Pontifical Scots College, Rome: Scottish-Roman Mosaic

ITASince the times of a largely Celtic and monastic Church to the days of the hidden seminaries and the ‘heather priests’ of the Highland seminaries together with Scalan, Aquhorties and Blairs College (1829-1986), and the forced exile of the seminaries of Douai, Paris, Madrid, Valladolid and Salamanca, the Pontifical Scots College has continued to welcome visitors to the Eternal City.

Over centuries numerous events and many people have contributed to the Scottish-Roman Mosaic. In 2000 the Pontifical Scots College celebrated the 400th anniversary of its existence, and 2015 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the ‘new college’ on the ancient Via Cassia on the outskirts of Rome. Pope John Paul II visited in 1984 and celebrated mass in the College chapel.

For the Quatercentenary celebrations a talk was delivered by the Archbishop of Glasgow, Right Rev. Mario Joseph Conti, who was a student at the College from 1952 to 1959. In part it was drawn from a Collection of Essays on the history of the College, The Scots College Rome 1600-2000, edited by Raymond McClusky and published by John Donald Edinburgh.

Academic formation is entrusted to the Pontifical institutions known as the Gregorium and Angelicum run by the Jesuits and Dominican Orders. The former is the Pontifical Gregorian University and the second is the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome.

A brief history

Records date back to 1471 of their being a Scots Hospice in Rome, which offered hospitality to all Scots who came to Rome on pilgrimage. A church dedicated in honour of St. Andrew belonged to this hospitium. After its disappearance, another church was dedicated to St. Andrew but this time with the addition to the title of the words “of the Thickets”. The origins of this adjunct date back to the 1500s when the church stood alone in a vast area surrounded by bushes and thickets. It became the titular church of Cardinal Thomas J. Winning, Archbishop of Glasgow on 30 November 1994 (St. Andrew’s Feast Day) a few days after he had been created cardinal in the Consistory of 26 November 1994.

The College was founded on 5 December 1600 by Pope Clement VIII and Camillo Borghese, (later Pope Paul V) who became its first Cardinal Protector. In 1602 the first students, numbering eleven, came from Scotland. In 1615 Pope Paul V placed the Jesuits in charge of the College where they remained until 1773. For 200 years Jesuits and Italian secular clergy directed the college but since 1800 the Rectors have all been Scots secular priests. It provided an education for young Scots Catholic men who, due to the laws against Catholics, could not receive a Catholic education at home. In succeeding centuries the College sent a steady supply of priests to Scotland, being closed only when the French invaded Rome in 1798, and from 1940 to 1946 during, and following, the Second World War.

The first college was sited in a small house in what is known today as Via del Tritone, opposite the church of S. Maria in Costantinopoli. In 1604 it was transferred to Via Felice, now called Via delle Quattro Fontane, where it remained until 1962. In 1644 the Church of St. Andrew of the Scots was built beside the College with financial assistance from the Marchionness of Huntly.

In 1645 a villa and vineyard at Marino were purchased for ‘the health of the students’ as a summer residence outside Rome and for the ‘sale of cheap wine’. In 1920 work began on rebuilding the old villa. Its retention was vital to college life, as students did not have the opportunity of travelling home for holidays. In 1967 the villa was sold with the College retaining some land including an olive grove.

Scottish-Roman Mosaic

As well as a house for students for the priesthood, the Scots College has been a temporary home for many other Scots such as Bishops during the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and other meetings, the several groups of priests who have taken part in theology refresher courses and, more recently, groups of pilgrims who come on summer vacation. It has been at the centre of celebrations for the creation of three Scots cardinals, Cardinal Gray, Winning and O’Brien, and it was visited by many pilgrims who came from Scotland for the Canonisation of St. John Ogilvie, the Scots Jesuit executed in Glasgow in 1615 on a charge of treason. His beatification took place in 1929 and he was canonised in 1976, an event largely organised by the College.

Situated on the Via Cassia about eight kilometres from the centre of Rome, the present Scots College is built in a modern style with functional features using traditional techniques with decorative elements, such as bas-relief crosses on the chapel building and use of stained glass. The students presently number eighteen whose formation is attained mainly through prayer, community life and study. The city of Rome also contributes through attendance of students at the Pontifical institutions coming into contact with other students and staff from more than eighty nations. The building also houses the Sisters’ convent.

Outside the front doors of the College there are three papal coats of arms. One is of Pope Clement VIII, the founder of the College, the second of Pope John XXIII, during whose pontificate the building was begun, and the third of Pope Paul VI, who officially opened the new building. On entering the building high on the facing wall in the foyer hangs the College coat of arms. There had been earlier seals and medals incorporating various elements relating to the College but the official coat of arms was approved by the Papal authorities in the 1950s. A marble plaque is inscribed with the names of all the Scottish bishops present at the Inauguration Ceremony for the opening of the new College building on 16 November 1964.

A unique exhibit in the College museum is a Jacobite scroll attributed to Bonnie Prince Charlie: ‘the Prince of Wales and Regent of the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, France, Ireland and the dominions belonging to His Majesty’s Subjects …’ It is the Proclamation of James III as King of Scotland made by Bonnie Prince Charlie on 10 october 1745 at Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh.

Scenes from the history of the Church in Scotland and of the Scots College, Rome offer a variety of art forms including modern stain glass windows, mosaics, paintings and other images in place around the College. One illustrates the part of the Church in the struggle for the independence of Scotland. Two knights and a cleric are seen at Avignon reading to Pope John XXII the Declaration of Arbroath drawn up by Abbot de Linton (14th century). The inscription is from the Declaration.

A message written by Cardinal Gray in the Foreword to the inaugural brochure reads: A college is no mere building in stone. It is a living thing with its own unique life. For us, the old college in the Via Quattro Fontane is no more. But its spirit and traditions are here in the Via Cassia, strong and unchanged. The building possesses character and beauty of design, its accommodation is admirable for our needs and for possible future developments. And the various artists whose works adorn both college and chapel have enshrined in glass and stone, in metal and mosaic, the Catholic history of the smallest nation to possess its own college in Rome.”

A booklet for the 400th anniversary of the College is entitled The Pontifical Scots College, Rome 1600-2000 A History and a Guide. Its sponsors and benefactors are acknowledged for their generous contributions to the rebuilding of the College and the extensive art and other major works on display dedicated to the many saints and scholars who have played a crucial part.

Ita Marguet

Note: Acknowledgement is given to sources used in this text. It follows a visit to the Pontifical Scots College, May 2015. The text is dedicated to two Scots students who died in a car accident near Rome in 1968 who are buried in the official Scots College tomb. It succeeds articles on Irish Colleges in Europe by Ita Marguet.