The People of Gibraltar

1845 - The Loreto Nuns - 3. Mission

William Harris Rule and Bishop Henry Hughes 

In Gibraltar Catholics had enjoyed freedom to practise their religion since its capture in 1704. This had   been one of   the   agreed   conditions   of   the   Spanish surrender. (See LINK)  The business of the Catholic Church in Gibraltar nevertheless stumbled along as it faced considerable day-to-day problems, partly because of the difficulty of finding priests who could speak the language of the people. 

A view of the taking of Gibraltar in 1704 drawn by an unknown officer who took part in the proceedings

Since the Middle Ages the ‘lingua franca’ of the Mediterranean had been the ‘pidgin’ trade language used by various communities around the whole Mediterranean rim. Over the hundred and forty years since the Rock’s capture this trading language had almost died out. Its syntax had once been basically Arabic and its vocabulary taken from Ladino, Turkish, Catalan, French and Spanish. 

In Gibraltar a form of the old ‘lingua franca’ was revived and modified by the flood of new settlers: Genoese and French from Liguria and Piedmont, Moors and Sephardic Jews from North Africa, Catalans and Portuguese, and the fewer than one hundred Spaniards who remained on the Rock after its surrender to Britain.  Proximity to Spain would ensure that the various languages of Gibraltar’s mixed civilian population would gradually blend and mutate into Spanish – with a distinctive slant. Here are some of the roots of what we now call “Llanito” (pronounced ‘Janito’ with an English ‘J’ and perhaps deriving from the Genoese ‘Gianni’, diminutive for ‘Giovanni’). (See LINK)

This Spanish with a lot of foreign words and strange expressions thrown in was peculiar to Gibraltar. It was the common language of everyday use, and hence the main language of the local Catholic Church. Its closeness to standard Spanish meant that Spanish-speaking priests were much in demand. However, the British authorities still considered Bourbon Spain ‘the enemy’ and they were naturally wary of allowing Spanish priests into the Garrison; there were few Spanish-speaking Catholic priests of British nationality available. 
Education in Gibraltar also suffered from the linguistic divide between the resident British forces and the relatively new and growing civilian population, mostly of Mediterranean origin but – over time and when politics allowed – flavoured by the marriage of Spanish women to Gibraltarian men. 

Woman from Gibraltar, Man from Algeciras ( Unknown )

Gibraltar was a British Colony in the Empire “on which the sun never set” and the English language was becoming more important for business and politics. Although there were many small private schools and private tutors on the Rock, responsibility for the education of Catholic children – especially the poor – fell heavily on the shoulders of the few local priests. These were mainly of Genoese, Maltese and Minorcan extraction; they were called upon to supplement the handful of often inadequate lay teachers employed in Gibraltar’s Catholic schools.
In the United Kingdom Catholics had had to wait until the 1829 Catholic Emancipation Act and the Reform Act of 1832 to be freed legally from the civil disabilities imposed on them by British law. After these Acts all religious groups in Britain had the right to be treated equally. Schools supported by non-Conformists, Roman Catholics and Jews were even entitled to financial aid from the Government amounting to a proportion of the sum they themselves managed to raise privately. 

Gradually these more tolerant attitudes spread to the Colonies – at least officially and legally, if not always socially – and what was new for the Catholic Church in Gibraltar was the availability of Government funding; this was welcomed on the Rock.
The Non-Conformists seem to have been first off the mark under the new conditions and Dr W H Rule, (see LINK) a Methodist missionary who was educated in several ancient and modern languages, lost no time in coming to Gibraltar to set up a school for poor children. He taught English through Spanish when necessary and this was his great advantage.  The quality of education offered by his school attracted many Catholic students and Dr Rule admitted all comers. 

William Harris Rule

When girls also began to turn up to be taught Mrs Rule was called upon to help out and the school grew. But the enterprise was essentially proselytising in intention and all students including Catholics were required to attend Divine Service once a week. They were also expected to be present at scripture classes using the King James Bible, not the Douai translation favoured by Catholics. 
It soon became clear that if the Catholic Church was to meet the quantitative and qualitative needs of Gibraltar’s Catholic children some radical rethinking of the educational programme would be required. Bishop Hughes had already taken steps to raise standards for the boys; he now appealed to Archbishop Murray of Dublin, his personal friend and supporter, for help in developing the education of Catholic girls. Archbishop Murray approached Mother Teresa Ball who sent the first Loreto Sisters to the Rock to educate the girls. . . 

Bishop Henry Hughes