At Campion Hall in Oxford

At Campion Hall in Oxford

In March this year I visited Camion Hall: Jesuits in Oxford on Brewer Street in Oxford to see the place with which Evelyn Waugh’s name is so closely associated. The Secretary, Sarah Grey, arranged an appointment for me with Professor Peter Davidson who is the Senior Research Fellow and Archivist at the Hall. Davidson explained that the accounts of Waugh at the Hall are minimal, but there are three Waugh things on permanent display.

The first one is an Abyssinian religious painting of the Virgin Mary with the child Jesus, which hangs centrally in the hallway of the first floor. The body paint is preserved behind a glass displayed in natural light with a beautiful blue color dominating the imagery which also has a Coptic inscription on the top. Waugh presumably brought it from his travels in Abyssinia in the 1930s and gave it as a gift to the Hall’s Collection.

The second object is a Campion’s illegally printed book, which Davidson explained, Waugh must have bought on the book market in the 1930s before donating it to the Hall. It was rebound in red leather with delicate gold and is one of the five known copies of Rationes Decem (1587). The pocket size book is displayed in a glass cabinet covered with cloth together with other memorabilia including a relic silver box believed to have belonged to Campion containing traces of his blood.

Finally our small group of three reached the Chapel designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens with the Stations of the Cross on the walls leading to the Lady Chapel decorated by Charles Mahoney’s (1903-1968) mural commissioned by Waugh. The gentle seasonal representation of the Lady is full with garden flowers creating a natural English botanical landscape feel. Waugh knew Mahoney who worked over ten years on the mural and almost finished it except for one wall sketch in graphite. Davidson told me that the Chapel would have been almost the same during Waugh’s time. The mural is washed every five years with distilled water. As we were leaving the immaculate Chapel with an air of absolute order and stillness, we chatted a little bit about Waugh’s friendship with Father D’Arcy who was Master of the Hall (1933 – 1945) and a very important figure for English Catholicism.

At the end of my twenty five minutes visit, I glanced through the windows towards the simple geometrical garden of the Hall and took the leaflet from the table. On the back of it there was a description of the Campion Hall Collection: “Many of the works of fine and applied art in the collection were gifts from the circles of writers, artists and patrons who visited, and were inspired by, Campion Hall and its ethos, most notably Evelyn Waugh.”

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