It has been asserted by some historians that as early as the ninth century a course of general studies had been established at the University of Santiago by King Ordono who sent his sons there to be educated, but no absolute proof can be adduced to prove it. The first reliable sources say that it was founded in 1501 by Diego de Muros ( Bishop of the Canaries), and Lope Gómez Marzo, who on 17 July, 1501, executed a public document establishing a school and academy for the study of the humanities, intending, as the document proves, to later include all the other faculties. The founders endowed the school from their private fortunes. On 17 December, 1504, Julius II issued a Bull in which the foundation was declared of public utility for the whole of Galicia and granted it the same privileges as those enjoyed by all the other general schools ( estudios generales ). In 1506 the faculty of canon law was founded by Bull of Julius II . The faculties of theology and Sacred Scripture were founded in 1555 and those of civil law and medicine in 1648, thus completing the university courses which were required at that time. The real founder of the University of Santiago was Archbishop Alfonso de Fonseca, who founded the celebrated college which bears his name. He endowed it munificently and obtained from Clement VIII (1526) the right to found faculties, assign salaries, frame statutes for the rector, doctors, lectors, and students and for conferring degrees. The faculty of grammar and arts was installed in the hospital of Azabacheria which had been suitably arranged. In 1555 Charles V sent Cuesta as royal delegate with instructions to organize the infant university. Knowing, doubtless, the wrangling which generally existed between the higher colleges and the universities, Cuesta's first care was to completely separate the University and the College of Fonseca, both as to organization and administration.
During the first period of its existence, that is from its foundation to the time of Fonseca, among the distinguished professors of the university may be mentioned Pedro de Vitoria and Alvaro de Cadabal, and in the second epoch Villagran and José Rodriguez y Gonzalez, professor of mathematics, appointed by the Emperor of Russia to direct the observatory of St. Petersburg, and associated with Blot and Arago in the measurement of the meridional circle, and many others. After many disputes and agreements the Jesuits were given charge of the grammar courses in 1593, and remained in charge until their expulsion from the Spanish possessions in 1767. The department of arts was transferred from the Azabacheria to the university. The constitutions of Cuesta were modified by Guevara, by Pedro Portocarrero in 1588, and finally by Alonso Munoz Otalora. All these changes were approved by Philip II and were in vogue until the general reforms which took place in the eighteenth century.
The colleges of Fonseca, San Clemente San Martin, Pinario, and that of the Jesuits were independent colleges which were founded and which thrived in the shadow of the university. In the seventeenth century, in this as in all other universities, studies fell into a state of decadence; between the university and Fonseca College arose serious differences which were not settled until the middle of the eighteenth century in time of Ferdinand VI. About this time (1751), however, many notable reforms were introduced, the number of professorships was increased, and more extensive attributes were granted to the university ; a treasurer was also appointed and the rector was named by royal order.
In 1769 the university was transferred to the building formerly occupied by the Jesuits and the faculties were increased making a total of thirty-three, seven of theology, five of canon law, six of civil law, five of medicine, one of mathematics, one of moral philosophy, one of experimental physics, three of arts, and four of grammar. After the university had taken possession of the old Jesuit college it soon became evident that some additions would have to be made, and although these were carried out without any special plan they resulted in a spacious building with a severe and dignified façade. In 1799 the faculty of medicine was suppressed, but it was restored once more in 1801. Canon Juan Martinez Oliva was appointed royal visitor; his visit, however, was not productive of lasting results, the recommendations he had made being set aside in 1807. From then until the present time the university has suffered from the constantly altering plans of the Government which has deprived all colleges and universities of their former state of autonomy. The faculty of theology was definitely suppressed in 1852. The influence of the university in Galicia has been great, and from its halls men eminent in all walks of life have passed. The library of 40,000 volumes is good, as are also the laboratories of physics, chemistry, and natural history. The latter possesses a crystallographical collection of 1024 wooden models which formerly belonged to the Abbé Haüy. The present number of students reaches between 700 and 1000, the majority of whom follow the medical and law courses.
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