Six months after Manuel de Calatayud arrived as rector at the English College of St Alban’s in Valladolid in 1671, he presented his superiors with plans to build a larger chapel. It needed to cope with the increasing devotional demand the statue of Our Lady Vulnerata had awakened since its arrival in the city in 1600, four years after being shamefully mutilated by English sailors during their attack on Cadiz. Such devotion came in part as a response to the increasing number of miracles that were attributed to the statue.
Father de Calatayud was a restless man, determined and constant, with a great sense of humour and some architectural knowledge. He was clear about the model the new building should follow, having been impressed by the church of San Antonio de los Alemanes and the convent of Las Bernardas in Alcalá de Henares in Madrid. The initial design, made by Father Calatayud himself, was of a circular church, without the side chapels that were subsequently added to the project.
When he presented his idea he encountered opposition and contempt from his community and a warning from provincial of the Jesuits of Castile, whose permission was needed before the work could begin. At this time the order still governed the college, which existed for the formation of English Catholic priests. But the rector was convinced that “once the foundation was laid, alms would rain down.” He believed the church should be ornate enough to compete with those of the Madrid court. The project ran into problems before work had even begun, including the need to purchase adjoining houses, the property of the canons of the cathedral, at “much higher than their real price”, and lawsuits in the Chancery of Valladolid to enable them to obtain the stone to build the church.
The first alms came from aristocrats and religious communities. They did not always come in the form of money – people also donated jewellery and silverware. Each donation was consigned and detailed in a book. When Father Calatayud was accompanied in the region’s small towns by the priest and the legal authorities, almsgiving became almost mandatory. First, he visited the suburbs of Valladolid, before he was forced to overcome his embarrassment and start begging in the middle of the Plaza del Ochavo and the San Francisco sidewalk. After exhausting all areas of the city he moved on to Madrid, where he had to demonstrate considerable patience and lobbying skills. He toured the towns of Medina de Rioseco and Zamora and the cities of Segovia and Toledo. He learned that begging in small towns was hard work and bore little fruit. Instead, he had to go to cities of “great substance”, such as Seville, Cádiz and Granada, which in his mind were part of Castile. They brought their own challenges. Sometimes the corregidor delayed issuing a license to collect alms and Father Calatayud also met fierce opposition from competing causes, such as the Jesuits of Segovia and Cádiz, who felt their own income was threatened.
He also faced everyday difficulties. Living in Madrid was not easy. His family, who were of noble status, did not look kindly on his begging, even if it was to build a church. Travelling in the seventeenth century was fraught with danger. It is worth mentioning the accident he suffered on Christmas Day in Andalusia, when the loss of his carriage meant compromising his safety on the road. On one occasion Father Calatayud, accompanied by a servant, was crossing a stream when he fell and lost his luggage. His adventures remind us of the famous Spanish literary couple Don Quixote and Sancho, who also traversed the highways of Castile.
His adventures remind us of the famous Spanish literary couple Don Quixote and Sancho, who also traversed the highways of Castile.
In addition, he had to contend with adverse weather conditions, since his begging took place during with winter months when the college was inactive. During Lent, he got by with “little sleep and less food”, despite suffering fever and other health problems. “I have forced myself to make a pilgrimage through the world without forgiving fatigue or surrendering to the frequent difficulties that are offered.”
He addressed Queen Mariana of Austria and the then-adolescent King Carlos II, speaking of the miracles of Our Lady Vulnerata and stressing the college’s great importance to the Catholic Church. The monarch was unenthusiastic but did urge the courts and the councils to contribute to the cause. The rector also approached the Prime Minister, Fernando de Valenzuela, appealed to the papal nuncio and spoke to various ambassadors. He was not generally successful in persuading members of the aristocracy to support him, although there were some notable exceptions.
When work on the church was well advanced, the time came to decorate it with an iconographic series of paintings and altarpiece sculptures. These included eight large paintings illustrating the history of the Vulnerata, along with the omnipresent angels so typical of Jesuit devotions. It was also necessary to equip the new church with sufficient means to facilitate salvation, such as jubilees, indulgences, relics and medals. Once the work was completed, plans were made to transport the Vulnerata to her new home, on October 22nd 1679. At first, some religious communities refused to attend – even the Jesuits themselves. There was also the threat that the heavens would open and – quite literally – rain on Father Calatayud’s procession. However, what interested the city’s inhabitants most was whether King Carlos II, who had recently married a French princess in Burgos, would pass through Valladolid. But the monarch, who was not in good health, decided instead to avoid exposure to the wintry weather beside the Pisuerga river. In the following days, nobles and the friars were received by the “English” and the night sky was illuminated by a spectacular firework display. The college records show a culinary feast including Spanish doughnuts and Christmas cakes was enjoyed.
The home of the Vulnerata continues to be one of the least known corners of this city. It is a building brimming with history. As we walk with the diary of Father Calatayud in our hands, his words echo all around and remind us of the constant discouragement he had to overcome to build this beautiful temple: “Let the world laugh at me, for it will enjoy a good laugh.”
Javier Burrieza Sánchez
Associate Professor of Modern History