The English College at Lisbon, 1622-1972
The English College at Lisbon, 1622-1972
Simon P Johnson
[Hard Paper]

The English College at Lisbon was a seminary established by Papal Brief in 1622 for the provision of priests for the English Mission.

Funded by the diplomat Dom Pedro Countinho, a Grandee of Spain, the College soon became a focus of Anglo-Portuguese relations culminating in the marriage of Catherine of Braganza to Charles II in 1662 – their secret Catholic wedding ceremony in Portsmouth conducted by a priest from the College. Queen Catherine was to employ several Lisbon trained priests amongst her household chaplains in London, and remained a benefactor of the College until her death.

In the eighteenth century the College extended its work on the English Mission, while also influencing Portuguese political, economic, religious, and social life, particularly in Lisbon. The Great Earthquake of 1755 left it relatively unscathed and, as a British institution in Portugal, the College enjoyed an effective ‘diplomatic immunity’, free from the worst of the Marquis of Pombal's reforms directed against the religious and secular clergy.

The College was to produce a number of priests who were formidable scholars, prominent in the recusant Catholic communities of the British Isles, and in the nineteenth century established a school of scientific study and an observatory – highly regarded both in Lisbon and London.

During the Portuguese Republic the College became a spiritual refuge for the Portuguese royal family – free to practice their faith in the College’s chapels in an increasingly anti-clerical Portugal. As a British foundation overseen by the Holy See, the College also maintained links between the Portuguese State and the Vatican as a quasi-ambassadorial entity, helping to guarantee its survival until the 1970s when the Bishops Conference of England and Wales finally ordered its closure, concluding that the College was no longer necessary to the English Mission that it had served for some 350 years.


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