On 27 January 1362 a Guild of English merchants purchased a property from John Shepherd, a rosary seller, for the sum of 40 gold florins.
This property, on what is now the Via Monserrato and roughly where the present College Church stands, was to be a hospice for pilgrims from England, particularly those who were "poor, infirm, needy and wretched”. Thus begins the 650 year history of the English institution that became the Venerable English College.
The Deed of Foundation
"IDeed of Foundationn the name of the Lord, Amen. In the year of the Nativity of the same, one thousand three hundred and sixty-two; in the pontificate of the Lord Pope Innocent the sixth; in the fifteenth indiction; in the month of January; on the 27th day. In my presence as notary and (in the presence) of the underwritten witnesses, specially called and summoned for this purpose; John, (the son) of Peter Anglicus Otherwise called John Shepherd, a seller of beads of the Regione Arenula, of his own good and spontaneous will, sold and, under the title of sale, gave, handed over, ceded and conceded to William Chandeler, of York, from England, present, receiving and stipulating for himself, in his own name, and on the part and in the name of the Community and Guild of the English of the Cityand of those coming to the City, of the poor, infirm, needy and wretched persons from England, and for the convenience and utility of the same . . . for true and clean property, and for personal heredity, free and exempt from every burden of debts, mortgage, return, payment, tax, or tribute; namely, a certain landed house belonging to the said John, with a garden behind it, with its incomes and expenses, and all its uses, purposes, appurtenances, adjacencies, rights and obligations, from the ground to the top."
The English in Rome
Part of the Ospedale Santo Spirito, on the site of the old Schola Saxonum. This was by no means the first such venture. King Ine of the West Saxons, we are told, travelled to Rome in 725 and founded the Schola Saxonum on the other side of the Tiber. The stretch of road that runs along the river is still the Lungotevere in Sassia. By the end of the 12th century, however, the Schola Saxonum had dwindled to the point where, in 1201, Innocent III took it over and turned it into a Hospital, now the Ospedale Santo Spirito.
There does, however seem to be some continuity between this and the 1362 foundation. It appears that the English priests who were in the Schola were given the Church of San Pantaleo in return, and it seems probable that it was the English community that formed around here that gave birth to the guild that bought the nearby property for the purposes of founding a hospice.
1412 PlaqueJohn Shepherd’s house was a relatively modest building. However in the following decades several other adjacent buildings were either purchased or bequeathed. There would appear to have been some consolidation of buildings some 50 years after the foundation, the Royal coat of arms and this commemorative plaque dated 1412, now inside the College, seem to belong to that development.
John Shepherd, together with his wife Alice, is sometimes credited with the foundation of the Hospice. But it seems clear that his initial role was simply that of the seller of the property. Indeed he made a tidy profit on it, having bought it a few months earlier for 27 florins.
However he soon gets much more involved, and a contract of 14 April 1362 shows he and his wife devoting their lives and their worldly goods to the Hospice and to the service of English pilgrims in Rome.