On 27 January 1362 a group of English merchants bought a house on what is now the Via Monserrato to serve as a hospice, or hostel, for English and Welsh pilgrims.
Thus begins the 650 year history of what is now the Venerable English College. Over the year of 2012 we celebrated this in various ways. The press release from the anniversary weekend is below, and some pictures from that weekend can be found in the gallery.
In addition two volumes were published - a reprint of the special edition of The Venerabile published in 1962 to celebrate the 600th anniversary, updated with an article on the hospice library and with new photography, and a book by Judith Champ on the monuments of the English College church. For more information see the publications page.
Other events that year included a symposium on relations between England and Rome organised by the British Embassy to the Holy See at the College at the end of March.
On 1st December 2012, Martyrs' Day, we rejoiced to welcome the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, representing Her Majesty the Queen, and on 3rd December we were privileged to have a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI. More details of these two historic events can be found on the Martyrs' Day and Papal Audience page.
On the following pages an adapted version of a series of panels produced for a small exhibition explaining the history and mission of the College - beginning with the foundation of the hospice.
Press Release below is the press release issued for the celebrations of the weekend of the 27-29 January
That weekend, the Venerable English College (VEC) celebrated a very significant milestone in the history of English and Welsh Catholicism. Friday, 27 January 2012 marked the 650th anniversary of the Foundation Deed which established an English & Welsh Hospice on the site occupied by the VEC. Its foundation in 1362 makes this the oldest English institution outside of England. From 1362-1579, there was a Hospice here. In 1579, the house became a seminary for training Catholic priests, even though the Hospice tradition continued there; and so it has remained up to the present time.
Around 250 people are expected to Mass and lunch on Sunday, 29 January. Archbishop Nichols of Westminster will be principal celebrant. Presiding in choir will be his predecessor, the Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, along with Cardinals Levada and Tauran. Some nine bishops are expected to concelebrate – coming from England and Wales and also the Vatican. The English and Welsh bishops include the Archbishop of Cardiff and the Bishops of Lancaster, Leeds, Middlesbrough and Plymouth; from the Vatican are coming the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Archbishop Augustine Di Noia; the President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Archbishop Marcelo Sanchez Sarondo; and the Apostolic Nuncio to Guatemala, Archbishop Paul Gallagher.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor was Rector of the VEC from 1971-77 and will be joined by the five priests to have succeeded him in that position: Monsignori George Hay, Jack Kennedy, Adrian Toffolo, Patrick Kilgarriff and the current Rector Nicholas Hudson. Present also will be the Rectors of all the other seminaries training priests for England and Wales: Monsignori Roderick Strange of the Beda College, Rome; Mark Crisp of Oscott; Jeremy Garratt of Wonersh; Mark O’Toole of Allen Hall; and Fr John Pardo of Valladolid.
A large group of alumni, known affectionately always as the Old Romans, are expected to attend, along with a similarly large number of the College’s support association, The Friends of the Venerabile. The VEC had a particularly large intake of seminarians last autumn, taking the number of students to 45. Of these, some seven are priests, the remaining 38 seminarians – all from English dioceses apart from four Scandinavians.
For more than two centuries, the site, on the via di Monserrato, by the Palazzo Farnese in heart of medieval Rome, was a Hospice for English and Welsh Pilgrims. But the English presence in Rome predates this by some five centuries. Ine , King of the Saxons, built the Schola Saxonum alongside the Vatican Hill in the 8th century. When Pope Innocent III in 1201 converted this into the hospital which it remains today, English priests established themselves half a mile away at the church of San Pantaleo at the entrance to todays’s Piazza Navona. So many pilgrims came to Rome for the Holy Year of 1350 that it inspired a group of Englishmen living in Rome to form themselves into the Confraternity of St Thomas of Canterbury, buying the first house on 27th January 1362. There was already an English couple living there, John and Alice Shepherd, who sold rosary beads to pilgrims visiting the medieval St Peter’s. St Bridget, living a few meters away, overlooking the Piazza Farnese, had already established a Swedish Hospice – as had the Germans in the via dell’Anima, across the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele.
The English Hospice attracted large numbers of pilgrims, including, in its early years, the mystic Margery Kempe, the priest-hunter Thomas Cromwell, the future martyr, St Henry Walpole, and later the poet John Milton. From 1412, the wall out onto the street was emblazoned with the English Royal Coat of Arms – the shield surviving to this day – for this was a house under the patronage of the Crown. The 15th century saw some of the most famous English humanists among the Hospice’s members: Thomas Linacre, William Lily, William Warham, John Giglis, Christopher Bainbridge and John Colet. In Henry VII’s reign, it was known as the 'King’s Hospice'; Henry VIII described it as 'Our Hospice'.
With the split between Rome and Elizabeth I, it was no longer possible to train priests at home; and so the Hospice’s use was altered to prepare young men for the 'Mission' to England and Wales - to return to their home countries to support the faith of persecuted Catholics. The VEC achieved fame quickly. In the first century of its existence (between 1581 and 1678), 44 of its recent alumni were martyred: of these some 10 have been recognised as Saints and the majority as Blessed. In the four centuries that it has been a seminary, the VEC has continued to welcome pilgrims to worship and to visit, offering bed and board to bishops, priest and lay people come to Rome on Church business. The Villa Palazzola overlooking Lake Albano, purchased by Rector Hinsley in 1920 and now a retreat-house belonging to the VEC, has enabled the seminary to continue the 650-year-long tradition of accommodating countless groups from England and Wales come as pilgrims to visit the sacred sites of Rome.
Whenever students in the first century of the seminary’s existence heard that one of their number had been martyred, they would come before the church’s altarpiece, depicting the Most Holy Trinity and St Thomas, to sing a song of praise, the Te Deum Laudemus. At the end of Mass on 27 January 2012, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor will intone the great prayer of praise once more on that same site – in thanksgiving for all the graces received these last 650 years in this place which will surely be "forever England”.