Martin Scorsese’s newly released film about Jesuit missionaries in Japan, Silence, joins other films on the courageous Jesuit missions: Black Robe, about New France, and perhaps the greatest priest film of all time, The Mission, about the Jesuits in South America. The latter was released 30 years ago, and the masterful screenplay was written by Robert Bolt, who 20 years earlier adapted his own stage play for the film A Man for All Seasons.
Thirty years after The Mission and 50 years after A Man for All Seasons, the genius of Robert Bolt – who also wrote the screenplays for Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago – is clearly enduring. The Bolt religious films would make good viewing over the Christmas holidays.
Bolt’s play and film were much on my mind upon visiting the St John Paul II National Shrine here in Washington, which is hosting until next March a special exhibition entitled God’s Servant First: The Life and Legacy of St Thomas More. The exhibition is an Anglo-American collaboration, jointly sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst.
The exhibition makes available for the first time in America part of the magnificent collection at Stonyhurst, which shows the vibrancy of Catholic life in England before Henry VIII. That Charles Carroll (the only Catholic signatory of the Declaration of Independence) and John Carroll (first Catholic bishop in the United States) both studied at Stonyhurst makes this collaboration all the more suitable.
The collection is not limited to items from the life of Thomas More, though there are plenty of those, including a rather richly embroidered sleeping cap – an indication of his wealth – and relics of his hair shirt, proving that a love for comfort did not drive him.
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