British Museum blog

The legacy of a gruesome death

Shakespeare’s Restless World is currently being broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Today’s episode The Theatres of Cruelty considers spectacles of torture both on and off the stage.


Jan Graffius, Curator, Stonyhurst College

Relics like this one would be probably the most moving testament to the bravery of those priests who were working undercover in England. Although the contents are rather gruesome, it would have been a very beloved reminder of their faith and a powerful inspiration to the English Catholics to hold firm because men had given blood for their faith. It might even be an inspiration to young boys to follow in their footsteps and become priest themselves.

Relics served as a reminder of what was in front of you. For many priests, the crown of martyrdom was the ultimate sign of God’s favour. Jesuit priests who served in England and came back to Europe without having been caught often describe themselves as too unworthy to share the crown of martyrdom.

Martyrdom wasn’t something they sought but it was something that was a huge honour if it occurred to them. This small relic is a reminder of the brutality, the courage and also the rightness of the faith because if somebody is willing to lay down their life in the most horrible way, the most dreadful form of execution, they have to be absolutely certain that they are doing it for good, strong and true reasons.

Shakespeare’s Restless World is on BBC Radio 4
from 16 April to 11 May, at 13.45 and 19.45 weekdays.

Listen to today’s programme The Theatres of Cruelty

Find out more:

Stonyhurst College

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This is Room 56, the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery of Mesopotamia 6000–1500 BC. It's the next in our gallery series for #MuseumOfTheFuture. Between 6000 and 1550 BC, Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (now Iraq, north-east Syria and part of south-east Turkey) witnessed crucial advancements in the development of human civilisation during the evolution from small agricultural settlements to large cities.
Objects on display in Room 56 illustrate economic success based on agriculture, the invention of writing, developments in technology and artistry, and other achievements of the Sumerians, Akkadians and Babylonians, who lived in Mesopotamia at this time.
Objects found at the Royal Cemetery at Ur are of particular importance, and you can see the Royal Game of Ur in the foreground of this picture – the oldest board game in the world. Our next #MuseumOfTheFuture gallery space is Room 55, the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery of Mesopotamia 1500–539 BC. The civilisations of Babylonia and Assyria flourished during the first millennium BC. Political developments resulted in the incorporation of the entire Near East into a single empire, while increased international contact and trade influenced the material culture of the region.
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