancashire. (For more information see: Unsworth, Revd A. 'Is the Opus Anglicanum chasuble at Ushaw from Weld Bank?' in Northern Catholic History (no. 60, 2019))

Address: Ushaw: Historic House, Chapels & Gardens, near Durham City  DH7 9RH
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