A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE COLLEGE
A question often asked of us (both in Spain and in Scotland) is: Why is there a Scots College in Salamanca… or even in Spain? The answer begins in 1560 when the Scots Parliament outlawed the practice of the Catholic religion in Scotland. To ensure a supply of priests for the Scottish Mission, seminaries were founded at Tournay (later moved to Douay), Rome, Paris and Madrid. Honourable mention should also be made of the Benedictine monasteries of Regensburg and Würzburg which also provided priests for Scotland in those difficult times.
Colonel William Semple of Lochwinnoch, after a life spent in the military and diplomatic service of the Spanish crown, founded (with his wife, Doña María de Ledesma) a college in Madrid in 1627, entrusting its running to the Jesuits. Their deed of foundation stipulated that the college was for students:
Scottish by birth, preferably those of superior character and virtue and those who promise more fruit in the welfare of souls, and they have to spend whatever time may be necessary in studying Grammar and Philosophy, Theology, Controversies and Sacred Scripture, so that when they are well versed in all of these, they may proceed to the said Kingdom of Scotland to preach the Gospel and convert heretics… when they leave the said seminary for this purpose, others are to be received in their place having the same end, and thus the matter will continue for as long as the aforesaid conversion may require.
For various reasons too complex to treat here, the College in Madrid did not produce very many priests for the mission in Scotland and at times was almost on the verge of extinction. Such was the case when in 1771 John Geddes (later to be Vicar Apostolic of the Lowland District in Scotland) obtained from Carlos III the use of the former Jesuit Colegio de San Ambrosio in Valladolid. Luckily, for us Scots at least, in 1767 the king had suppressed the Society of Jesus in his realm and many of the former Jesuit buildings lay empty. The original Cédula Real (Royal Charter) of 1771 granting us part of the building was followed in the same decade by others which gave us the use of more of the building and granted us similar constitutions and rights as had the English ‘Colegio de San Albano’, founded in Valladolid in 1589.
From its new base Valladolid, the Royal Scots College sent a steady stream of priests to Scotland, achieving one of our finest hours when by 1798 we remained the only Scots seminary on the Continent functioning when the other colleges were suppressed in the turmoil which followed the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon, although we too had to close our doors briefly from 1808-1816 due to the Peninsular War. In 1812 our country house, built in the village of Boecillo less than twenty years previously, twice played host to the Duke of Wellington and his army in the course of his campaigns against the French. It is also worth noting that in the early 19th century a number of priests trained in Valladolid went as chaplains with the Scots who were driven from their highland homes to seek refuge in Canada; some of these priests became founding bishops of dioceses there.
While the College had a long and fruitful stay of more than two hundred years in Valladolid, occupied a distinguished building in that city and had many friends and pastoral contacts there, the decision was taken to move to the beautiful university city of Salamanca in 1988: this was done principally to give our students the possibility of attending the Pontifical University (established by Pius XII in 1940, restoring the ancient Salmantino tradition of teaching Theology and Canon Law to the highest level), thus allowing them access to S.T.L. and J.C.L. degrees.
For some years after our arrival in the ‘City by the Tormes’ we rented a building from the Marist Brothers and ended up buying it from them. This building, while in a very pleasant site, bore all the hallmarks of a Spanish ‘rush job’ of the mid 60’s; these hallmarks were exacerbated in 1992 when we were linked up for the first time with the city mains water supply… and the plumbing system could not cope. The virtually continuous presence of plumbers and electricians convinced us that drastic measures were needed… and we took them.
Having taken architectural advice from Scotland and from Spain, we embarked on the great adventure of la reforma; a process which, painful though it sometimes was, has given us the building we solemnly blessed in October 1996 and now occupy with pride (and comfort).
For several years, the life of the College continued relatively undisturbed – the seminarians continuing to study at the Pontifical University of Salamanca and each year a few completing and returning home for ordination – but by the early 2000s it was clear that the numbers of men entering seminary from Scotland was in decline. As a result, the Scottish bishops took the (difficult) decision in 2002 to close the College to new seminarians and to transfer the existing community (with the exception of those in the final stages of studies) to the pontifical Scots College in Rome. The final ordinations from the College took place in 2004.
At that point, the College entered a new phase of its mission: serving the wider needs of the Church in Scotland. A number of priests came for sabbatical and further studies at the University. In addition, groups of clergy would come to attend “in-service” courses on Scripture, Liturgy, Spirituality and other pastoral and theological themes, or retreats, organised under the auspices of Priests for Scotland. Moreover, parish groups from around Scotland, groups of school pupils – primary and secondary alike – and ecumenical retreat and study groups made use of the College’s fine facilities to spend time exploring this part of Spain, the cultural and spiritual legacies of some of its best-known inhabitants, such as St Teresa of Ávila and St John of the Cross, and enjoying time of relaxation and renewal.
By the early 2010s, however, the Bishops were keen to see some new initiatives in place which would see the College resume its primary mission of training men for priesthood. In that light, and after some discussion and reflection, it was decided in 2014 that the College would host the “propaedeutic” phase of seminary formation for Scotland’s dioceses – a six-month period of study, prayer, discernment and community living in preparation for the full rigours of seminary formation. Thus, in January 2016, the College welcomed for the first time in 12 years a group of resident seminarians, using the College for the purpose for which it was intended – to train priests for the Scottish mission. Somewhat fitting that it should be thus, given, as noted above, that the College was closed for a number of years in the early 19th Century, to be re-opened and continue to flourish, in 1816, precisely two hundred years earlier! May we still be serving the Church in Scotland two hundred years from now!
May the Royal Scots College continue to flourish and to fulfil the ambitions of its founders all those years ago, “directed to His greater service”!
First part from an article by Denis Carlin; updated from 2000 to the present.
Images from the College’s history