Stonyhurst College’s curator, Jan Graffius, has been invited to attend the Beatification Ceremony of Archbishop Oscar Romero, which takes place in El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador, on Saturday.
The invitation is in recognition of the work she has carried out over the last eight years preserving the relics of Monseñor Romero, in addition to those of the six Jesuit martyrs and their companions, murdered by death squad troops in 1989.
Archbishop Oscar Romero, of San Salvador, spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture. In 1980, at the Church of the Divine Providence, Romero was murdered while saying mass, on March 24th, 1980. It is widely believed that the military backed Arena government ordered his assassination, and the murder of six Jesuit priests and two female staff at the University of Central America in 1989.
In addition to attending the ceremony, Jan will be preparing a very poignant relic to be placed at the Beatification Altar during the ceremony. This is the blood soaked clerical shirt worn by Archbishop Romero when he was murdered while saying mass on March 23rd 1980. The single bullet hole in the breast pocket bears powerful witness to the fact that the killing was carried out by a professional sniper. A specially designed reliquary has been built to house the shirt, weighing some 400lbs, and will be carried shoulder high by six deacons to the altar. Jan’s task is to prepare the support for the shirt, using museum materials, to ensure that the case has the correct light, temperature and humidity levels, and to supervise the placing of the shirt and the sealing of the reliquary. After the ceremony, the reliquary will be placed in the Cathedral of San Salvador, where Archbishop Romero is buried.
The ceremony will be an extraordinary event, involving numerous Cardinals and Papal officials, Archbishops and Bishops, and more than a thousand priests. Some quarter of a million pilgrims are expected in the capital, and there are feverish preparations to ensure that this deeply impoverished country can provide the welcome needed. Salvadorans are very warm and hospitable by nature, and the Beatification has been long awaited – there is no doubt that the country is rejoicing already, and by Saturday the atmosphere will be even more emotional and joyful.
In London, at the Jesuit Church in Farm St, the Stonyhurst triptych with a relic of Romero’s blood soaked alb, will be placed on the altar on May 23rd. The triptych is on loan to the Jesuit Province from Stonyhurst, and was painted by Salvadoran artist Fernando Llort. It is inscribed with the readings from the mass Romero was saying when he was murdered, and some quotations from his sermon, seconds before his death. It was the gift of Stonyhurst’s sixth formers in 2011, and after the Beatification it will return to Stonyhurst, and be placed in the college where it can bear witness to the bravery and holiness of this great 20th century martyr.