The 650th anniversary celebrations for the founding of the English Hospice in Rome

Mgr. Nicholas Hudson, Rector of the Venerable English College in Rome

The celebration marks “a very significant milestone in the history of English and Welsh Catholicism”, according to Monsignor Nicholas Hudson, Rector of the Venerable English College in Rome

Gerard O’Connell
From Vatican Insider

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor opens a year of celebrations at the Venerable English College, Rome, on 27 January, to commemorate the founding of the English Hospice, the oldest English institution outside of England, exactly 650 years ago on that date.

In 1579, the Hospice was transformed into a college for the training of students for the priesthood for England and Wales, but it has continued the Hospice tradition to this day.

The celebration marks “a very significant milestone in the history of English and Welsh Catholicism”, Monsignor Nicholas Hudson, the Rector of the VEC told Vatican Insider. He has a special feeling for the historical dimension of this place, having studied medieval history at Cambridge University.

He revealed that the archbishops of Westminster and Cardiff, and bishops from several English dioceses, including Lancaster, Leeds, Middlesbrough and Plymouth are coming for the celebration, as is the only English-born nuncio in the Holy See’s diplomatic service, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, now in Guatemala. All were former students at the College, while Cardinal Murphy O’Connor was also Rector from 1971 to 1977.

They will be joined by 250 distinguished guests on Sunday 29 January, when Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster celebrates mass in the College chapel, followed by a celebration lunch. Those invited include Vatican officials, such as Cardinals Levada and Tauran, Archbishops Di Noia and Sanchez Sarondo, and the British Ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Marcus Barker.

The Hospice was founded by a group of Englishmen laymen, some of them merchants, living in Rome.  Inspired by the high influx of pilgrims from England for the Holy Year in 1350, and seeing their many needs, they formed themselves into the Confraternity of St Thomas of Canterbury and bought a house for the use of “the poor, sick, needy and distressed people coming from England to the City”.  They bought it the city centre, on the street today called Via Monserrato, from an English couple, John and Alice Shepherd, who sold rosary beads to pilgrims.

The Hospice was established during the reign of Pope Innocent VI, then living in Avignon, at a time when similar hospices were founded for pilgrims from Germany, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

By the time the Papacy returned to Rome, the Hospice had become the spiritual centre for the English in the city.  Many famous people stayed here.  Thomas Linacre, the classical scholar and founder of the Royal College of Physicians, was Warden of the Hospice in 1491.  It was controlled by the English crown and known as “The King’s Hospice” by the time of Henry VIII; he wanted it to provide hospitality for more students and for the royal ambassadors, and appointed its warden.

After Henry VIII broke from Rome, the number of pilgrims from England declined and the Hospice became a home for English exiles.  Pope Paul III replaced the royal Warden with the English Cardinal Reginald Pole in 1538, and when Elizabeth I became Queen in 1558 the royal connection was lost.  Soon the Hospice got a Cardinal Protector, who exercised jurisdiction over it, and several English ecclesiastics and exiles, many of them graduates from Oxford and Cambridge, lived there.

After the split between Rome and Elizabeth I, it was no longer possible to train priests in England and Wales and so, advised by eminent Welsh and English clerics, Pope Gregory XIII decided to transform the Hospice into a College to prepare young men to be priests and return to England and Wales to minister to the persecuted Catholics there.  He signed The Bull of Foundation of the College on 1 May 1579.

As it trained priests for that mission, the College soon achieved fame as the home of martyrs.  44 of its alumni were martyred for the faith when they returned to England and Wales between 1581 and 1678.  Ten have been canonized saints, while the others are recognized as blessed.  Since the Hierarchy’s restoration, most bishops of both countries have been graduates from the College, as have many English cardinals.

Today, the College has 45 students: 7 are priests, 38 seminarians, all from English dioceses except for 4 Scandinavians, It is the largest intake for many years, Monsignor Hudson stated.

Down the centuries, as it prepared students for the priesthood, the College also retained the Hospice tradition of providing hospitality to visitors, as The Pilgrim Book records from 1580 onwards. The poet, John Milton, a critic of Catholicism, was one of many famous people welcomed here. The English and Welsh Bishops resided here too while participating in the First and Second Vatican Councils, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, was an honored guest during his historic visit to Paul VI, as were three former English Prime Ministers – Gladstone, Macmillan and Blair.

Pius IX came here during the First Vatican Council, as did John Paul II in 1979. Pope Benedict XVI is expected to do likewise later this year.

When in the first century of the College’s existence students heard that one of their number had been martyred, they would gather in the College chapel, before the painting over the altar that depicts the Most Holy Trinity and St Thomas, to sing the Te Deum, the Church’s hymn of praise and thanksgiving. At the end of evening Mass on 27 January, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor will intone that same hymn on that same site – in thanksgiving for all the graces received over the last 650 years in this historic site.

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2 Responses to The 650th anniversary celebrations for the founding of the English Hospice in Rome

  1. kathleen says:

    Nice to see a recent picture of Mgr. Nicholas Hudson with whom I had lost touch! My family got to know Fr. ‘Nick’ Hudson through Fr. Charles Briggs (with whom he studied for the priesthood in Rome 25 years ago) when Fr. Nick was a priest in Canterbury. He was a delightful, dedicated young priest, who one could see would go far. At a later date we visited Fr. Nick in Rome when he was sub director of the “Venerabile Collegio Inglese”, and he kindly showed us around the beautiful building.


  2. Jennifer says:

    Excellent post. Definitely made me think about a few things. Thank you for sharing!


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