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Devotional notebook of Thomas Weld discovered in archives of Sussex convent

The private notebook of Thomas Weld has been discovered at a convent in Waldron, Sussex, 225 years after it was written.

The convent belongs to the Order of the Visitation, and it was Weld’s daughter, Mary Teresa, who was the first Englishwoman to join. The notebook reveals Weld’s intense piety through his daily routine of prayers, daily Mass, and twice-daily visits to the Blessed Sacrament.

Thomas Weld was born in 1750 into a wealthy recusant family. The second-largest landowner and one of the richest men of his day, Weld was a friend of George III and knew Pitt the Younger, the Prime Minister, and was among the first English Catholics to entertain the King. But Weld is now known chiefly for his work in aid of Catholic religious orders, fleeing the French Revolution. It was Weld who gave his estate at Stonyhurst to the Jesuits.

A spokesman for the Society of Jesus said that Weld was an “exceptionally generous benefactor” who had a reputation for piety and hospitality, “not only to the Jesuits … but also to other religious orders of the 18th century”. He added that “any document written by him will undoubtedly provide a window into his motivation and his faith”.

Weld also helped the Cistercians to establish a monastery at Lulworth Castle, his family home in Dorset, and gave support to the Poor Clares who had fled from Gravelines, France. He is said to have given half his fortune or more to charitable causes.

Weld’s eldest son, also called Thomas, became a cardinal, and gained the distinction of having all seven sacraments conferred on him.

The notebook was discovered in the archive at Waldron in the build-up to the 400th anniversary of the Order of the Visitation. The first page of the notebook dates it to September 7-17 1782, when Weld was 34 years old.
The page also states that the notebook it is a “Pious and only Distribution of Time for all yr Various occasions which occur”.

The notebook records Weld’s daily routines for different days, detailing the length of time to be spent on various prayers and meditations, beginning on weekdays at 6:20am, and continuing through Lauds, Mass, Matins, the rosary, and twice-daily visits to the Blessed Sacrament, ending at 10:30pm.

Special regimens were set aside for Sundays, holidays, fast days and eight-day retreats, on which he rose at 4:50am, and added a third visit to the Blessed Sacrament during the day. Nearly eight hours a day were set aside for “hair discipline”, most likely the wearing of a hairshirt.

Following this, the notebook continues with a list of subjects for meditation for an eight-day retreat, in French, coded lists of readings for each day during the retreat, and five pages of litanies.