The Salamanca Archive: Journey into the twenty-first century

Guest post by Susan Leyden, Archivist, St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth

The Salamanca Archive Exhibition and Online Catalogue was officially launched by the Spanish Ambassador, Mr. Javier Garrigues Florez on 2nd December 2013 in John Paul II Library of Maynooth University. The online catalogue contains the papers of the Irish College, Salamanca and is currently available at: http://www.calmview.eu/StPatricksCollege/CalmView/

Launch of the Salamanca Archive exhibition and Online Catalogue. From left to right Cathal McCauley (University Librarian, Maynooth University), Rev Monsg Hugh Connolly (President, St Patrick's College), Susan Leyden (Archivist, St Patrick's College), Ambassador of Spain Javier Garrigues Florez.
Launch of the Salamanca Archive exhibition and Online Catalogue. From left to right Cathal McCauley (University Librarian, Maynooth University), Rev Monsg Hugh Connolly (President, St Patrick’s College), Susan Leyden (Archivist, St Patrick’s College), Ambassador of Spain Javier Garrigues Florez.

The archive of the Irish College was brought to St Patricks College, Maynooth on the closure of the college in Salamanca in 1952. In total, the collection contains the archives of the Irish Colleges in Salamanca, Santiago de Compostela, Sevilla, Madrid, Alcalá de Henares and also contains some material from the English College in Valladolid, spanning from the late sixteenth century right up to the mid-twentieth century.

The collection consists of over 50,0000 individual items including loose material, bound and unbound volumes all contained in 101 archival boxes. It contains the formal records regarding the administrative, financial and general administration of the Irish College, along with the personal records of the Rectors who passed through the colleges’ lifetime. One can find items as varied as:

Student oaths, rectors private records, particular and private accounts, leases of property owned by the Irish College, receipts, book of income and daily expenses, correspondence, petitions, official ledgers, book of vows, patents and testimonials, bulls and briefs, royal documents, proclamations and decrees, title deeds, execution of wills, papers concerning estates, rents and royalties, mortgages and annuities.

From 1574 onwards Irish students, lay and clerical, had been coming to Salamanca in an effort to acquire, through Spanish generosity, the education they found so difficult to obtain at home. The main reason for this difficulty was the takeover of Ireland by the Protestant English state in the Tudor conquest of Ireland since 1534 resulting in a massive exile from the country. These exiles came to the continent where they were able to find educational and economic opportunities and a better quality of life in general.

Group photograph of seminarians of the Irish College, Salamanca with rector Rev Denis J O'Doherty and a visiting Archbishop. May 1930
Group photograph of seminarians of the Irish College, Salamanca with rector Rev Denis J O’Doherty and a visiting Archbishop. May 1930

The Irish College in Salamanca was founded by Rev. Thomas White who secured patronage from Philip II of Spain by means of a royal decree issued in Valladolid on 2 August 1592. This decree is often considered the inception of the Irish college in the city, known as the Real College de San Patricia de Nobles Irlandeses and officially gave Rev White the support and permission to establish an Irish College in Salamanca specifically to educate and form Irish priests.

Copy of official letter from King Philip II giving his support towards the foundation of a Regale Collegium Nobilium Hibernorum, regarded as the first and foremost of the Irish Colleges on the Iberian Peninsula. 12 August 1592
Copy of official letter from King Philip II giving his support towards the foundation of a Regale Collegium Nobilium Hibernorum, regarded as the first and foremost of the Irish Colleges on the Iberian Peninsula. 12 August 1592

Irish students destined for the priesthood arrived in the Iberian Peninsula usually with some knowledge of Latin and the humanities received in the network of informal secondary schools in Ireland. Normally they entered the seminary at about eighteen years of age. Once in Spain, they enrolled for the prescribed study of arts and philosophy before moving on to theology and canon law. The whole course of study lasted seven years.

By the mid 1700’s, the Irish College in Salamanca was so firmly established that when Charles III expelled the Jesuits from Spain in 1767, the College continued its existence under royal protection. It survived the French invasions during the Peninsular Wars but had to move to a new location in el palacio del Arzobispo, the Fonseca Palace. It is here where they eventually stayed until the closure of the college in 1952.

Account book for the general expenses of the Irish College, Salamanca 1780
Account book for the general expenses of the Irish College, Salamanca 1780

By the early 1900’s most of the Irish colleges in Spain had amalgamated to the Irish College in Salamanca, partly because they were unable to finance themselves independently but also because of an improvement in education opportunities and a more tolerant situation in Ireland. A national seminary for Catholics at St Patricks Maynooth had been established since 1795, and Catholic emancipation came in 1829. But the Irish college at Salamanca held fast to its position throughout the century.

However by the 1950’s, the College building, which was over four hundred years old, was in need of extensive repairs of which the college had no way to finance. The only solution seemed to be to sell the College. A compromise was arrived at whereby the College was given to the University of Salamanca on condition that the money realized from the sale of the Pendueles villa, lands and investments be given partly to the Irish College in Rome, and partly to establish scholarships. The Colegio Mayor del Arzobispo Fonseca has now been renovated as a university residence and cultural centre. It is still to this day known as El Colegio de los Irlandeses.

El palacio del Arzobispo Fonseca, Salamanca. The Irish College resided in this building between 1838-1952 and to this day it is still known as El Colegio de los Irlandeses.1926.
El palacio del Arzobispo Fonseca, Salamanca. The Irish College resided in this building between 1838-1952 and to this day it is still known as El Colegio de los Irlandeses.1926.
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