Preserving the old, the rare, and the valuable is one of the purposes of archives and collections. Pictured here is one of three title pages and the beginning of Chapter 4 of the oldest Bible, which was published in 1728 and is in three volumes, in the monastery’s Rare Book Collection. The title, in part, of this Bible, is written in Dutch. Translated the title reads: Scenes of the Main Stories of the Old and New Testament, and Other Books, Belonging to Holy Scripture, and of the Best Masters, Hoet, Houbraken, and Picart Extended, and of the Best Masters in Copper Cut (1728).
The monastery’s Coat-of-Arms, digitally drawn and painted by Sister Charlene Ann Wheeless, O.S.B., is copied from the black and white pencil original drawing. The explanation of the symbolism of the coat-of-arms appears on the back cover of Castle on the Hill.
The red background with sprays of wheat symbolizes the Holy sacrifice of the Mass. The blue background with lilies represents purity and our Blessed Mother. The Benedictine ‘Pax, which means peace, entwined with a crown of thorns, symbolizes sacrifice. ‘Dominus adjutor noster,’ translated means ‘the Lord our helper’ is at the base. The ivy and grapes entwining the entire emblem signifies eternal life and the wine of Love of God, respectfully.
Breviarii Monastico – Benedictine Bipartite Pars Aestivalis, the oldest book in the monastery’s Rare Book Collection, is dated 1707. A leather-bound Divine Office prayerbook, this monastic breviary has gold-etched pages and is 4” thick.
The beautiful painting of St. Philomena (1600s, 17th century) was bought in Fulda, Germany in the early 1970s, and, at that time, was appraised by antique dealers as worth $2000. The German painter is unknown. Sister Mary Charlotte Kavanaugh, O.S.B., chaplain and director of Catholic religious education at Fort Rucker in Alabama, received, as a gift, this masterpiece from an American serviceman in the early 1970s. She presented it to the monastery archives in 1980.
Gracing the liturgy section of the archives (second largest section in archives) are sets of beautifully handwritten hymn books which the sisters compiled for their prayer services in the first half of the 20th century. Voiced booklets were prepared especially for the Schola, a special choir of sisters that led the community in its singing of the Liturgy of the Hours, Mass, Benediction, and important feast days.
The coif, a square linen cloth starched and then pleated, at first by hand and later by a coif machine hand operated and later electrically operated, was a part of the sisters’ “headgear” (with the veil) from 1867 until 1968. Photographs of the Covington, Kentucky, Benedictines who founded the Ferdinand Benedictine community in 1867 indicate that the Covington sisters were wearing the pleated coif at the time they sent four of their members to Ferdinand. The Benedictine sisters at St. Walburg Abbey in Bavaria, Germany, the foundation from which the first Benedictines in the United States came in 1852, still wear pleated coifs and have done so for hundreds of years.
The pleating process was a sophisticated one which took much patience. Ordinarily, each sister used three coifs which had to be washed, starched, pleated, and, finally, shaped to fit the individual’s face. Pleating the coif was difficult in 1867 when the community numbered four members. Pleating coifs in the 1960s, when the community numbered almost 400 sisters, was a humongous job. Three sisters at Ferdinand worked fulltime to complete the task. Several sisters who taught and/or lived away from Ferdinand in places which had coif machines because of the large number of sisters assigned to large schools, pleated coifs on Saturdays . Coifs were pleated and shaped at the motherhouse in Ferdinand for sisters who lived in convents where there were no coif machines. The coifs were mailed to them in special boxes.
A coif was actually shaped two times, one time by the person pleating it and one time by the person wearing it. Some sisters were very good at shaping their coifs; others were not. Upon meeting a sister, one could tell immediately if the sister was a careful coif shaper or one who thought that there were more important things in life than a nun’s headgear.