English Catholic exiles in 16th century Spain — Part 1

The "English Madonna"

The “English Madonna”

Since the marriage Henry VIII of England to Catherine of Aragon, England and Spain became intertwined in a political and religious struggle which brought thousands of English exiles to the Spanish kingdom between 1533 and 1675. Many of the exiles had being accused of hiding recusant priests.Others escaped the obvious persecution of those who resisted the tide of Protestants. The English exile community settled in various cities in Spain, but particularly in the more colder North which obviously resembled the weather of their homeland, and eventually influenced religious practices and abetted political intrigues.

John Dutton, a nobleman and merchant, for example, settled in the town of Viveiro in Galicia during the Henrician Dissolution. Dutton brought many wooden images from English churches to Spain. One of these, an image of the Madonna he had purportedly taken from St Paul’s Cathedral, still hangs in the sanctuary of the Blessed Sacrament in the Cathedral Church in the town of Mondoñedo.
It continues to be venerated in procession each year as the “English Madonna,. Dutton also brought the famous Christ of the Chains ,which hangs in the Church Sant Maria de Nedad in A Corunna. Dutton, who had accompanied Philip II on his marriage trip to England, sold several pieces to an industrious priest, Alonso Ares de Mourelle who distributed the images throughout his diocese. Word had it that other exiles also seemed to have undertaken the sale of religious images when needy Spanish priests visited the port of El Ferrol. El Ferrol was a popular port for disembarking. The rescued English images eventually decorated small village churches and became points of interest along the English Way in the Compostela pilgrimage route.

Under Philip II and his son Philip III, seminaries ,for the purpose of training and returning the English priests to restore Catholicism in England, were established and protected. The Jesuit Robert Persons, an associate of St Edmund Campion, opened schools in Valladolid, Seville, and Madrid. The most notable of these seminaries was the Royal English College of St Alban in Valladolid. Twenty-two alumni of this college became martyrs in England, such as Blessed Henry Walpole, the first of them to fall prey to the executioners in England, and St. John Roberts. At this seminary, theology and the preparation of priests went hand in hand with Catholic propaganda, aided and abetted by the Spanish crown. The priest Joseph Cresswell authored numerous Catholic pamphlets produced at the college for circulation in England. By 1591, the Lord Treasurer of England, William Cecil, proclaimed Spain “a center of sedition.” They even sent a spy named Titus Oates to gather the names of the students attending. Oates became a seminarian but his Protestant ideas soon got him booted out and he was successful in delivering the names back to the English authorities. The Valladolid seminary houses the treasured but mutilated image of Our Lady of Vulnerata rescued from the British sack of the port of Cadiz in 1596. An Act of Reparation for sins of the English Protestants is still performed in the church daily.


About bemonzon

Historian, Educator. My areas of interest are medieval Spain and England, the history of medieval women, Catholicism, popular religion and Anglo-Spanish relations.
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2 Responses to English Catholic exiles in 16th century Spain — Part 1

  1. Susan Abernethy says:

    Very interesting Barbara. Looking forward to Part 2 and Sharing!


  2. steviepreater says:

    How fascinating. I’ve been to Mondoñedo, but had no idea about the English Madonna


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