San Tommaso di Canterbury
is the 19th century church of the Venerable English College in the rione Regola. The dedication is to the archbishop and martyr St Thomas Becket of Canterbury
in England. It lies within the Collegio Inglese, the English College. The college was founded by Pope Gregory XIII in 1579. Many of the priests who were educated there were martyred in England.
There is a tradition that the English presence on this site arose when a pilgrim hospice was founded here by King Offa of Mercia
in 630. Some historians suggested that the first church on the site was built for a monastery in the 8th century. The actual origins of the church here lie in the 14th century, when a Societas Pauperorum Anglorum
was founded to help poor English pilgrims. A purpose-built chapel was erected in 1376 and this is the ancestor of the present church.
In 1527, the hospice was looted and damaged in the Sack of Rome and was hardly repaired in time for the English Reformation which began in the following decade. In 1576, the expatriate Cardinal William Allen obtained possession of the hospice with the intention of turning it into an English seminary. He rebuilt the complex, including the church. In 1579 the hospice was changed to ecclesiastical college for young students of the English nation, today Venerable English College
, entrusted to the Jesuits.
After the English Reformation in the 1530's, for an Englishman to be ordained abroad as a Catholic priest was declared to be treason, and any such priests in England were hunted down and judicially murdered. In 1583, Niccolò Circignani
painted a fresco cycle depicting the Reformation martyrdoms in England of those who had studied at the College.
In 1799 the church was desecrated during the French invasions when the church roof was plundered for firewood and the lead coffins in the crypt recycled for bullets. The French troops the building turned into a stable and later on it was damaged by a fire. In 1866 Pope Pius IX laid the foundation stone for a new church, which was completed and opened to the public in 1888.