Julian Watts-Russell: An Interview with Father Armellini, S.J. March 1894

Julian Watts-Russell was a Pontifical Zouave, who was killed in the battle of Mentana, Nov. 3, 1867. “A monument had been erected to Julian Watts-Russell on the site of his death, and his heart had been buried there.” In 1894,  the Rev. Mr. Lindsay who had just arrived in Rome, to study at the Academia Ecclesiastica,  prior to his ordination the following year, ” found the monument in the cellar of the principal café of the little village” of Mentana.  “By his generous care it was brought from Mentana to Rome on Friday, February 23,”..it will be erected in the Church of St. Thomas, adjoining the [English] College.

It’s not entirely clear why Father Lindsay was searching for any traces of Julian, but there seems to be some sort of family connection. By this point, there are rather dubious references being made to him as “one who may be called the last of the English martyrs “, The Tablet 3rd March 1894, and what almost seems to be a campaign to have him regarded as such.  English martyrs were fashionable in Rome at the time, the Pope had beatified John Fisher and Thomas More eight years earlier, along with a further fifty two English martyrs. Another nine were to follow in 1895.

This is the second of two articles published about Julian Watts-Russell on St Patrick’s Day 1894, and is an interview with his spiritual confessor.

Palazzo Borromea, Rome

No sort of difficulty attaches to a visit to Father Armellini, S.J.  [According to a note in the article, he was the postulator of the cause of the English Martyrs.]  He lives in the Via del Seminario at the Palazzo Borromea, become, after many phases of transformation, the Gregorian University, and known, by autonomasy, as the Roman College. It is only a question of finding the room of the particular Father you want among the many who live there, and of making the porter sure of your integrity. Thus the supernumerary porters are dispensed from running on multitudinous errands. The house is the residence of the Roman Provincial [of Jesuits], the teaching fathers forming only a nucleus of the’ community.

Father Armellini was at home, and at once most graciously acceded to my request for an interview, and spontaneously gave me a most interesting account of all that he remembered about Julian Watts-Russell.

“You had more to do with Julian Watts-Russell during his stay in Italy, than any other priest, not excepting even Father Cardella, who, for the rest, may be considered more in the light of a friend than as his spiritual father?”

“Yes,” he said, ” I had to do with Julian and his brothers from the beginning. They were three and they came to live in. the College of Nobles,[ Another note added:  Many English youths of the best families have belonged to this College, and in particular, the memory of the late Bishop of Clifton is still fresh. The Church where they performed their spiritual exercises adjoins the College, and is dedicated to St. Malo the Briton, and is recorded from the days of Cencius Camerarius (A.D. 1192).]   in this very house, where they stayed something more than a year. I was their confessor both them and afterwards; and I retain the most gratifying remembrances of our relations.

” One day I was informed that two of the pious youths had determined to become Zouaves in the Papal Army. The, third, as you all know, became a Passionist Father.”

” But your connection with them did not end here ?”

” No, I continued to see both the young soldiers frequently afterwards. When the time of war came, they were both stationed in the barracks, which were then, as now, in the Castle of St. Angelo. providing against a possible revolt, which might have been feared from the Garibaldian emissaries, but which did not actually take place, General Kanzler had divided the city into five quarters, and forbidden all intercommunication effectually securing his regulation by placing troops on the bridges and other points of vantage.

Santa Maria in Transpontina

This regulation prevented Julian from coming to make his last confession to me, as he had intended to do. He told his brother that he went instead to the neighbouring Carmelite Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina. I may add that his brother, being then unwell, was not called into active service for the battle of Mentana. It is, therefore, regrettable, from my point of view, that I had not an opportunity of bidding him a solemn farewell. My personal recollections after this are less directly concerned with Julian. But I may tell you that it was noticed at the time that his death was caused by a shot in the eye, and it was also remembered that an English member of the Garibaldian army—a newspaper correspondent, I believe—was a crack shot and delighted in shooting his victims in the eye. He shot from the window of a house in Mentana, and thus had the advantage of resting his gun upon the window-sill. [An interesting piece of spin, ]  In any case Julian’s suffering must have been of short duration, as he died at the end of the battle and in close proximity to the village.

Castel SantAngelo, Rome

” When the news of the victory was brought me, I received a visit from a pious French gentleman, whose name I do not well remember at this moment, who wished me to break the news of Julian’s death to his brother. I was naturally reluctant, but finally ceded to his wish. We went together to the Castle of St. Angelo. When I broke the sad news, the youth burst into tears. I tried to comfort him, saying : ‘ Do not weep, your brother is most certainly a martyr.’ This he at once recognized and then smiled, and quickly added : ‘ Still, let us pray for his dear soul. We all knelt and said the “De Profundis” for the repose of the youthful martyr.”

“This was the most optimistic and yet the truest view of the case.”

“Yes, and it was the view taken by Julian’s most exemplary Christian father. He was at Marseilles when the news came, and he said, with the spirit of true Christian paternity, that if he had ten sons, he would be willing that they should all be thus gloriously sacrificed in so holy a cause.”

” And your general recollection of Julian ?”

“My general recollection is of a truly candid youth, marvellously energetic for the cause of God and the spiritual life, a mere youth, it is true, but endowed with a certain earnestness, which had for its object his own spiritual advancement, and which seemed to foretoken the great glory of his end. In this way he seemed old beyond his years, and his life seemed to be conformed to the manner of his death.” 

The above text was found on p.19, 17th March 1894 in “The Tablet: The International Catholic News Weekly.” Reproduced with kind permission of the Publisher. The Tablet can be found at http://www.thetablet.co.uk .


On September 3, Father Torquato Armellini, S.J., died at the Gregorian University, Rome, aged 78 years. He will be remembered by numerous visitors to Rome as one of the most popular of English .confessors. After the death of Father Boero in 1884, he became Postulator for the Canonisation of the English Martyrs. The energy and perseverance which he displayed in this post helped very materially to the passing of the various decrees, in virtue of which we can new salute so many of our Martyrs as Blessed and Venerable. About three years ago the infirmities of old age compelled him to resign this important office to its present holder, Father Camillo Beccari, S.J. R.I.P.

The above text was found on p.15, 14th September 1901 in “The Tablet: The International Catholic News Weekly.” Reproduced with kind permission of the Publisher. The Tablet can be found at http://www.thetablet.co.uk .

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