Object of the Week | 02/07/2021

Panels depicting the life of St Aloysius, in the College Chapel


Last Monday, the 21st June, was the feast day of St Aloysius. As the College’s patron saint, Aloysius is particularly important for Stonyhurst, and a statue of him is placed prominently outside the South Front.

Aloysius was born into the Gonzaga family, the ruling dynasty of the Duchy of Mantua from the 14th to the 18th centuries. The Gonzaga were among the most powerful families in Italy, and as the eldest son in a senior branch of the family, Aloysius was to become an important statesman in northern Italy and would one day inherit his father’s title of Marquis of Castiglione. True to the family traits of the Gonzaga, Aloysius was a headstrong, independent and determined individual. Whilst at the court of Philip II of Spain with his parents, Aloysius made the decision to join the recently-founded Society of Jesus. Despite fierce opposition from much of his family, he entered the Society in 1585, renouncing his claim to his title and wealth.

Aloysius trained as a Jesuit at the Roman College, and while there, worked to care for those in Rome suffering in a plague epidemic which had broken out in 1591. He eventually succumbed to the plague himself, and died on June 21st of that year. Aloysius was canonised by Benedict XIII in 1726, and declared the patron saint of young students.

These 4 panels depict scenes from the life of St Aloysius, and are displayed above the altar in the College Chapel, which is dedicated to Aloysius. The lower two show scenes from earlier in his life. The first depicts the moment he made his vow of chastity as a young boy, and the second shows him receiving his first holy communion from the great 16th century church reformer, St Carlo Borromeo. The upper panels show him being received into the Jesuit order, and his ascension into Heaven.

These beautiful paintings were executed by Percy Bacon & Bros. of London for the then ‘Boys’ Chapel’ in 1894. Percy Bacon had founded the firm only a few years before his commission from Stonyhurst, and is better known for producing stained glass. Despite the obvious quality of such work by the company, the only other similar painting to survive is an altarpiece in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh. The Stonyhurst panels were cleaned and regilded in the 1980s by a donation from the Fattorini family.