Archives, libraries and heritage collections of the Roman Catholic Church in Britain and Ireland have often been seen as mysterious and inaccessible to the general public. In recent years, the academic focus on British Catholic History through John Bossy, Eamon Duffy and Alexandra Walsham has highlighted the significance of Catholicism to the history of Britain and subsequently shed-light on the understudied nature of Catholic heritage collections.
Since 1979, the Catholic Archives Society has promoted the care of Roman Catholic archives and collections in Britain and Ireland. Established as a voluntary organisation, the Society acts as a forum for all individuals, professional and voluntary, who are custodians of Catholic material. Increasingly, Catholic institutions have been making their archives and libraries accessible for research by establishing reading rooms and forming online catalogues. Some have also created exhibition spaces for Catholic material culture including the Bar Convent (York), Stonyhurst College (Clitheroe), Ushaw Historic House and Chapels (Durham), Blairs Seminary Museum (Aberdeen) and St Mary’s Seminary, Oscott (Birmingham).
Through an annual conference, training days, and research visits the CAS facilitates networking and creates a support structure for those working in Catholic heritage. The website provides free access to example documents relevant to the care of Catholic collections, including policies on: collections management, loans, volunteer management, search room management and data protection.
Members also receive the annual Journal and bulletin, as well as regular advice leaflets and occasional papers. Non- members may also purchase publications via the website. The most recent publication: The Care of Artefacts in Archival Collections, by Naomi Johnson and Claire Marsland, 2020 was created in response to the changing nature of deposits to Catholic Archives. Institutions are regularly taking in more material culture as churches, convents and seminaries face closure.
Throughout 2020, the CAS has worked to increase its online presence in order to support Catholic archives and heritage organisations during lockdown.
For more information and to purchase publications visit: https://catholicarchivesociety.org/
Facebook & Twitter: @CatholicArcSoc
Claire Marsland (CAS council member)