In the church of Santo Spirito in Sassia, not far from St Peter’s Basilica, is preserved an image of the ‘Madonna of Ine’, the gift of an eighth century king of England who founded a Saxon hostel, ancestor of the English hospice in Rome which this year celebrates its 650th anniversary. The image is early testimony to an English Catholic tradition that was to flower in the Middle Ages in art, literature and music, marking the intellectual and geographical landscape of England with Cathedrals, Universities and Abbeys, and connecting it firmly to the traditions of the Western Church.
Another image in Rome, in the Church of St Thomas of Canterbury in the Via di Monserrato, depicts student priests being tortured and executed for their Catholic faith. No details are spared, but in case of doubt the image is annotated with names, dates, and method of execution. This is the other side of the English Catholic tradition; exclusion, persecution – and ultimately martyrdom.