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>The Catholic Ferula, Research And A Request For Further Information


The Project

I want to do another in the Toys are born posting series. The aim is to recreate, as closely as possible, using modern materials, a ferula, as used to be used in Catholic schools in the UK and some other countries. In it’s most basic description, this sort of ferula was a piece of whale bone encased in leather. Obviously real whale bone cannot be used but hopefully I will be able to find a substitute that will be very similar.

How you may be able to help

Research as I might, I have not been able to find much about the actual details of what these implements where actually like. So if you have personal experience of these or have heard an account of someone with experience of a real ferula or have seen an old one in real life or even in a museum, please can you tell me what it looked and felt like. In particular I am looking for answers to the following questions –

1/ How thick was it?

2/ How flexible or not was it?

3/ What kind of leather was used (thick? thin? textured? smooth?)?

4/ How was the leather attached? e.g. Was it folded over and stitched on one side or did the stitching go all the way round?

5/ Does anyone have the web address of a site that has a picture of a real ferula?

This and any more information would be most welcome.

What I have found out so far

This is the only picture of a ferula that I have found so far, it is from M C Customs, but I think it is more of a Greek style ferula, stiff leather rather than having a hard “core” and so do not think that this is the same type of ferula that I want to make.

I have found two vague descriptions so far one from Excerpts From The Book :: Alfred Tolhurst – The Life and Times of a Victorian Entrepreneur that went

“The Jesuits were well known as great disciplinarians, punishment being swift and harsh but usually fair. The weapon used for this was called a ferula consisting of a flat piece of whalebone covered in leather some three inches wide and ten inches long”

and the other from Rhyme And Punishment – CBS News that went

“Our teachers were authorised to hit us with a nasty device called The Ferula. The Ferula is shaped like the sole of a shoe. It’s made of whalebone, covered in leather and – so, we always joked – was manufactured by the Sisters of Mercy.”

I have found many accounts of people receiving the ferula but very little by way of accurate descriptions. I would greatly appreciate any help that anyone could give me on my quest to make an accurate as possible ferula.

If anyone wants to read more about the ferula you can follow the links below
St Ignatius’ College – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Caned Or Strapped/Tawsed On Hands? – Forums
Richard Milward – Telegraph
Goodbye, Mister Thwackum – Arts & Entertainment – The Independent


One response »

  1. Hi. I went to two Jesuit schools, and encountered the ferula several times. I have since researched the subject in depth.
    The M.C.Customs ferula is an exact replica shape of the Jesuit ferula. The fallacy surrounding the implement is the construction. Original ferulas were made of gutta percha, but they were too flexible, and their life was shortened because of this. To overcome the problem, a piece of whalebone was cut and shaped, and laid in a slightly larger mould. The liquid gutta percha was then poured into the mould, surrounding the whalebone, and cured into a hard rubber. It was then dyed black, and was ready for action.
    At my finishing school, I was talking to the head about the ferula, and he handed me one from the drawer in his desk. It was quite heavy, which explained the deadening impact of each stroke, and its flexibility was about the same as a 12 inch wooden ruler. I also noticed the dye had started to fade from the buisiness end, exposing the lighter brown rubber.
    When gutta percha became too expensive to use in the late sixties, They used a heavy leather to make the ferula, and the customs one comes pretty close to it. It certainly carries the same deadening effect after the first stroke, and the after effects are a very intense deep pain, especially when three or four strokes are administered.


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