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Back to school: The ten oldest universities in Europe

Guess who founded them all?

Back to school: The ten oldest universities in Europe

Thinking of the Middle Ages as a “dark” era in the history of mankind is a hackneyed cliché. This accusation, originally put forward by the Renaissance humanists who wanted to understand themselves as direct heirs of classical antiquity (completely disregarding 10 centuries of history and tradition built on precisely the same inheritance — just think of Neoplatonism and medieval scholastic Aristotelianism, to give only two more than evident examples), is but a prejudice. To undo it, it would suffice to note that the “dark ages” gave birth to, among many other things we enjoy today, universities.

The university system as we know it was developed in Europe around what were then called “cathedral schools”: academies, usually attached to a monastery or cathedral, for clerics who would study canon law, theology and philosophy. Soon, these schools opened their doors to the laity, thus becoming became literacy centers, granting (under papal charter) the very same degrees we still strive for today: bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. We present you the ten oldest universities in Europe, all of them founded by the Catholic Church, as listed on the Catholic Distance University blog.

Bologna

Founded in 1088. Received its university charter from Pope Clement III in 1189.
Founded in 1088. Received its university charter from Pope Clement III in 1189.

 

Paris

Founded in 1045.  Received its university charter from Pope Innocent 111 in 1215.
Founded in 1045. Received its university charter from Pope Innocent 111 in 1215.

Oxford

Founded in 1096. Received its university charter from Pope Innocent IV in 1254.
Founded in 1096. Received its university charter from Pope Innocent IV in 1254.

Salamanca

Founded in 1134. Received its university charter from Pope Alexander IV in 1255.
Founded in 1134. Received its university charter from Pope Alexander IV in 1255.

Cambridge

Founded in 1209. Received its university charter from Pope John XXII in 1318.
Founded in 1209. Received its university charter from Pope John XXII in 1318.

Siena

Founded in 1240. Received its university charter from Pope Innocent IV in 1252.
Founded in 1240. Received its university charter from Pope Innocent IV in 1252.

Valladolid

Founded in 1241. Received its university charter from Pope Clement VI in 1346.
Founded in 1241. Received its university charter from Pope Clement VI in 1346.

Macerata

Founded in 1290 by Pope Nicholas IV.
Founded in 1290 by
Pope Nicholas IV.

La Sapienza, Rome

Founded in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII.
Founded in 1303 by
Pope Boniface VIII.

Perugia

Founded in 1308 by Pope Clement V.
Founded in 1308 by
Pope Clement V.