Connecting People

Royal Scots College – Salamanca

Royal Scots College – Salamanca


Scots College kloisterIt may be a surprise to some to learn that there is a Scots College in Salamanca, Spain. It may be an even bigger surprise to some to learn that The Royal Scots College of Salamanca has ties with Lochwinnoch dating back to 1627 when the college was established. But ties to Lochwinnoch it has as my daughter discovered on a recent visit when she was warmly welcomed as a special guest.

In 1560 the Scottish Parliament outlawed the practice of the Catholic religion. Mary, Queen of Scots returned to Scotland from France to find herself a Catholic in a largely protestant state. Although there remained a few Catholic strongholds in Scotland, the Catholic Church in Scotland was in disarray and it was decided that the clergy needed to be better prepared for their role. As it was impossible to have training seminaries in Scotland, several were created on the continent to ensure that there would be a supply of priests for the Scottish Mission. seminaries in Tournay, Rome, Paris and Madrid. The college remained in Madrid for 140 years after which it moved to Valladolid for 200 years and then to Salamanca in 1988.

The College in Madrid was established in 1627 by Colonel William Semple of Lochwinnoch. His ties to Scottish Catholicism, Mary, Queen of Scots and to Spain can be read in more detail here ( It makes for interesting reading. His ambition, to bring Scotland and England back to Catholicism with Spanish aid, his links with the Spanish crown,his mercenary adventures and the creation of the college are all detailed.

The building in Madrid was gifted to William in lieu of payment owed by the Spanish crown. Despite pressure to focus teaching in the already established seminary in Rome, William argued for the teaching of native Scottish priests away from the protective environment of Rome where priests could be thoroughly prepared for what they would find back home in Scotland. The result, the Royal Scots College founded on 10th May 1627.

“I am happy for you to use the information on the college website if you feel it is of interest.    Fr Charles O’Farrell”


front faciaA question often asked of us (both in Spain and in Scotland) is: Why is there a Scots College in Salamanca.. or even in Spain? The answer begins in 1560 when the Scots Parliament outlawed the practice of the Catholic religion in Scotland. To ensure a supply of priests for the Scottish Mission, seminaries were founded at Tournay (later moved to Douay), Rome, Paris and Madrid. Honourable mention should also be made of the Benedictine monasteries of Regensburg and Würzburg which also provided priests for Scotland in those difficult times.

Colonel William Semple of Lochwinnoch, after a life spent in the military and diplomatic service of the Spanish crown, founded (with his wife, Doña María de Ledesma) a college in Madrid in 1627, entrusting its running to the Jesuits. Their deed of foundation stipulated that the college was for students “Scottish by birth, preferably those of superior character and virtue and those who promise more fruit in the welfare of souls, and they have to spend whatever time may be necessary in studying Grammar and Philosophy, Theology, Controversies and Sacred Scripture, so that when they are well versed in all of these, they may proceed to the said Kingdom of Scotland to preach the Gospel and convert heretics… when they leave the said seminary for this purpose, others are to be received in their place having the same end, and thus the matter will continue for as long as the aforesaid conversion may require”.

front faciaFor various reasons too complex to treat here, the College in Madrid did not produce very many priests for the mission in Scotland and at times was almost on the verge of extinction. Such was the case when in 1771 John Geddes (later to be Vicar Apostolic of the Lowland District in Scotland) obtained from Carlos III the use of the former Jesuit Colegio de San Ambrosio in Valladolid. Luckily, for us Scots at least, in 1767 the king had suppressed the Society of Jesus in his realm and many of the former Jesuit buildings lay empty. The original Cédula Real (Royal Charter) of 1771 granting us part of the building was followed in the same decade by others which gave us the use of more of the building and granted us similar constitutions and rights as had the English Colegio de San Albano, founded in Valladolid in 1589.

From its new base Valladolid, the Royal Scots College sent a steady stream of priests to Scotland, achieving one of our finest hours when by 1798 we remained the only Scots seminary on the Continent functioning when the other colleges were suppressed in the turmoil which followed the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon, although we too had to close our doors briefly from 1808-1816 due to the Peninsular War. In 1812 our country house, built in the village of Boecillo less than twenty years previously, twice played host to the Duke of Wellington and his army in the course of his campaigns against the French. It is also worth noting that in the early 19th century a number of priests trained in Valladolid went as chaplains with the Scots who were driven from their highland homes to seek refuge in Canada; some of these priests became founding bishops of dioceses there.

While the College had a long and fruitful stay of more than two hundred years in Valladolid, occupied a distinguished building in that city and had many friends and pastoral contacts there, the decision was taken to move to the beautiful University city of Salamanca in 1988: this was done principally to give our students the possibility of attending the Pontifical University (established by Pius XII in 1940, restoring the ancient Salmantino tradition of teaching Theology and Canon Law to the highest level), thus allowing them access to S.T.L. and J.C.L. degrees.

For some years after our arrival in the ‘City by the Tormes’ we rented a building from the Marist Brothers and ended up buying it from them. This building, while in a very pleasant site, bore all the hallmarks of a Spanish ‘rush job’ of the mid 60’s; these hallmarks were exacerbated in 1992 when we were linked up for the first time with the city mains water supply… and the plumbing system could not cope. The virtually continuous presence of plumbers and electricians convinced us that drastic measures were needed… and we took them.

Having taken architectural advice from Scotland and from Spain, we embarked on the great adventure of la reforma; a process which, painful though it sometimes was, has given us the building we solemnly blessed in October 1996 and now occupy with pride (and comfort). And why are we still here? Read again the quote from the deed of foundation (making ecumenical changes where necessary): that students trained here “may proceed to Scotland and Preach the Gospel”.

From an article by Denis Carlin