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Do you have a clue? Archives seeks painting of St. Finbar Cathedral

CHARLESTON—The Diocese of Charleston’s Office of Archives is looking for a painting and needs your help.

For over a year, Archivist Brian Fahey has been searching for a missing painting of the interior of St. Finbar, the diocese’s first cathedral. The painting is dated 1835 and was done by John Blake White. It is titled “Taking of the Veil” or “Taking of the White Veil.”
Fahey said some descriptions list it as a painting of John England giving the veil to an Ursuline novice named Lynch in St. Finbar.

A graduate student, Paul Partridge, references it in his 1951 dissertation with the University of Pennsylvania. At the time, Partridge stated the painting was at Bishop England High School. But Fahey has had no results in his queries at Bishop England or even Cardinal Newman, which was formerly Ursuline High School.

A transcription of a Sept. 15, 1835, Charleston Courier article on the subject states:

“The Taking of the White Veil – We have had the pleasure of seeing the brilliant achievement of the tasteful and improving pencil of our native artist and fellow- townsman, John Blake White, Esq. It is an historical representation of the imposing and painfully interesting Ceremony, from which it takes its name, of recent occurrence in the Cathedral of St. Finnbar [sic] in this city.

“The picture measures more than four feet one way, by three feet the other, and portrays the chancel and altar, enclosed by iron railings, and is an exact delineation of that portion of the Cathedral, except that it imparts an air of rather greater spaciousness and architectural grandeur, than distinguishes the reality, which, however correct in design is coarse in material and execution.

“The light streams in upon the painting, from a window on the South, with fine effect, kindling with reflected lustre, the miniature cross on the top of the staff borne by one of the officiating Priests, and the optical illusion, and standing out from the nvass [sic] of the figures, and architectural and other fixtures and decorations of the church and the scene, are extremely successful.

The grouping is admirable in proportion and harmony – the composition consisting of a male group (besides the choir in the background) of 14 prominent figures in the foreground, subdivided into three minor groups, thus arranged – The central group first strikes the eye, representing the Bishop, is strong similitude both of physiognomy and apparel, supported by an Arch-Deacon and two Deacons, each designated by his proper costume – the canonical dress of the Bishop being extremely rich, of white satin damask ornamented with a profusion of very rich gold lace.

“The mitre, the cope, the maniple [sic] and the stole, are all tastefully disposed, and tend to produce a pleasing contrast with the simplicity of the other figures. To the right of these stand four men and two boys, in the simple costume of the Alb – among these are the cross-bearer and two acolytes or students, bearing lighted tapers, and another with a sensor, which almost seems to emit its grateful perfume.

“On the left of the picture is disposed a third group, composed of the ladies of the Ursuline Order, habited in their sable robes and hoods, each with a lighted taper in her hand; and in front of them, as having been presented to the Bishop by the Lady Superior, kneels the figure of the Novice – interesting victim of misplaced enthusiasm – who seems with lovely humility to be receiving a benediction from her episcopal pastor.

“She is already parted with her worldly habit, and assumed the somber one of her order, decorated only with the cross and rosary suspended from her cincture[sic]; and the white veil, the badge of her novitiate, and pledge of her self-sacrifice, covers the upper part of her pale and beautiful visage.

“All the incidents of the place and occasion are minutely detailed, and elaborated and finished with care. The burning tapers duly arranged on the altar, the rich carpeting, the antique stand, on which is placed the silver vase of holy water, the aperges, used for sprinkling the vestments, recently presented to the Postulate, the crosier, the privete chapel, the confessional, all combine to give identity and truth to the striking, and in this part of the world, novel and unwonted scene.

“The feeling, with which we mused over this reproduction on canvas of a recent event of actual occurrence in our city, was one of a melancholy cast – inspired by the self-exile of a young and lovely female from social fellowship with her kind, under the sincere but mistaken impression, that a life of vowed celibacy is acceptable to God.”

Anyone with information about the painting’s whereabouts is encouraged to contact Fahey at or call (843) 577-1017.

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