Home > Archives > 04 - 2010 > The historians of Via Giulia
ECCLESIASTICAL COLLEGES IN...
from issue no. 04 - 2010

The historians of Via Giulia


The Spanish Higher Center for Ecclesiastical Studies operates in the heart of Rome. Since 1959 research has been carried out there into the history of the Church in Spain. The priests who live there also look after the national church of St James and St Mary of Montserrat, a landmark for the Spanish “colony” of Rome and all the Spanish-American communities without their own church


by Pina Baglioni


The entrance of Palacio de Montserrat, home of the Higher Spanish Center for Ecclesiastical Studies at 151 Via Giulia [© Paolo Galosi]

The entrance of Palacio de Montserrat, home of the Higher Spanish Center for Ecclesiastical Studies at 151 Via Giulia [© Paolo Galosi]

From Via di Torre Rossa to Via Giulia. Next to the church of Saint Catherine of Siena, in the “Palacio de Montserrat”, a beautiful late nineteenth century building, the Higher Center for Spanish Ecclesiastical Studies has its headquarters adjacent to St James and St Mary of Montserrat, the national Church of Spain. The Center is the second ecclesiastical hub for Spain in Rome. Monsignor José Luis González Novalín, rector of the Center since 1998, received me on the first floor of the building: a concentration of the history and art of the Church of Spain in the heart of Rome. Works of art of a certain importance are displayed one after another: copies of Bernini by the sculptor Felipe Moratilla, paintings by José de Madrazo and his son Federico, and the extraordinary ones by Vicente Poveda: the portrait of Pius XI and depiction of the visit of King Alfonso XIII of Bourbon to the national Church of Spain in 1923, the church where the king in exile in Rome was buried in 1941 beside the graves of the Spanish popes Calixtus III and Alexander VI, before being returned home to rest in the Escorial convent in Madrid, in 1980.
Meanwhile, the tour continues to the main hall, with the huge portrait of Queen Elizabeth II of Bourbon, during whose reign the building was constructed. “Around the big table some of the Spanish bishops come to Rome for Vatican II gathered”, says the rector. “While others were staying in the Via di Torre Rossa and other Spanish-Roman centers”.
Born in Oviedo, Asturias, eighty-one years ago, Monsignor Novalín has lived in Rome for many years. He came to Rome for the first time in 1952 as a newly ordained priest to study Church History at the Gregorian. At the time he stayed in Palazzo Altemps, the old residence of the Spanish Pontifical College. He started coming back to Rome, once a year, from 1960 as a researcher at the Center for Studies in Via Giulia, of which he became vice-rector in 1975 and then rector in 1998. “I had the good fortune to receive ordination at the International Eucharistic Congress in Barcelona in June of 1952”, he recalls. “There were more than 800 of us ordained that day. Concelebration was not yet the usage, so the ceremony took place at the Montjuïc, the city’s old football stadium, in the presence of twenty bishops. Each had his altar, while the Archbishop of Barcelona celebrated at the main one. In October of that year I was in Rome”.

Two institutions in the same building
The building on Via Giulia houses two institutions: the Spanish national church and the Spanish Higher Center for Ecclesiastical Studies. And the priests who belong to the Center also administer the church. “Our whole story began at the end of the Middle Ages,” says Novalín. “The fourteenth century is an important foundation for the other national churches in Rome, as well as Spain, for example, St Louis of France, St Mary of the Soul for the Germans and St Anthony for the Portuguese were also founded. For the benefit of pilgrims who, in life and death, wanted to establish a lasting bond with the Apostle Peter. And, among the Spanish churches in Rome, Saint James of the Spaniards in Piazza Navona, and, indeed, our Saint Mary of Montserrat stood out. They were the two churches linked to the two major kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula: the Kingdom of Castile and the Kingdom of Aragon”. The first, whose patron was St James, was founded and fostered by legacies from Spaniards of Castilian origin who lived in Rome and donations from the princes of that kingdom. In the intention of helping their compatriots spiritually and materially. The other, St Mary of Montserrat, was the church linked to the Kingdom of Aragon, a point of reference for the Aragonese and Catalans. Both drew large numbers of pilgrims. People came to Rome exhausted from the long journey or, worse, ill. So much so that it became necessary to set up hospitals attached to the churches.
In the early nineteenth century, for historical and political reasons, the two churches merged into a single national church. And this one on Via Monserrato was chosen as a permanent location, and then took upon itself the name of St James and St Mary of Montserrat.
It was then in the area known as the “isla de Montserrat”, where some buildings of the ancient institution were then fairly delapidated, that construction of the present building started. Ending in 1862, in the time of Queen Elizabeth II of Bourbon.
Given that, among other things, the need to keep the hospitals going had faded, people began thinking about the creation of a center of ecclesiastical studies, opened at Christmas 1959, during the rectorship of Monsignor Maximino Romero de Lema, who would later became secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy.

A reading room in the Center’s library [© Paolo Galosi]

A reading room in the Center’s library [© Paolo Galosi]

Don Julián Carrón, a welcome presence
And since then what Via Giulia has essentially “produced” is higher studies in the ecclesiastical sciences, related mainly to the history of the Church in Spain. In Rome, the researchers have access to the immense riches of the Vatican Secret Archive and all the other ecclesiastical archives and libraries. More recent research relating to relations between the Church and civil institutions, often leads Spanish researchers to state archives and libraries in Rome. Not to mention that here in house they have the use of a good library specializing in the history of the Church in Spain and of the archival collection of the Spanish Pious Establishments in Italy charity, an organization that supports the activities of the institute. “We welcome priests who have already gained a licenciate, sent to Rome by their bishops according to the needs of the dioceses. We host fifteen a month in rotation”, explains Monsignor Novalín. “Among the many scholars, now more than 600, I recall with great pleasure Don Julián Carrón, now head of the Communion and Liberation movement. He came to us one month a year to prepare his lectures and publications. At the time, he was professor of Scripture in the Faculty of Theology of St Damasus in Madrid. He was especially appreciated for his personality”.
The intellectual activity of the Center is reflected especially in its publications, in four series: the magazine Anthologica Annua a gathering of the special historical research carried out in the current year, the Monumenta Hispaniae Vaticana series relating to papal documents on the ecclesiastical history of Spain; then there are monographs on particular topics, and grants for research, always in relation to the life of the Spanish Church, conducted in various archives in Rome. The volumes in these four series come to over a hundred. “As a result of special circumstances, recent years have witnessed a decline in historical studies, to the detriment of these publications. Our intention, however”, says the rector, “is to give fresh impetus to these studies, adding, perhaps, new areas of research”.
The priests of Via Giulia, who devote themselves mainly to study, are a spiritual reference point for the whole Spanish “colony” of Rome. “Though the spiritual life of our countrymen, thanks to linguistic and cultural affinities with Italy, is nourished now also in the parishes of the City”, the Rector explains, “nevertheless, we keep up the liturgical and community life that befits a priestly dwelling: we prepare, especially for Sunday Masses, and especially for the 10 am High Mass, with relevant homilies and put considerable emphasis on Gregorian chant. A concern that intensifies at Christmas and during Holy Week, when the number of Spaniards in Rome or of pilgrims is greater. Not to mention the large attendance of Spaniards on national holidays: the Feast of Our Lady of Montserrat, 27 April, Saint James, 25 July and that of La Madonna del Pilar, 12 October. But our church also welcomes fraternally all the religious manifestations organized by the Spanish-American communities who do not have their own church in Rome”.


Italiano Español Français Deutsch Português