As a new cohort of students are preparing to travel to St Andrews this weekend to begin their academic careers we’ve been reflecting on where it all began! Six hundred and three years ago this month the University of St Andrews was officially founded. Here, one of our Visitor Services Facilitators at MUSA, Rebecca Jackson retraces the history behind the founding of this great institution.
On August 28th, in 1413 Pope Benedict XIII signed a Papal Bull formally constituting the University of St Andrews.
The early 15th century was a time of discord in the Catholic Church. The University of St Andrews was founded during the Western Schism of the Catholic Church, with two rival claimants to the title of Pope. Scotland officially supported Pope Benedict XIII though by the time of its foundation, many other countries that had initially recognized him had withdrawn their support. One such country was France, and many Scottish scholars were driven out of Paris by the Schism. The Anglo-Scottish Wars of Independence had also driven many scholars from the traditional learning centres of Oxford and Cambridge.
They converged upon St Andrews to begin teaching in 1410. St Andrews was the obvious choice — the seat of the greatest bishopric in Scotland and location of a monastery noted as a centre for learning. In 1413 the University of St Andrews was formally constituted by Papal Bull from Pope Benedict XIII. It granted the University to teach Theology, Canon Law, Civil Law, Medicine and Arts, and other ‘Lawful Subjects’.
So it was that the papal bulls began their five month journey, from the Spanish fortress in Peniscola where Pope Benedict was safely cloistered, over land and sea to St Andrews. They arrived in the town in February 1414 — to be welcomed with bells, bonfires, and great celebration.
The document is kept in the University Library department of Special Collections and for conservation reasons cannot be regularly exhibited. However to view a facsimile of the Papal Bull and for more information about the foundation of the University of St Andrews come to be MUSA!
Rebecca Jackson, Visitor Services Facilitator, MUSA