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Santiago Masarnau Fernández

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Santiago Masarnau Fernández

Santiago Masarnau y Fernández (also known as Santiago Fernández de Masarnau or Santiago [de] Masarnau) (9 December 1805 in laymen dedicated to serving the poor, in Spain. A cause for his canonization has been opened by that society.

Early life

Masarnau was born in Madrid 1805 to Santiago Masarnau y Torres, a native of Gentleman of the Royal Household in the 1820s.

Following the family’s eviction from the court, Masarnau abandoned his original intentions of a career in engineering, and went to study music in Paris. He may have been influenced in the decision to leave Spain by political sympathies with the liberal insurgency that sought to depose the king in these years. For twenty years Masarnau divided his life between Paris, London and Madrid. In both Paris and London he was close to the Spanish composer José Melchor Gomis (1791–1836), himself a Spanish rebel living in exile, who composed the Himno de Riego, since used as the national anthem by the various republican governments of Spain. He also wrote some successful operas in Paris and got some respectful reviews from Hector Berlioz, was also active in London, and perhaps introduced Masarnau to London musical life.

As a consequence of his studies and work in Paris and London, Masarnau became acquainted with Johann Baptist Cramer, Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny, Rossini, Paganini, and, it appears, Felix Mendelssohn, who is said to have admired Masarnau’s nocturne, Spleen. Three Scherzini by Masarnau were published in London in 1828, at a time when Gomis was also publishing Spanish-style keyboard pieces there. Masarnau also became a friend of the English pianist and teacher Henry Ibbot Field (1797–1848), and around 1834 became a close friend of Charles-Valentin Alkan (as evidenced by an exchange of letters extending over forty years).[2] Alkan dedicated to Masarnau his Trois études de bravoure op. 16 of 1837. While in Paris Masarnau became, at Rossini’s recommendation, the music teacher of the daughters of the Infante Prince Francisco de Paula.

Dedication to religion

In 1838 Masarnau had a profound religious experience which was to transform his life. As a consequence he determined to devote himself to the poor. In 1839 he came into contact with the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in the Parisian Parish of St. Louis d’Antin. The Society had been founded in 1833 by a charismatic 20-year old lawyer, Frédéric Ozanam (who was beatified by the Catholic Church in 1997), and was conceived as a Christian reaction to Saint-Simonism (which was attractive to many musicians including Ferdinand Hiller and Félicien David). The Society was dedicated to improving the lot of the poor; and although a lay Catholic organisation, it had a strictly male membership.
‘The rules adopted were very simple; it was forbidden to discuss politics or personal concerns at the meetings, and it was settled that the work should be the service of God in the persons of the poor, whom the members were to visit at their own dwellings and assist by every means in their power. The service of the members was to embrace, without distinction of creed or race, the poor, the sick, the infirm, and the unemployed.’ [3]
Masarnau devoted himself to the Society and became treasurer of the St. Louis d’Antin chapter. During this period he turned more to the composition of Church music than of salon items.

When Masarnau returned permanently to Spain in 1843 he remained active in music, teaching in his brother’s school, and contributing to a number of critical and artistic journals. But his main work was the establishment of the Society in his own country. This proved however not to be straightforward – the Spaniards were suspicious of this ‘foreign’ organisation and of its apparently ‘secular’ nature. Eventually in 1850 the Society in Spain was formally founded with the support of Pope Gregory XVI, after which it grew dramatically. Its success apparently aroused some political opposition - in 1868 the Society was forcibly dissolved by the Spanish state and its property seized. In 1874 the Society in Spain was allowed to re-establish itself, and Masarnau continued to lead it until his death.

Masarnau died in Madrid in 1882 and was buried in the Cemetery of the Sacramental of San Justo in Madrid.


On 13 May 1996, Masarnau's remains were exhumed and transferred to the National Church of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for Spain. To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Society in Spain, on 11 November 1999 the Vincentian Fathers, under whose spiritual guidance the Society serves, opened a cause for his canonization.[4]


  • Quadrado, José María. "Biografía de D. Santiago Masarnau". Madrid, 1905
  • Federico Suárez, Santiago Masarnau y las Conferencias de San Vicente de Paúl, 1994. (un Googlebooks)
  • Society of St. Vincent de PaulCatholic Encyclopaedia,
  • Andres Ruiz Tarazona, Masarnau Fernandez, Santiago de, on Fundacion Juan March website (in Spanish)

The Alkan Society,Bulletins,Starting No.88,December 2012,Alkan's letters to Masanau

  • Flores Auñón, Juan Carlos. "Semblanza Biográfica de Santiago Masarnau Fernández". Madrid, 1998
  • "Positio super vita, virtutibus et fama santitatis Servi Dei Iacobi Masarnau Fernández. Christifidelis laici. Fundador y Primer presidente de la Sociedad de San Vicente de Paúl(1805-1882)" Madrid, 2006


  1. ^ Candelas Antequera, María Teresa, H.d.l.C., Sor. "Santiago Masarnau, Primer Presidente". La Sociedad de San Vicente de Paúl en España (in Español). 
  2. ^ Now in the Spanish Historical Archives
  3. ^ Catholic Encyclopaedia, Society of St. Vincent de Paul
  4. ^
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