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Chaos Unveiled: New Exhibit on the Origins of Villanova University

Posted for: Karla Irwin, Villanova University.

When I was presented with the opportunity to curate an online exhibition as the Fall 2011 Digital Library Intern I jumped at the chance. Through the course of my internship I had grown more familiar with the wealth of materials in the Digital Library and I was eager to explore one area in particular: materials related to rioting that occurred in Philadelphia in 1844. Before seeing the items I knew nothing about the riots which was surprising to me because I had grown up in the area and lived in Philadelphia for a number of years. After conducting a little more research I was amazed at the history of the riots and wondered how many people in the area were like me and unaware that the riots had happened. I thought the story of the riots were an important one to share and now it is my pleasure to present to you Chaos in the Streets: The Philadelphia Riots of 1844.

Philadelphia in 1844 was a hotbed of religious and ethnic prejudice, most notably toward Catholics and the Irish. This was representative of a national sentiment and the exhibition looks at a group called the Nativists, who later became the Know Nothing Party, and their role in the rioting. In May and July of 1844 these issues came to a breaking point and the city of Philadelphia saw some of its most violent days in her history. The riots would ultimately have many lasting effects and it can be said that the Philadelphia you see today is partially a result of those violent days.

The Digital Library provides access to quite a large collection relating to the riots including a collection of letters from Morton McMichael who was the sheriff at the time. His letters and personal journal provide a first-hand account of what it was to be like on the streets of Philadelphia in the mid 1840’s. Only a small portion of his entire collection is utilized in the exhibit and so I recommend taking a longer look at the letters as they offer a fascinating window into policing in Philadelphia during that time.

There was no shortage of interesting material on the riots but one aspect that proved especially dramatic to me was the role the Catholic Churches had in the rioting, particularly St. Augustine’s Church. I had visited the church many years ago in the Old City section of Philadelphia and walked by it countless times. What I did not know is that the St. Augustine’s I saw today was rebuilt from the one that had burned down during the rioting. Sadly, along with the burning of the church, a library containing an invaluable collection of theological materials was also destroyed. Imagine my amazement when I found out some of the books from that library ended up in Special Collections in Falvey Library! You will find in the exhibition how the Augustinian community in Philadelphia put major roots down in both center city Philadelphia and, of course, Villanova University. I hope you find the connection, and how it relates to the riots, as interesting as I do.

Finally, I would like to thank Michael Foight and Laura Bang for their valuable guidance, Joanne Quinn for the graphics, Susan Connor, Susan Ottignon, and Chelsea Payne for their informative transcription work, and David Lacy for his work on technical details. Without them the exhibition would never have come to fruition.


New online exhibit featuring Augustine’s Confessions

November is Augustinian Heritage Month here at Villanova and there are many events going on. One of the events is a marathon reading of Augustine’s Confessions, which began here in the library’s coffee shop at 9am this morning and will continue until about midnight. Stop by if you have the chance!

But if you can’t make it, don’t worry! The Digital Library has launched an online exhibit of editions of the Confessions held in Special Collections. The exhibit is called “Tolle lege: The Confessions of St. Augustine”.

Engraved title page of an edition of the Confessions from 1646.
Engraved title page from a 1646 edition.

Editions are arranged by century, with items that are particularly noteworthy and/or available in the Digital Library getting their own sub-pages. Each edition has at least one image associated with it and brief notes where applicable, creating a sort of visual bibliography of holdings of the Confessions in Special Collections.

This is not a complete listing of our holdings, but additional items will be added over time, so be sure to check back.


Life as the Sister of the Liberty Bell

Posted for Phylis Wright:

A recently digitized title from the Villanova Digital Collection, The Liberty Bell’s sister by Father Louis Rongione, O.S.A., provides a history and overview of the companion to the Liberty Bell that once rested in Falvey Memorial Library and now resides in the Augustinian Heritage Room of the Saint Thomas of Villanova Monastery.


The history of the bell started on October 16th 1751 when the Pennsylvania Assembly voted that a bell weighing 2000 pounds costing between 100 and 150 pounds (sources disagree on the specific cost – ed.) should be purchased from Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London and then be provided for use in the new State House that was later called Independence Hall.

That historic bell cracked upon its first testing. It was felt by that same governing body that because of the need to recast twice after cracking, and the bells poor tone quality, a replacement should be purchased.

A bell of the same weight and cost was then ordered.

In the summer of 1754 the Liberty Bell’s sister arrived in Philadelphia.

On August 13, 1754 however, the Pennsylvania Assembly voted not to replace but to keep both bells, as the populace who once found the Liberty Bells’ tone annoying, had grown accustomed to it.

The original bell was hung in Independence Hall and the Sister Bell was hung on a special cupola in front of her, attached to the State House Clock, to toll the hours. She performed this task from 1754 to 1830, except for a brief period of time during the Revolutionary War.

Both bells rang for special occasions. One such occasion was the reading of the Declaration of Independence, July 8, 1776.

The Sister Bell is no stranger to political intrigue. On September 14, 1777 British forces were threatening invasion and then occupied Philadelphia. The bells were smuggled to secret location in Allentown to prevent the enemy from melting them down and using them for ammunition.

The British left Philadelphia June 27, 1778 and the sisters were returned to their home.

In 1830 the City of Philadelphia kept the original bell and sold the Sister Bell and Stretch Clock to Reverend Michael Hurley, O.S.A., Pastor of Saint Augustine’s Church, 4th and Vine Streets, Philadelphia.

On May 8th 1844 St. Augustine’s Church was burned to the ground by members of the Native American Party. The clock, library, paintings were totally destroyed and the bell cracked into pieces in the fire. Her fragments were gathered and given to Joseph Bernhard of Philadelphia for recasting.

In 1847 the Sister Bell was recast but she was greatly reduced in size. She was sent to Villanova College founded in 1842 by the same Augustinian Fathers who served St. Augustine’s Church.

From 1847- 1917 the Sister Bell hung in a locust tree and was used to call the students to class, chapel and their meals. In 1917 she was sent to Jamaica Long Island and was used in the steeple of St. Nicholas of Tolentine Augustinian Church, but on September 20th, 1942 she returned home to Villanova for the inauguration of the Centennial year 1942-1943.

Currently the Sister Bell has found a home in the Augustinian Heritage Room. She may be seen by appointment by calling Father Marty Smith: 610-864-1590.



Philadelphia Riots Described

  • Posted by: Michael Foight
  • Posted Date: June 15, 2009
  • Filed Under: Augustinian Order


The latest resource to be fully described and available in the Digital Library is the body of materials making up the
Philadelphia Riots Collection; owned by the American Catholic Historical Society this collection documents early issues related to domestic violence, gun ownership, militia deployment, and crime.

As well this is an important collection for the history of Villanova University. Known as the Philadelphia Riots, as well as the Philadelphia Nativist Riots,these disturbances inadvertently created a climate inhospitable to Catholics in the inner city, and let to the expansion of Villanova, first as a College and then later as a University. The Main Line area beckoned to the Order of Saint Augustine after the experience of the burning of St. Augustine’s Catholic Church as a more rural and safer haven for education so the initial “Augustinian College of Villanova” which opened in 1842 was greatly expanded.

This collection includes letters to and from the Philadelphia Sheriff at the time, Morton McMichael; letters and orders to and from Major General Patterson; lists of the Posse members sent to hunt for the arsonists; and a broadside from Bishop Kendrick calling on the Catholic citizens of Philadelphia to remain calm and not to resort to violent in retribution.

Supplementing this collection are other works related to the Riots owned by Villanova University, including:

The Full Particulars of the Late Riots, with a View of the Burning of the Catholic Churches, St. Michaels & St. Augustines. (Link)


Onofrio Panvinio, O.S.A.

One of the earliest scholars of the Roman Republic and Empire was Onofrio Panvinio.


Two of his most important works have been digitized and are available in the Contributions from Augustinian Theologians and Scholars Collection: his work on the Roman triumph and the magistrates of the republic and empire, the Fasti et triumphi Rom. a Romulo rege usque ad Carolum V. Caes. Aug. and his work on the Roman games, De ludis circensibus.

Along with being a historian and compiler of data from the ruins of the Roman secular world, Panvinio also compiled one of the first histories of the Augustinian Order as well as other related chronicles of the church and the early papacy. Indeed his explorations to forage for inscriptions, illustrations, and documents were authorized by Pope Pius IV.

Many of his works have never been published as books and remain only available as manuscripts, so much work still remains to bring greater attention to these important materials. Living only to the age of 38, dying in Palermo in 1568 A.D., Panvinio’s contributions to later ecclesiastical and classical historians show that great scholarly effort can come from even a short life. Father Gersbach notes: “his descriptions of Roman churches remain valuable for art historians. His indefatigable labors in unearthing and organizing vast amounts of historical material have merited the admiration of later scholars.”

Indeed, the eminent historian Mary Beard in her 2007 work, The Roman Triumph, said:”so efficient and accurate were they that Onofrio Panvinio’s study of the triumph in his Fastorum Libri V first published in the 1550s – an analytical list of Roman office holders from Romulus to Charles V in the sixteenth century – remains even today one of the most comprehensive collections of evidence for the ceremony.”

Several images from his now digitized Roman histories follow including: an image of the Emperor Claudius, the procession of the Roman Triumph, the ceremonies preparatory to a Roman game, and lists of consuls and magistrates.







Mary Beard. The Roman Triumph. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007, pp. 54-54.

K.A. Gersbach. “Panvinio, Onofrio”. New Catholic Encyclopedia. pp. 828-829.



Last Modified: April 3, 2009