Alcalá, University of

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An institution of higher learning founded in 1509 in the ancient Spanish city called Complutum by the Romans and renamed Alcalá de Henares (Alkalá Nahar, fortress or castle) by the Moors. In 1836 the University was transferred from Alcalá to the Spanish capital, where it was replaced by the Central University of Madrid, a state institution under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education.

The original idea of a university dates back to 1293, when the Archbishop of Toledo, Gonzalo Gudiel, obtained from the king of Castile, Sancho IV, surnamed the Brave, permission to found a studium generale in Alcalá. In 1459, during the reign of John II, Abp. Alonso Carrilo y Acuña, with the approval of Pius II, established and endowed three chairs of grammar and the arts. The true founder of the university, however, was the renowned Franciscan archbishop of Toledo, Francisco ximÉnez de cisneros, prime minister of Spain, to whom the Spanish pope, Alexander VI, granted a bull on April 13, 1499, for the erection of the College of San Ildefonso.

At the outset, only clerical studies were planned: liberal arts and philosophy, theology, the elements of canon law, classical and biblical languages required for the direct study of Sacred Scripture and the Fathers of the Church. Civil law, considered less useful for clerics, was expressly forbidden by the founder, who for the same reason also omitted medicine, which was later added (1514) with the approval of Leo X. Civil law, however, was not included by royal commission until 1672.

The University of Alcalá was a Renaissance institution, a characteristic that differentiated it from all other then existing Spanish universities, and particularly from the famous University of Salamanca, which adhered to scholastic ideals (see scholasticism). Alcalá's involvement in the renaissance movement is seen in its two most important accomplishments: the establishment of chairs of biblical languages that constituted the Trilingual College and the publication of the polyglot bible prepared by masters incorporated with the university.

In keeping with Cisneros' plans, a major college and 18 minor colleges made up the university city. The major college, San Ildefonso, occupied the same building as the university. The minor colleges were built on nearby streets. Since the plan was carried out in haste (the university was to open in 1508), inferior materials were used. However, in 1543 the original building was replaced by an imposing stone structure, the work of Rodrigo Gil de Ontañon. Besides classrooms and a dining hall for the major college, the university complex included a richly ornamented college hall, the Chapel of San Ildefonso, a library so large that "not even the majority of European [libraries] could vie with it," and a prison, neither dark nor often used, a kind of detention room for fatherly correction. In addition, among the minor colleges was St. Luke's, a student infirmary that later became a student hospital. One college was founded in 1590 by a Portuguese nobleman, Jorge Sylveira, a descendant, through his mother, of the MacDonnels of Ulster in Ireland. He bestowed on the college an endowment of £2000 and at the cost of £1000 built a chapel dedicated to his patron, St. George.

There is some question regarding the authentic statutes, and several dates of issue are cited. The statutes, however, generally accepted as those regulating the first ten years of the university, are those dated Oct. 17, 1517. The date of inauguration was certainly July 26, 1508, and the first scholastic year 150809. The course of studies, organized the following year, included the Faculties of Philosophy, Theology, Letters, and Medicine, modeled very closely after the University of Paris.

Administration was vested in the rector of the College of San Ildefonso and the vice rectors of the minor colleges, the councilors, and eventually the visitors sent by the king. The curriculum was controlled by the chairmen of the various departments, also called regents or masters. The rector of the major college (San Ildefonso) was elected each year by the students and received his authority from the pope rather than from the king, according to the constitutions. The students were exempt from all other authority. The rector acted as "ordinary and proper judge," a custom that gave rise to the "university forum" or "tribunal."

A rigid system of examinations, which was completely separate from teaching, was entrusted to a board of doctors not connected with instruction. This necessitated choosing the best-prepared students for the severe ordeal of examination. Those who passed were awarded successively the degree of bachelor, licentiate, and doctor, or in philosophy, master.

Among outstanding masters at the University of Alcalá were Antonio de Nebrija in humanities; thomas of villanova and Gaspar Cardello in philosophy; and Francisco Valles in medicineall of whom were deans of their faculties and had the satisfaction of teaching students who were also outstanding in sanctity, such as ignatius of loyola and john of avila; in diplomacy, Próspero Espínola Doria; in the pacification of Peru, Pedro Lagasca; in Sacred Sciences, Diego laÍnez, theologian at Trent, and Luis de molina, founder of Molinism; and in letters, Francisco de Quevedo, and perhaps Felix de Vega Carpio.

The reform, introduced by the centralized state in the 18th century, sapped the autonomous vitality of the university and finally, in the early 19th century, brought to an end this famous center of culture.

Bibliography: h. rashdall, The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages, ed. f. m. powicke and a. b. emden, 3 v. (new ed. Oxford 1936). j. urriza, La preclara Facultad de Arte y Filosofía de la Universidad de Alcalá de Henares en el siglo de oro, 15091621 (Madrid 1941). f. c. sÁinz de robles, Esquema de una historia de las universidades españolas (Colección Crisol 74; Madrid 1944). c. m. ajo g. y sÁinz de zÚÑiga, Historia de las universidades hispánicas (Madrid 1957). s. d'irsay, Histoire des universités françaises et étrangères des origines à nos jours, 2 v. (Paris 193335). l. a. munoyerro, La Facultad de Medicina de Alcalá de Henares (Madrid 1945).

[j. urriza]

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Alcalá, University of

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