The Infant Christ Distributing Bread to Pilgrims, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Oil on canvas, 219 x 182 cm, 1679, Budapest, Szépművészeti Múzeum, inv. 777

In 1676 the precarious situation of numerous poor and elderly priests, who found themselves obliged to beg in order to survive, led Justino de Neve and other leading figures in Seville such as Archbishop Ambrosio Ignacio de Spínola (1632–1684) to support the creation of this Confraternity and the construction of the Hospital de los Venerables Sacerdotes between 1676 and 1695. The Hospital, with its church, refectory, infirmary and priests’ cells, was constructed around a large central courtyard. One of the numerous charitable foundations that were established in the wake of the economic crisis suffered by the city of Seville, it reflected the Catholic Church’s new emphasis on charity. In addition to looking after and feeding homeless priests, the Hospital also gave lodging to travelling clergymen.

The building housed four paintings by Murillo, none of which remained in Seville after the withdrawal of the Napoleonic troops in 1813. They are the Portrait of Justino de Neve, which the sitter bequeathed to the Hospital with the express wish that the priests offer prayers to God for his soul; The Virgin and Child distributing Bread to Priests, which was commissioned from Murillo to be hung in the refectory; and two further canvases that were in the church, The Immaculate Conception of the Venerables Sacerdotes, acquired by the Confraternity in 1686 on Neve’s death and shown here for the first time since 1813 in its original frame (still in situ in the Hospital), and The Penitent Saint Peter, which has not been displayed in public since the nineteenth century.

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