Cardinal Cormac
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran

Re-opening of the restored church of the
Venerable English College, Rome

“A church worthy of the extraordinary heritage
that is celebrated on its walls”

Sunday, 18th October 2009, saw the impressive re-opening ceremony of the newly- restored church of the Venerable English College in Rome.

The Venerable English College is a seminary in Rome training students from England and Wales for the Roman Catholic priesthood for service back in their native countries, and is the oldest existing English institution anywhere in the world outside of the United Kingdom. Its history began with the establishment of a hospice for English pilgrims to Rome in 1362 on the present site in the Via di Monserrato in the middle of Rome’s historic centre. It was transformed into a seminary in 1579 by Pope Gregory XIII and has been preparing priests for England and Wales ever since.

The first church on the site was dedicated, as befits an English institution, to the Most Holy Trinity and St Thomas of Canterbury in about 1376. Severe damage by French troops during the Napoleonic invasion of Italy led to the church being completely rebuilt. This new church was opened, with the same dedication, in 1888.

A complete restoration of the 1888 church including the cleaning of every piece of marble, mosaic and painting has been carried out over the last two years. Particularly noteworthy are the restored masterpiece known as the Martyrs’ Picture, painted by Durante Alberti in 1580 and the important series of 19th century frescoes in the Church’s Tribune depicting historic scenes of martyrdom from English church history, based on original frescoes executed by Pomerancio in the sixteenth century.

The solemn Mass of Re-opening was attended by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, retired Archbishop of Westminster, and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, former head of the Vatican Archives. Principal Celebrant at the Mass was Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, who also gave the homily. Concelebrating were Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds, Bishop Terence Drainey of Middlesbrough, Bishop John Rawsthorne of Hallam, Bishop Tom Burns of Menevia and some 60 concelebrating priests, most of whom were also former students of the College. Members of the congregation included the British Ambassador to the Holy See, Mr Francis Campbell, Princess Gesine Doria Pamphilj, and the most generous benefactors of this and many other College restoration projects Mr Urs and Mrs Francesca Schwarzenbach, along with almost 200 invited guests. They were treated after the Mass to lunch in the College refectory beneath Pozzo’s striking fresco of St George slaying the dragon.

A fully interactive exhibition, Non Angli sed Angeli, has been opened in the extensive and beautifully restored Crypt of the Church. It graphically depicts the history of English Pilgrimage to Rome, from the time of the first recorded pilgrims in 653, and the story of the reverse pilgrimage of students trained in the College to serve on the English Catholic Mission from 1581, many of whom died martyrs’ deaths. The exhibition will remain open well into 2010 for the benefit of the many modern day pilgrims who will visit Rome and the College in the coming months.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor was Rector of the Venerabile, as it is affectionately known, for six years before his appointment as Bishop of Arundel and Brighton in 1977. He was joined for the celebration by the five Rectors who succeeded him, Monsignori George Hay, Jack Kennedy, Adrian Toffolo, Patrick Kilgarriff and the current incumbent, Nicholas Hudson (see picture below where they are in chronological order from left to right). Monsignor Hudson told the benefactors in his speech to the guests gathered for lunch, “You have given us a church worthy of the extraordinary heritage that is celebrated on its walls; guest-accommodation that will allow us to welcome comfortably and well the many visitors from our home dioceses and indeed much further afield who come regularly to do work for the College and for the Church; and an exhibition that will help countless pilgrims and tourists appreciate the unique mission and achievement of this, the oldest English institution outside of England.”

Photographs by Fr Tony Milner

Visit the NON ANGLI SED ANGELI Exhibition web site