VENERABLE ENGLISH COLLEGE

Mirabilia is exclusively entrusted with the organization of cultural guided visits to the Venerable English College.

The Venerable English College is opening its doors to the public for the first time, allowing visitors to admire seven hundred years of the history of an extraordinary complex that has been a hospice for pilgrims, the seat of a confraternity, a noble palace, a barracks for French soldiers during the Napoleonic occupation of Rome and, since 1579, a seminary, a role it still plays today.

The Venerable English College, the oldest British institution outside the United Kingdom, has hosted cardinals, monarchs, politicians and intellectuals throughout its history, including Thomas Cromwell and John Milton. It was founded as a hospice for English and Welsh pilgrims in 1362, with an adjoining church dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity and Saint Thomas of Canterbury. By 1412, the English crown had begun to interest itself in the institution as a useful base from which to transact business with the papal curia: soon, English diplomats took up lodgings alongside pilgrims and students. Richard III made donations to the English Hospice and, by the reign of Henry VII from 1485 onwards, it was known as the King’s Hospice: during the Holy Year of 1500, at the height of its wealth, the hospice provided accommodation for 750 pilgrims. In 1579 the institution entered a new phase of its existence: Pope Gregory XIII issued the Bull of Foundation of the English College, and to the hospice was added a seminary. Shortly afterwards, the age of martyrs began: Pope Pius V had excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I and in 1585 she in turn banned Catholic priests from entering her kingdom under pain of death. As a result, the students of the College who returned home as priests faced persecution and martyrdom. In 1654, the College bought the Corte Savella prison, housed in an adjoining property, and a process of renovation began that transformed the complex into a palazzo. In 1798 Napoleon invaded Rome and his troops occupied and ransacked the College and hospice, which fell into a state of neglect. After the defeat of the French in 1818, only the College part of the foundation was re-established and, in the mid-19th century, it experienced a second golden age that enhanced its reputation both in Rome and in England and Wales. Curiously enough, it was thanks to the Venerable English College that the game of football arrived in Rome: in 1892, a group of English seminarians, coached by the rector of the College, began to play a sport that no one in the eternal city had yet heard of. Today, the Venerable English College continues to perform its function, providing education and training for some thirty seminarians and priests every year.

The guided tour leads the visitor through centuries of art and history. The Church of St. Thomas of Canterbury, inside the College, houses on the high altar the masterpiece by Durante Alberti, Holy Trinity with Angels and St. Thomas of Canterbury and St. Edmund, King and Martyr, dating back to 1581, while on the Tribune (the loggia above the two side aisles), visitors can admire an exceptional cycle of 34 paintings after Pomarancio depicting, in brutal detail, the stories of English and Welsh saints and martyrs. The Martyrs’ Chapel, built between 1680 and 1690, contains beautiful frescoes by the Jesuit painter, Andrea Pozzo, famous for his exceptional perspectives, and also houses an altarpiece by Pier Leone Ghezzi depicting the martyrdom of St. Thomas of Canterbury. The Refectory is embellished by the monumental painting Christ in the House of the Pharisee and the fresco of St. George and the Dragon by Andrea Pozzo. In the other areas of the College that can be visited, a multitude of works recalling the millennial history of the institution are on display, among which: an English royal coat of arms dating back to 1412, once displayed above the entrance door; a memorial dated 1525 dedicated to Bishop John Clerk, who reformed the College between 1523 and 1525; a medieval bas-relief depicting wild animals; the carved ends of the wooden beams of the church dating back to the Middle Ages; coats of arms and portraits of English cardinals from the 16th century onwards; and, finally, the garden containing interesting fragments from the ancient medieval church.

Mirabilia is exclusively entrusted with the organization of cultural guided visits to this extraordinary architectural complex of great historical and artistic value, on behalf of the Venerable English College.

Guided tours of the Venerable English College will begin in September 2024, will take place every Saturday, and reservations will be available starting in June on this website.

Venerable English College
Via di Monserrato 45
00186 Rome – Italy