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Rafael Merry del Val y Zulueta

Rafael Merry del Val y Zulueta (10 October 1865 – 26 February 1930) was a Spanish Roman Catholic cardinal. Before becoming a cardinal, he served as secretary of the conclave that elected Saint Pius X, who is said to have accepted his election as Pope through Merry del Val's encouragement; the same pope later appointed Merry del Val as the Cardinal Secretary of State. Cardinal Merry del Val composed the Litany of Humility, which continues to be a prayer popularly featured in prayerbooks. His beatification process is ongoing.There is a caveat here.Cardinal Merry del Val was excommunicated because of evidence he had broken the rules of the 1922 papal conclave which elected Achille Ratti as Pius XI.See Baumgartner, Behind Locked Doors, A History of Papal Elections, p.210. Palgrave Macmillan (2003). See below.

Early life

He was born as Rafael María José Pedro Francisco Borja Domingo Gerardo de la Santísma Trinidad Merry del Val y Zulueta at the Spanish Embassy in Londonmarker, Englandmarker, to a Spanish diplomat, as the second of four sons. His mother was Sofia Josefa de Zulueta (died 1925), elder daughter of Pedro José de Zulueta, count of Torre Díaz, of the London bank of Zulueta & Co., and his wife, Sophia Ann Wilcox, who was of Scottish and Dutch ancestry.

The Zuluetas were an old Basque family ennobled as counts de Torre Díaz in the nineteenth century. His father was Rafael Merry del Val (1831–1917), Marquis of Merry del Val, secretary to the Spanishmarker legation in London, a monarchist supporter of Alfonso XII and nobleman. The del Vals were an Aragonesemarker family originally from Zaragozamarker, claiming descent from a twelfth-century Breton crusader; the name of Merry came from a line of Irish merchants from County Waterfordmarker, Irelandmarker, who settled in the late eighteenth century in Sevillemarker. Merry del Val's elder brother Alfonso, marquess of Merry del Val (b. 1864), was Spanish ambassador to Great Britain between 1913 and 1931.


Del Val lived in the United Kingdommarker until 1878. He was ordained a priest on 30 October 1888 after receiving a doctorate in philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian Universitymarker. He later received a doctorate in theology and philosophy and then a licentiate in canon law.

Archbishop and cardinal

In 1891 he became a privy chamberlain and member of the Pontifical Family, having served as a secretary in nunciatures. His continued service in diplomatic posts and in the Roman Curia saw him named Apostolic Delegate to Canadamarker and domestic prelate in 1897 and then President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy (an institution connected to the Roman Curia, in charge of the formation of priests who are to serve in the Diplomatic Corps of the Holy See) in 1899. He was appointed Titular Archbishop of Nicaeamarker on 19 April 1900 and consecrated a bishop by Mariano Cardinal Rampolla, secretary of State of Pope Leo XIII.

In 1902 he was the papal representative to the coronation of King Edward VII, accompanied by Eugenio Pacelli.

He served as secretary of the conclave of 1903 that elected Pope Pius X, and almost immediately thereafter was named pro-Secretary of State by the new Pope. That November he became the first cardinal elevated by the Pope (a traditional reward to the secretary of a conclave) and full Cardinal Secretary of State, replacing Rampolla, who was moved to the post of Secretary of the Holy Office.

Austrian-Hungarian veto at papal conclave

During the conclave of 1903, according to Rafael Merry del Val, Cardinal Jan Puzyna de Kosielsko of Krakowmarker came to see him, demanding to announce his veto against Cardinal Rampolla in the name of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria of Austria-Hungary. Merry Del Val protested and refused to even accept the document, which, in the heat of the debate fell on the floor and was picked back up by Cardinal Puzyna. The College of Cardinals was outraged. Rampolla, according to Merry del Val, actually gained votes after the veto. Later, he opined to Ludwig von Pastor that Rampolla never had a chance, because the cardinals wanted a new direction after the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII. After his election, the new Pope Pius X decreed automatic excommunication on anyone who should try to influence a conclave with a threat or veto.

Cardinal Secretary of State

From 1907s Pascendi Dominici Gregis until 1914 Merry del Val also was active in combatting modernism among the clergy, especially the university professors.

He remained Secretary of State throughout the pontificate of Pius X, and when Pope Benedict XV, an old associate of Rampolla, was elected in the conclave of 1914 he was not reappointed. However, Benedict XV appointed him Secretary of the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office on 14 October 1914. Domenico Cardinal Ferrata, who was in this position since 1913, when Rampolla died, was appointed as the new Secretary of State.

After being Secretary of State, the Congregation was considered an important though lesser assignment. The Pope did not appoint him as Prefect, because at the time the Popes themselves were Prefects of the Holy Office. The post of Secretary was then the highest ranking office in the Dicastery. Merry del Val as secretary was responsible for running the daily affairs of the Holy Office.

Merry del Val reportedly explained Pope Pius's policy of non possumus to Theodore Herzl and his emerging movement of Zionism, saying that as long as the Jews deny the divinity of Christ, the Church certainly could not make a declaration in their favor. =

The reasons for Cardinal Merry del Val's excommunication remain obscure. Professor Baumgartner suggests Merry del Val solicited votes during the election and broke the conclave rules. Baumgartner, supra, loc. cit. What is known is on the eve of the penultimate balloting in the 1922 conclave Merry del Val called upon Ratti in his cell and offered to deliver a block of votes if Ratti would promise not to reappoint Cardinal Pietro Gasparri Secretary of State. The offer was curtly refused.Presumably the excommunication was lifted as Merry del Val held high office after Ratti's election as Pius XI.See Burkle-Young, Passing the Keys, Madison Books at p.24, (1999).


  1. Von Pastor, 696
  2. Von Pastor, 697
  3. Catholicism, France and Zionism: 1895-1904

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