25 June 2020, The Tablet

Catholic emancipation and the Milan connection

St Charles Borromeo

Catholic emancipation and the Milan connection

The Trinity depicted in the Grade I-listed St Charles Borromeo Church in Hull
Photo: Alex Ramsay


This year marks the 170th anniversary of the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales. The template the bishops followed in their ministry and in the building of churches and seminaries was set for them by a great reforming archbishop of Milan

There are probably more churches dedicated to St Charles Borromeo in England than anywhere else in Europe except Italy. These churches reflect the legacy of the reforming Archbishop of Milan and his extraordinary influence on the Catholic Church in England.

This influence began in Borromeo’s lifetime, endured through penal times and reached a zenith in the nineteenth century. He is linked to the flowering of the English seminaries and the development of a unique architectural style for Catholic churches. In addition, the first archbishops of Westminster consciously emulated his ministry to the sick and destitute of Milan.

Charles Borromeo was born in 1538, a member of an aristocratic family in Lombardy and related to the Medici, one of whom was an uncle, Pope Pius IV. He was to make Borromeo a cardinal. He organised the third and last session of the Council of Trent and was prominent in drafting the Tridentine Catechism. He later came under pressure to relinquish the religious life and marry to continue the family dynasty. Instead he chose to be a priest and, in 1566, embarked on reforms in his Archdiocese of Milan. He died in 1584.

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