History of English seminary in Rome reveals heroic stories of martyrs from Reformation

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20/05/2023
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In 1579, young men from England and Wales traveled to Rome to continue their priestly formation here in secret. 

FR. STEPHEN WANG
Rector, Venerable English College

This was the time of the Protestant Reformation in England, so there was lots of persecution of Catholics and especially priests. So they needed a college in Rome where young men from England could come and train in safety.

The Venerable English College's first years were dedicated to protecting the identity of these men who came to study for the priesthood. The seminarians would assume aliases and each would write them in the Liber Ruber or the Red Book. Today, the College is on its ninth edition. 

FR. STEPHEN WANG
Rector, Venerable English College

It became what's called the Book of the Martyrs. Because these are the men who gave their lives for the Lord.
And the beautiful thing is the very first entry in the Liber Ruber is St. Ralph Sherwin—a young man who arrived here and he is our proto-martyr. He's the first seminarian from the College, who was martyred and gave his life for the Lord and for the Catholic faith.

Fr. Wang says the first hundred years became known as the Age of the Martyrs because in that time at least 40 men were killed for the faith. 

The College honors the memory of martyrs in various ways—from the frescoes that line the choir loft detailing the deaths of many English saints to the relics under the main altar in the Church.

FR. STEPHEN WANG
Rector, Venerable English College

When you walk into the main Church of the College, you can see under the altar a golden box, a reliquary, which contains some of the most precious relics of the College. And three in particular are really important to us. One is St. Ralph Sherwin.
Our two patron saints, which is St. Thomas of Canterbury and St. Edmund, King and martyr.

500 years after its founding, the Venerable English College remains a place of study for seminarians and priests. Its history seems to be a proof of the famous Tertullian quote: “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” 

KG

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