The English Catholic Exiles

Refugees to Spanish Shores

By Barbara Monzon-Puleo

One little-known consequence of the fateful divorce of Henry VIII of England from Catherine of Aragon is that the fallout locked England and Spain in a political and religious struggle which brought waves of English refugees fleeing to Spanish shores for almost 150 years afterwards.

Between 1533 and 1675, thousands of Englishmen and women fled their homeland for their lives, accused of hiding recusant priests. These English exiles settled in various cities in Spain — particularly in the colder North — and their presence influenced both religious practices and political intrigues in their adopted country for years afterwards.

John Dutton — a nobleman who had accompanied Philip II on his marriage trip to wed Mary of England — settled in the town of Viveiro, Galicia during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Dutton brought many wooden images from English churches to Spain. One of these, an image of the Madonna he rescued from St Paul’s Cathedral, now hangs in the sanctuary of the Blessed Sacrament in the Cathedral Church in Mondoñedo. Known as the ‘English Madonna,’ it is still venerated in procession each year.

Dutton also brought the famous ‘Christ of the Chains’ now in the Church of Santa Maria de Nedad in Corunna. He also sold several pieces to an industrious priest, Alonso Ares de Mourelle, who then distributed the English images throughout his diocese.

Other exiles also seemed to have undertaken the sale of religious images from the port of El Ferrol. These images and statues were brought by Spanish priests to their small village churches, eventually becoming points of interest on the ‘English Way’ along the Compostela pilgrimage route.

The English sent a spy, the infamous Titus Oates, to report the names of the English students in Spain. Twenty-two alumni of the Royal English College of St Alban became martyrs in England.

Under Philip II and his son Philip III, seminaries for the purpose of training and returning 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 was the Royal English College of St Alban. Twenty-two alumni of this college became martyrs in England, including Blessed Henry Walpole and St. John Roberts. The priest Joseph Cresswell authored numerous Catholic pamphlets there for circulation in England.  By 1591, the Lord Treasurer of England, William Cecil, proclaimed Spain “a center of sedition.” The English sent a spy, the infamous Titus Oates, to report the names of the English students there.

Today, the Valladolid seminary still houses the mutilated image of Our Lady of Vulnerata, rescued from the British sack of the port of Cadiz in 1596.

The Church has a long memory. An Act of Reparation for the sins of the English Protestants is performed in that church every single day — more than four centuries later.


TOP: Father Robert Parsons

Featured: The English Madonna in Mondroñedo, smuggled to Spain from the old St Paul’s Cathedral during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

About the author: A Traditional Catholic wife and a mother of two children as well as a retired assistant principal, educator of 29 years, and an historian. Barbara did her graduate work at the New York University, and in Spain. with specializations in religious history and the history of women.


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