Collections | Posted 26.11.2018

Object of the week (23/11/18)

Almachius Tyrannus ad S. Caeciliam. Epistola by Charles Carroll OS

 1753

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday the 22nd of November marked the coincidence of two important festivals: one religious, one secular. November the 22nd each year marks St Cecilia’s Day, the patron saint of music. In the US, Thursday marked the important national holiday of Thanksgiving, which falls on the fourth Thursday in November.

This week’s object appropriately unites these two days. It is a poem, titled ‘Almachius, Tyrant, to St Cecilia; A Letter’, written by a 17-year-old pupil of St Omers, Charles Carroll.

St Cecilia has held a particularly important role at Stonyhurst for many centuries as the patron saint of Poetry Playroom, Carroll’s year group in 1753. It was common at St Omers for pupils to be required to write pieces of schoolwork, including Latin poems such as this, about the female patron saint of their year groups.

The poem takes the form of a letter to Cecilia, an early Christian martyr, from the Roman prefect Almachius who ordered her execution. In the letter, Almachius attempts to coerce Cecilia into conforming to the pagan worship of the Roman gods in order to save her life:

 

The Gods have given you wealth and the glory of beauty –

Why do you reject these gifts with an ungrateful hand?

What madman would exchange present gifts for those unseen?

 

The poem displays echoes of the pressures put on English Catholics in the 17th and 18th centuries to outwardly conform to the official state Church; pressures which would have been familiar to all of the pupils of St Omers. By depicting Almachius as a scheming hypocrite, it also suggests that after years in Jesuit education Carroll had already developed his own political and religious philosophy, arguing passionately for freedom of expression and freedom from state tyranny.

Charles Carroll of Carrollton would go on to become one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, as the only Roman Catholic to sign the US Declaration of Independence in 1776.