A painting that was kept in a closet at Ushaw College for 30 years and is hailed by scholars as a masterpiece has gone on display for the first time.
The work, by the German painter Franz von Rohden, was hung in a chapel at the junior college until the 1970s, when it was put in storage.
It was discovered following the closure of the seminary in 2011.
The painting had been commissioned in the 1850s by Mgr Charles Newsham, the president of Ushaw, who wanted it for private devotion.
On the advice of Cardinal Wiseman he had sought a painting from the Nazarene school – a group of German artists who moved to Rome to emulate pre-modern masters of the 15th century.
Dr Stefano Cracolici of Durham University described the painting as a “unique and rare masterpiece”.
He explained that Rohden sought to “simplify” his paintings, to make them “beyond time”, so they could be “machines for devotion”. Rohden, he said, only ever painted devotional pieces.
He said the painting came to Ushaw amid Pius IX’s drive to promote Catholic art all over the world, from Chile to Goa.
Rohden’s work is being exhibited at Durham’s World Heritage Site visitor centre until February 28.
The exhibition is one of various events in Durham designed to showcase Ushaw’s historic estate to the world.
Catholic bishops and officials at the University of Durham are exploring plans to turn Ushaw into a new Durham college. The site would still be owned by the Church but a huge part of it would be managed by the university.
Prof Paul Murray, Durham’s director of the Centre for Catholic Studies, said it was a “remarkable opportunity to plant a robust and creative carrier of Catholic identity in the heart of the public secular university system”.
The seminary at Ushaw College, which opened on the site in 1808, closed three years ago because of a decline in the number of seminarians.