Celebrating Valladolid – 250 Years

On the evening of the 31st of May 1771, the community of priests and seminarians of the Scots College in Spain moved in to their new home in the former Jesuit College of San Ambrosio in Valladolid.

There, after prayers had been said, in company with the staff and students of the Royal English College – where they had been staying while their new home was being made ready – the Scots settled in to what would become their home for the next 217 years.

It has been 250 years since that major step in our College’s history, the result of the hard work and determination of Fr John Geddes. He had been sent to Spain by the Scottish bishops (or “vicars apostolic” as they were known) to recover the College and its property after its near-loss following the expulsion of the Jesuit order from Spain a few years earlier in 1767, the order which had been responsible for the running fo the College since its founding in 1627. As part of his negotiations, on the advice of Dr Philip Perry, his counterpart at the English College (which had been in Valladolid since its founding in 1589) and with the agreement of King Carlos III of Spain, Geddes managed to acquire for the Scots a new and more suitable home in that city, a change from the slightly cramped conditions of what had up until then been the site of the College in the centre of Madrid. That new home had been a Jesuit College, the “Colegio de San Ambrosio”, but, when that Order was expelled from Spain in 1769, its properties had been taken over by the Spanish Crown, to be disposed of as the King, through an Extraordinary Council set up for the purpose, would deem appropriate. Ironically, it was this same expulsion which had at first threatened the existence of the Scots College – which had been until then under the direction of the Jesuits – which now offered the occasion for its growth and consolidation in a new and more suitable location.

Since 1771, and on after the next milestone move from Valladolid to our current home in Salamanca, the Scots College has been preparing men for service to the Church in Scotland pretty consistently, barring a few gaps during the Napoleonic War in the early 19th Century, the Spanish Civil War in the mid-20th Century, and for a few years at the beginning of this century.

Below is the first of a series of videos recorded by Fr Michael Briody, president of the Ambrosian Society (of former students) and vice-president of the Heritage Commission of the Scottish Catholic Church, on the history of the College and why we ended up in Valladolid at all. These have been made specially in order to mark this 250th anniversary. We had hoped to have a celebration “on site”, with visitors and former students in attendance, a conference and presentation in the Old College itself and a moment of prayer to reflect the one which John Geddes led in 1771. However, with the disruption and restrictions in place at the moment due to the Convid-19 pandemic, this has sadly proved impossible. We hope perhaps to mark it at some future point when travel and gatherings again become possible.

Fr Michael Briody (with thanks to Sancta Familia Media)

This is the description of the evening of 31st May 1771 as recorded by Fr John Geddes, the rector of the College, in his memoirs:

On the last morning of May (1771), and Inventory was made of some things that were left in the Chappel, and a Copy of it signed by Mr Geddes, was given to Dn Juan Campero; the rest of the day was spent in transporting Beds and Furniture from St Alban’s (the English College) to St Ambrose’s, and in putting these things in their proper Places. After Supper that evening, all the Superiours and Collegians of both Colleges passed together from St Alban’s to St Ambrose’s. When they entered in here, they went directly to the Chappel, and Mr Geddes said the Litanies of Jesus and of the Blessed Virgin, called of Loretto, the rest answering. When this was done, the two Colleges took Leave of one another very affectionately; The English wishing the Scots all Happiness in their new Habitation, the Scots expressing their Gratitude for the Hospitality the English had shown them. The English returned home; the Scots retired to their Rest.”

John Geddes, Memoirs of the Translation of the Scotch College from Madrid to Valladolid, #159
Black and white photograph of the front of the Scots College in Valladolid (date unknown)
The front of the College in Valladolid (date unkown)
Fr John Geddes, Rector 1770-1780

Below is the second part of the series on the College’s years in Valladolid from Fr Michael Briody, president of the Ambrosian Society. Here, he speaks about how students over those years eplored the life and culture of Spain, and in particular their annual time at the “summer house” in Boecillo, a small village in the countryside near Valladolid.

Here is the third and final video of the series made by Fr Michael Briody.