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The Natural World and the Old Society

Speaker: Professor Peter Davidson
Thursday 23 March, 11.30-12.30

This paper attempts an introductory survey of early-modern Jesuit apprehensions of nature worldwide, as reflected in literary production, emblematics, garden practise, and early museums. Inevitably most of this activity is focused on plants, trees and medicinal herbs brought into Europe from the worldwide missions, although there are also engagements with geology and volcanology (Kircher’s prodigiously illustrated Mundus Subterraneus) and with landscape, as described in Litterae Annuales and in poetry by Southwell and Sarbievius.

With the growing Jesuit awareness of plants and trees growing worldwide, and propagated and distributed through Jesuit global networks, came an increasing response which was partly the pragmatic dissemination of food and medicinal plants, but was also a sustained spiritual and imaginative response to their properties. This is seen in the widespread Jesuit practise of symbolic gardening (as expounded by Ferrari and Richeome) as well as the readings of “new” plants and trees as moral and spiritual emblems. Jesuit emblem books offer a rich awareness of a global botany, and a complex interpretation of its constituents. Finally, Jesuit collecting and dissemination of plants is reflected in their museum practise, and in such particular phenomena as their introduction of tea to Europe.

Jesuit Meteorological Stations and Weather Studies: Tropical Hurricanes

Speaker: Professor Agustín Udías SJ
Thursday 23 March, 14.00-15.00

Jesuits began to get involved in formal observational meteorology in the early nineteenth century, shortly after the Restoration of the Society of Jesus in 1814, in the context of research in their new colleges and universities and the installation of observatories, mainly dedicated to astronomy. The first complete meteorological stations were installed in 1824 at the Observatory of the Roman College (Rome, Italy) and in 1838 at Stonyhurst College Observatory (Lancashire, England). A total of 51 meteorological stations were installed around the world. In many instances, the Jesuit stations were installed before national meteorological services came into operation.

Special interest attaches to the stations in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America, which were among the first to be installed in these regions. In these countries, some of the meteorological stations were involved in observations of the tropical hurricanes which occur each year, causing severe damage. Most Jesuit stations transferred their observations to the national meteorological services as they began to be established.

Many Jesuit stations only undertook observational work with no further analysis of meteorological data. However, in some cases, Jesuits carried out further pioneering studies of regional climates. A number of remarkable and pioneering studies of tropical hurricanes were carried out by Jesuits such as B. Viñes in the Caribbean, F. Faura and J. Algué in the Philippines, M. Dechevrens and L. Froc in the China Sea, and E. Colin in Madagascar. C. Depperman, working in Manila, was among the first to apply modern frontology theory to the study of tropical storms. This lecture will offer an historical overview of Jesuit work in meteorology and its significance to the development of atmospheric and climate science.

Jesuit Gardening in the New World

Speaker: Marlis Hinkley
Thursday 23 March, 15.30-16.30

For the Jesuit missionaries who came to what is now Mexico around the turn of the seventeenth century, gardening was not only a source of powerful metaphors, but also a significant physical activity taking place at religious institutions. Gardens produced food for their tables and medicines for their infirmaries, as well as representing an important space for religious reflection and contemplation. In the specific context of the New World, they were sites where American and European plants were grown side by side, making them into ‘translation zones’ where plant-related knowledge from both continents was shared, suppressed, transformed, and recorded. This presentation will focus on Jesuit gardens in New Spain in the early seventeenth century, discussing their role as physical and intellectual acclimatisation spaces for the introduction of European cultivars into Mexico and vice versa. Besides addressing the medical and natural-historical knowledge about plants acquired in this context, the presentation will pay particular attention to the significance of the garden in Jesuit thinking, considering the garden as a tool for religious conversion and acculturation as well as a site of cultivation.

Pop-up Exhibition: How the Jesuits Salvaged British Catholic Culture

Speaker: Dr Jan Graffius
Thursday 23 March, 17.30-18.30

The Jesuit Order played a hugely significant and little-known role in post-Reformation Britain and Ireland as rescuers and conduits for some extraordinary artefacts, manuscripts and books. Under threat of destruction in the 16th and 17th centuries, many uniquely important objects were smuggled out of Britain to safety abroad in Jesuit institutions, such as St Omers College in the Spanish Netherlands, the direct ancestor of Stonyhurst College today, where these artefacts are preserved and displayed. A few highlights from Stonyhurst and the British Jesuit Province will travel to Campion Hall for the first pop-up exhibition of this kind. Spanning the centuries, the exhibition will feature artefacts relating to Jesuit engagement with the natural world including a sample of the black rain that fell at Stonyhurst in 1884, the original catalogue of Athanasius Kircher’s 1678 Musaeum Celeberrimum; the Chinese ivory viatorium (a compass-like device) used by Fr Johan Schall von Bell, a Jesuit astronomer and missionary who followed the footsteps of Matteo Ricci to Beijing in the 1630s; pall embroidery from c. 1600 using a rose motif (English recusant symbols here incorporating natural imagery); the eye of St Edward Oldcorne SJ, who understood himself to have been cured of cancer by the sacred waters of St Winefride's well in North Wales; a 1709 manuscript with recipes for fruit preservation by Jean Drummond (1682/3–1773); as well as Guyanan objects relating both to conservation and medication (piranha teeth and an eagle owl claw, collected by Charles Waterton), and to the impact of slavery and deforestation (a Guyanan beaded chest ornament). Also displayed will be the crucifix of St Thomas More. 

Fr Thomas West's Guide to the Lakes: Contributions to the Picturesque and the Sublime During the Years of Jesuit Suppression

Speaker: Jane Cooper
Friday 24 March, 09.35-10.35

Inheriting the tradition of Jesuit contributions to optics and their use in the visual arts, Thomas West, SJ produced A Guide to the Lakes in Cumberland, Westmorland, and Lancashire in 1778. His survey is a now-neglected linchpin in the burgeoning practice of painting landscapes with the use of the Claude glass towards the close of the 18th century. West’s text is a repository of instruction and commentary paradigmatic of the developing picturesque aesthetic ideal. In tandem with West’s work on the antiquities of Furness, and situating West within the context of Jesuit exile from the continent, this lecture will investigate his contributions to the picturesque and the sublime, his 19th century reception, and his interaction with figures involved in the picturesque tradition, such as the Reverend John Brown, D. D.

The Double Charge of God’s Creation

Speaker: Professor Michael Hurley
Friday 24 March, 11.00-12.00

To see the world as Hopkins does, ‘charged with the grandeur of God’, is to see with double vision.  The beauty of nature is something to praise as divine creation, but it is also a gift which we are deputed to protect. The benison informs the burden. To acknowledge God’s persistent presence within the world, as invisible and yet as powerful as an electrical ‘charge’, commits us to recognising that we are also ‘charged’ with caring for that world. Whereas atheists might find themselves in awe of nature’s supposedly accidental aesthetic merits, and Deists find those same merits to be proof of a divine but detached architect, Hopkins’s incarnational and sacramental theology involves an intimate understanding of the world as one within which God can be actively experienced, and towards which we have an ongoing, irrefragable responsibility. The lecture will draw on Hopkins’s poems, letters and journals, while considering his formation as a Jesuit, the practice of the Spiritual Exercises, and his allegedly ‘suspect’ sympathy for Duns Scotus over Thomas Aquinas, on the univocity of being.

Roundtable Discussion. Contemporary Jesuits in the Natural World: Discerning Ignatian Spirituality and Integral Ecology in Today’s Planetary Crisis

Speakers: Geoff te Braake SJ and Stephen Power SJ
Friday 24 March, 13.30-14.30

Contemporary Jesuits have drawn on the rich legacy of knowledge and perspectives that the past gaze of early Jesuits accumulated in their examination of the natural world. How have these deeply rooted understandings been translated in the age of the Anthropocene, with a living planet now rocked by a range of complex, but interconnected crises? How has Ignatian spirituality shaped current Jesuit interactions with the natural world? Is the paradigm of integral ecology illustrated by Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ a legacy of this Jesuit gaze, and how is it being translated in today’s reality? In this roundtable Geoff te Braake SJ and Stephen Power SJ will be reflecting together with Dr Carlos Zepeda on what the Jesuit approach to the natural world means for the challenges of our planetary ecological crisis.