Rorate Caeli

Merry del Val - Part 1

OF Cardinal. R. Merry del Val

Secretary of State of St. Pius X

Part 1
Beside the exceptional and amiable figure of St. Pius X, we have, in marvellous splendor, the figure no less exceptional and extraordinary, of his Secretary of State, Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val. Of noble birth, but still more of noble aspirations, as from the first years of his life he had one unique and most noble goal: to be a Priest of God.


Born on the 10th October 1865 in London, to the Spanish Marquis of Irish descent, Rafael Merry del Val, and to the Countess Josephine de Zulueta, English but of Spanish descent, the future Secretary of State received Baptism the following day, and was named Rafael. The prestigious Del Val family, illustrious due to the nobility of their blood no less than for their virtues, could boast that amongst their ancestors there was a martyr of the Church: Little St. Domingo del Val ... .  The future Cardinal nourished a very special devotion to him.

Rafael Merry del Val was, therefore, an aristocrat , but far from being fascinated by noble society, he demonstrated even from his infancy the signs of a divine calling.  At only eight years of age, when asked by an elderly Jesuit what he wanted to be when he grew up, he replied: “I want to be a priest.” And when he was saying goodnight to his parents that evening, he drew out of his sleeve a biscuit and raising it on high, said: “I will do this with the host when I become a priest.” He would also, from time to time during meals, take a glass of water and a biscuit, and raising it a little would exclaim: “This is what I will do when I celebrate the Mass.” Having learned at an early age to serve the Holy Mass, he took delight in preparing little altars and imitating the sacred ceremonies, as well as speaking of these things with various priests who, with admiration, perceived in the young Rafael the divine calling.

One day, whilst out walking with his governess, a funeral cortege was passing by. The little Rafael took off, mingling with the crowd which was following the coffin. When the governess after an anxious search finally found him and asked him why he had done such a thing, he answered candidly: “Mother told me that those who die go to Paradise: and I also want to go to paradise with that deceased person.” The Mother of the future Cardinal recounted also that on another occasion, whist she was explaining to him the meaning of papal infallibility, she decided to test him. Taking a book bound in black in her hand, she asked him: “Rafael, if the Pope said that this book is bound in white, what would you say about that?” The little boy, after a moment’s reflection replied: “Mother, the Pope would not be able to say such nonsense,” showing – by his reply – the acuteness of his most refined intelligence.

Having been confirmed and received his First Holy Communion, he started classical studies first at Namur and then at Brussels, distinguishing himself not only for his quick intelligence, but also, and above all, for his angelic piety, recognized and admired by all and which merited him the honour of being chosen to serve the Mass on the occasion of the first Holy Communion of Prince Baldwin and Princess Henrietta, Duchess of Vendòme.

In study and prayer, under the watchful care of his parents and tutors, the young Rafael cultivated his aspiration to become a priest in the secret of his soul. He took pleasure in sports in which he excelled, whilst he felt an instinctive repugnance for high society.

One day, in order to test the firmness of his proposition, his father asked him: “How will you become a priest Rafael, since you love sport, games and horse-riding so much?” “For God one can and must sacrifice everything,” was the irrevocable reply of the youth.

Rafael had by now decided to follow the voice of the divine Master, Who had been calling him for some time to become a priest. The ideal which had accompanied the divine calling from the beginning, was the conversion of the Anglicans. Born in England, the young Rafael perceived immediately the necessity of dedicating himself to the conversion of the land of his birth, which was sadly disunited from the Catholic Church. This would be the supreme aspiration of the future Cardinal which would never be overshadowed, not even when he was entrusted with the most distinguished duties which would bring him to the summit of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. It would be the supreme aspiration of his life which he wanted engraved on his tomb: “Da mihi animas, coetera tolle.”

Thus, at the age of eighteen, heedless of the voice of blood and noble descent, he entered the prestigious seminary of Ushaw to begin his priestly studies.      

To be continued
“Never act with a view to pleasing the world. Let us have the strength to bear criticisms and the disapproval of the world. Let us have no human respect. Provided that God is pleased, what does the rest matter?” Card. R. Merry del Val

In the arcosolium next to the Tomb of Pius XI, is the sarcophagus of Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val, the titular of the church of St Praxedes, former Secretary of State of St Pius X and the Archpriest of the Vatican basilica. The titles justify his burial in the Vatican grottoes.

From De vita Contemplativa, The Franciscans Sister of the Immaculate, Italy
(Contribution and translation: Francesca Romana)


  1. Thank you.

    Since I first "met" him in Rome, courtesy of a good priest I knew in Rome some years ago who is now a bishop in the US, I have developed a deep devotion to Cdl. Merry del Val.

    I do hope his cause can be revived. The world would be better were there more men of his calibre at work in the Church and the world.

    The late Abbe Quoex is another soul of this sort, IMO.

  2. Thank you for this series on Cardinal del Val. He should be more well known than he is. Maybe, those Modernists, who couldn't take revenge on Pope St. Pius X, have done so with dear Cardinal del Val.

    With just a few exceptions try and find his writings and books about him, it is very difficult. This holy man and Prince of the Church should have been raised to the altars but having read much about his humility I am sure he is lobbying not to be raised.

    Thank you again Rorate Caeli.

  3. Prof. Basto12:55 AM

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  4. Roman Catholic1:04 AM

    Here's an interesting story about the life of Merry Del Val, taken from the website of the Abbey of St. Joseph de Claival, France:

    "On December 31, 1891, Leo Xlll called him (Merry Del Val) in the capacity of Secret Chamberlain, a post that made him one of those closest to the Pope. The young priest then realized that he would be unable to realize his goal of devoting himself to the care of souls. He confided his difficulty to the Supreme Pontiff, revealing his most intimate aspirations and begging him to allow him to follow his vocation as a simple priest. The Pope answered him, "Tell me, Monsignor, are you willing to obey the Pope and serve the Church?" "Yes, if your Holiness orders it." "Good," concluded the Holy Father. Msgr. Merry Del Val submitted, and without looking back, moved forward on the path that Providence had chosen for him."

  5. It should be noted in passing that there is no historical evidence that St. Dominguito del Val was ritually crucified. His chapel remains in Saragossa cathedral, but he has been removed from the martyrologies. Though he was supposedly the victim of a Jewish plot to magically kill all the Christians of Saragossa circa 1250, his legend does not appear until the 1500s and no trace of his alleged martyrdom or his cult can be found prior to that time. His legend is a variation of the discredited blood libel.

  6. Cardinal de Val, of course, is not to be faulted for believing this story.

  7. You state that Cardinal Merry del Val "received Baptism the following day (after his birth), and was named Rafael".

    While not in itself wrong, this is not entirely true. His father, Don Rafael, noted in his diary: "My second son was born in London at eight minutes after ten o'clock, on the morning of October 10, 1865, at 33 Portman Square, Gloucester Place. He was baptised on the following day by Canon Hearn in the Spanish chapel, and was named Rafael, Mary, Joseph, Peter, Francis Borgia, Domingo del Val, Gerard of the Blessed Trinity."

    Crazy name, crazy guy.

  8. Gratias7:57 AM

    A life of service to the Church. Something we should all aim for.

  9. I think he wrote the litany of humility:

    O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

    From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus.

    That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
    That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
    That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
    That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
    That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
    That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
    That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

  10. Anonymous3:13 PM

    Thank you for mentioning Cardinal del Val.Sadly his beautiful house was demolished. I'm not sure, but I bring to mind, that at this place the "Aula delle Udienze Pontificie" was built. Perhaps you can show a photo of this lost house.

  11. Frank Sheed on his meeting with MDV:

    "On the Hyde Park platform one Sunday I was discussing the Incarnation with a heckler. I was fairly new to the doctrine myself, and the heckler and I were soon out of our only slightly different depths. There was a cleric in the crowd, not looking happy. When I got down I spoke to him.

    “Are you a priest?’
    “A Catholic priest?”
    “A Roman Catholic priest?”
    “Didn’t I make a mess of it?”

    As it happened, he was very Roman indeed. He was Cardinal Merry del Val, Papal Secretary of State… The Cardinal had fortunately listened to other speakers besides me. He told [London’s] Cardinal Bourne of his satisfaction with the work. In due course we were given by Rome the canonical status of catechists, with an indulgence granted each time we spoke outdoors. "

  12. The Litany of Humility is posted on the wall of the office of Justice Clarence Thomas, as he himself confirmed to me last year at a function I was able to attend.

  13. Thank you, this is superb, he was such a holy man.

    There is also a prayer for his cause:

    "Most Holy Redeemer and Lord Jesus Christ who didst vouchsafe to endow Thy servant Cardinal Merry del Val with choicest gifts so that from the height of his dignity should shine the priestly virtues of charity, of zeal for the salvation of souls and of Christian mortification, we beseech Thee, if it be in conformity with Thy Holy Will that Thou wouldst glorify him on earth by granting his intercession the favour that we fervently implore of Thy Most Sacred Heart, to Thy glory and to the glory of the Mother of Sorrows whom he so tenderly loved on earth."

    And for Spanish speakers :

    Postulator : Fr Tommaso Amable Diez Pontifical Spanish College Via Torre Rossa 2, 00165 Roma

    Mailing Address: Palazzo delle Congregazioni, 00193 Roma, Piazza Pio XII, 10 • Telephone: Fax:

    I hope these details are correct, might have changed.

  14. J. G. Ratkaj7:52 PM

    The epochal pontificate of Saint Pius X can not be interpreted without to appreciate Cardinal Merry DEL Val, his most faithful servant, merits. This intriguing portrait of Cardinal DEl Val and Papa Sarto in his private studiolo illustrates that excellently. After St. Pius X passed away Merry DEl Val had to suffer accept bitter humiliation. I just want to recall that when the new Pontiff was elected Cardinal Del Val was given 48 hours to leave his office and dwelling in the Appartamento Borgia. When I stay in Rome, I regularly visit his tomb for prayer. It is a gracious place.

  15. Loyolakiper8:38 PM

    New Catholic what are you trying to get at by mentioning that the Cardinal's relative was not crucified to the cathedral by an angry mob of Jews? Your proof of this is that there was too long of a gap between the incident and the recording of it in the martyrologies... You claim there was no cult prior to this time, but there must be in order for it to have been placed in the martyrolgies in the first place. I did not realize that the span of time between the person and the "legend" could deny the historicity of an event, much less uncanonize a saint. What ever will Joan of Arc think of this? Or maybe yet, I will stop praying to St. Christopher since he has been removed from the calendar as nothing more than a "legend".

  16. Prof. Basto10:22 PM

    What is the current state of his process of beatification?


    I have been trying to promote his cause for beatification/canonization by word of mouth and blogging!
    He is such a holy example of priesthood, and we need him to be recognized in these times of confusion and turmoil in the Church, even though he did not wish to be "noticed" during his life on earth.
    May he be canonized very soon, as we can pray for this. Prayers for him and by him can be found in the book, THE SPIRITUAL WRITINGS of RAPHAEL CARDINAL MERRY DEL VAL from Angelus Press. It is awesome.

  18. New Catholic what are you trying to get at by mentioning that the Cardinal's relative was not crucified to the cathedral by an angry mob of Jews?

    I am not New Catholic. I, not New Catholic, posted the comment to which you object.

    The legend of St. Dominguito de Val does not mention an angry mob of Jews crucifying him to a cathedral. Rather, it claims there was a secret plot of the Jews of Saragossa to magically kill all the Christians of Saragossa using a consecrated Host and the heart of a Christian child. The legend claims St. Dominguito was seized on Good Friday while he was walking past the home of a Jewish family, and then the Jewish conspirators secretly reenacted the Passion and Crucifixion of Our Lord, after which they removed St. Domingo's heart. The plot was exposed, so the legend claims, when the conspirator who was on his way to complete the magic spell decided to stop into the church and pretend to pray. The Host he was hiding in a book began to glow with great brightness, and the people in the church thus discovered what had happened. The Christians of Saragossa then rounded up every Jew in the city and killed them all.

    That's what the legend claims, of course. As I said, there is absolutely no historical evidence that any of these event happened. All we have are legends and tales that first appear in the 1500s, and a Baroque chapel in the cathedral in which a boy's body is said to be enshrined (with accompanying artwork representing the alleged mode of his death). The chapel, naturally, is a good deal later than the first appearance of the legend. Since St. Dominguito is only a local saint and his cult never received formal approbation from the Universal Church, it's not impossible that St. Dominguito was himself fictitious. That, however, is unlikely. What is far more plausible is that, as happened in the cases of Hugh of Lincoln and Simono of Trent, he was the victim of a heinous murder that was unjustly and without valid evidence blamed on the Jews. Now, in the cases of Hugh and Simono, there is ample historical evidence that enables us to discern what happened and to see how their deaths were superstitiously attributed to the Jews' alleged hereditary compulsion to reenact the Crucifixion and add the blood of a Christian child to their unleavened bread. In both of those cases, convenient Jews were tortured into "confessing" the plot. In the case of St. Dominguito, however, we have no historical documentation that could enable us to determine how he became a "blood libel saint." It may have happened much as it did in the cases of Hugh and Simono, but in the absence of any records all we can do is guess.

  19. Your proof of this is that there was too long of a gap between the incident and the recording of it in the martyrologies...

    Yes, it's a pretty long gap -- not less than 250 years with no trace of this legend. That does not inspire confidence.

    You claim there was no cult prior to this time, but there must be in order for it to have been placed in the martyrolgies in the first place.

    It seems he does not appear in any local calendars or martyrologies until after the appearance of the legend. There is no trace of his cult prior to then.

    I did not realize that the span of time between the person and the "legend" could deny the historicity of an event, much less uncanonize a saint.

    First of all, St. Dominguito has never been canonised (and he has never been named in the Roman Martyrology), and the Church has never formally given approbation to the claim that he is a martyr. He is only a local Spanish saint. And yes, when you have a great span of time between an alleged event and the first written account of that event, that does introduce a good reason to doubt if the event ever happened at all.

    What ever will Joan of Arc think of this?

    We have a mountain of written evidence of St. Joan dating from the very years of her life. We have the actual transcripts of the kangaroo court that "condemned" her.

    With St. Dominguito, however, we have nothing at all from the period of time when he supposedly was martyred.

    There is simply no analogy between St. Joan and St. Dominguito.

    Or maybe yet, I will stop praying to St. Christopher since he has been removed from the calendar as nothing more than a "legend."

    The existence and approval of the martyr St. Christopher's cult has been documented back to extreme antiquity. It's true that eventually people began to tell some very silly stories about him. In the East they claimed he had the head of a dog, which seems to be a garbling of the name of the Egyptian tribe to which he belonged; and in the West they claimed he was a massive giant who carried Christ across a river, which is nothing more than an allegory on his name, which means Christ-bearer. But those absurdities do not change the fact that St. Christopher has been revered as a martyr of the early church from the very earliest of times. Though his cult has never been, and could never be, suppressed, even so his feast was removed from the Universal Calendar during the post-Vatican II liturgical deform -- but Blessed John Paul II restored his feast. There is simply no analogy between St. Christopher and St. Dominguito.

    One must respect the Church's approval of St. Christopher's cult, but there is no obligation to believe he was either a giant or dog-headed (the obligation is more the other way around). Again, one may believe that King Arthur bore a statue of Our Lady upon his shoulders for three days and three nights during the siege of Mount Badon. It certainly could have happened, but there is no obligation to believe that happened just because it was written down by a Welsh Catholic monk. And one may believe that St. Dominguito was martyred by uncommonly wicked Jews, but since we have no evidence to work with, there can hardly be any obligation to believe something as horrendous as a blood libel told about the race of those who allegedly killed him. Hence his removal from the local church's calendars.

  20. And with that, this subject is closed. Back to Cardinal Merry del Val. Thank you.

  21. Loyolakiper4:16 AM

    My apologies to New Catholic for my failure to pay attention to details. Please forgive me.

  22. Louis E.6:24 AM

    With regard to his abrupt ouster after the election of Pope Benedict XV,recall that Cardinal Merry del Val's predecessor as Secretary of State (and episcopal consecrator),Cardinal Rampolla,was similarly ejected on the election of Pope Pius X.

    Some Popes just want their own men in just hasn't happened recently.(When Pius XI died the Secretary of State was the new Pope,when Pius XII died the position was vacant,and the Popes since have retained the incumbent).

  23. J. G. Ratkaj7:31 PM

    @Louis E.

    I know. I served Cardinal Nicola Canali (died 1961) in his later years, who had been very close to Merry Del Val. Card. Canali had been too loyal to criticize Pope Benedict XV himself, but he often told me that Merry Del Val suffered strongly the open animosity towards him by leading figueres then in the curia. His situation only improved in the following pontificate.

  24. On the side issue:
    The popular stories about saints do NOT prove that the saint never existed- but one may doubt many details.
    Again , extant documentation depends : I am reasonably sure that ALL the celtic, especially Irish saints , actually were once well documented: but what the vikings didn't burn, the tudors started in on and cromwell carried on.
    In the Irish case , we have also lost even knowledge of WHAT we have lost!(Compare, eg, what we know was once in Rome, the holy family's census records,thank you Diocletian?)
    Or Again : side by side we have the evidence for St Denis in France BOTH as popular memory written down
    many centuries later AND more reliable history.
    Is the popular story a complete fabrication ? No. St Denis existed,
    and miracles do happen.
    But what seems to have happened is a conflation into one man of the oriental saint of the same name,their varied biographies, the miracles performed thru both, and those by followers, fleshed out ino a coherent story rather than directly falsified by hollywood continuity people as twere.
    If one were to doubt the details of the 1500s? story, it is on the consideration that a lot of clear, modern, skeptical writing DID exist in the capital of aragon :cf 16050ish the report of the miracle of Miguel Pellicer's leg. Clear, lucid. Zaragossa has had it in the neck several times, and much must have been lost , but one would expect a few more cross references. There are enough to show quite an old cult:
    The online Aragonese encyclopedia (journalistic) gives him as a 7 year old cathedral "seise" that would be chorister and/or probable liturgical dancer,( as in Seville to this day.) They give a history of the movements of his remains, from his parish church first , later to the cathedral , later within it, and of a confraternity existing with him as patron renewed in 1403.Quite close to 1250.
    But no bibliography is given until
    1698: Diego José: Dissertación del Martyrio de Santo Domingo de Val, Zaragoza, Imp. Francisco Revilla.
    I would suspect he was a genuine martyr, that there have been miracles ; we may wait until the last trump to be sure of much else.But there's more to genuinely popular old accounts than we give them credit for. There are many , many ways of dying for Christ, there are many ways the devil cons us humans into doing in christians, we humans supply the creativty twisted for this end what he aint got.
    Why not find such a martryr inspiring?

  25. Thanks for the additional details. If the 1403 renewal of St. Dominguito's confraternity can be authenticated, that would be important evidence of his cult, bringing us at least a century closer to his reported martyrdom.

    The lack of any documentation that substantiates the legendary account of how he came to his death renders his status as a martyr tenuous, however. One can be a saint in heaven, and have been a victim of murder on earth, without being a martyr. This may be the case here, as it could be in the cases of Hugh of Lincoln and Simono of Trent.

  26. Jordanes 551
    Quote"One can be a saint in heaven, and have been a victim of murder on earth, without being a martyr. This may be the case here" unquote

    Very True!

  27. Louis E comments: "With regard to his (Card Merry del Val's) abrupt ouster after the election of Pope Benedict XV, recall that Cardinal Merry del Val's predecessor as Secretary of State (and episcopal consecrator), Cardinal Rampolla, was similarly ejected on the election of Pope Pius X."

    Neither of these men being cast into the outer darkness can in fact be described as "abrupt" in the usual sense of the word since its usual usage implies something unexpected. And, indeed, both men were subsequently given both high honours and office by the men who did not retain them.

    In fact, until the transition between Pope Benedict XV and Pope Pius XI it was simply a matter of routine that the newly elected Supreme Pontiff would appoint his own, different Cardinal Secretary of State.

    When Giacomo della Chiesa was elected as Benedict XV he appointed Pietro Cardinal Gasparri as his Secretary of State. Giacomo della Chiesa was a traditionally trained Vatican diplomat. A graduate of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the academia, he had served as sostituto (Secretary of State Substitute for General Affairs). He would have looked askance at how Pope Leo XIII had directed a youthful Merry del Val to the academia when he was bound for the Scots College as a student priest. Doubtless he may have shared a general unease within the academia alumni at the way Leo XIII advanced this Anglo-Spanish son of the Spanish diplomat. No doubt in the days before the consistory which elected Cardinal Sarto as Pius X he was annoyed that the cardinals chose Merry del Val as Secretary of the Conclave rather than the then Archbishop Gasparri.

    But it was for none of these reasons that there was no surprise when he did not reappoint Merry del Val as Cardinal Secretary of State. That was simply how things were done.

    On the other hand, there WAS surprise when Achille Ratti, having been elected as Pius XI, reappointed Pietro Cardinal Gasparri as Cardinal Secretary of State. That was the first time such a thing had happened and simply was NOT the way things were done.

    Obviously, that has come to be the way things are routinely done. But it would be no surprise, were a conclave to be held soon (God forbid), to see the old way readopted and Cardinal Bertone be shown the door. But after that? Well, there would be no reason not to go back to the new way.

  28. Louis E.2:35 AM

    Actually,Cardinal Gasparri was Benedict XV's second choice for Secretary of State,after the death of Cardinal Ferrata.(Ferrata had succeeded Rampolla at the Holy Office,where he was succeeded by Merry del Val).


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