Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Archdiocese of Vercelli

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 15
Archdiocese of Vercelli

by Umberto Benigni


(VERCELLENSIS).

Archdiocese in the Province of Novara, Piedmont, Italy. The city of Vercelli is an important commercial centre for agricultural produce. The cathedral, erected and enlarged by St. Eusebius, formerly adorned with precious pillars and mosaics, was remodelled in the ninth century, and radically changed in the sixteenth by Count Alfieri. Like the other churches in the city it contains valuable paintings, especially those of Gaudenzio Ferrari, Giovenone, and Lanino, who were natives of Vercelli. Noteworthy also are Sta. Maria Maggiore and Sant' Andrea. The latter was erected by Cardinal Guala Bicchieri (1219) together with the old Cistercian monastery, one of the most beautiful and best preserved Romanesque monuments in Italy. There is an Institute of the Beaux-Arts, containing paintings by Vercellese artists. There are many relics of the Roman period, e.g. an amphitheatre, hippodrome, sarcophagi, many important inscriptions, some of which are Christian. There are old charitable institutions, like the hospital founded by Cardinal Guala Bicchieri (11224), which has an annual revenue of more than 600,000 lire ($117,000); the hospices for orphan girls (1553), and for boys (1542), and mendicant homes. The archives of the metropolitan chapter contain valuable MSS., including an evangelarium of the fourth century, the "Novels" of Justinian, the "Leges Langobardorum", the "Capitulare regum Francorum", also hagiographical MSS. not all of which have been critically examined, and a very old copy of the "Imitation of Christ", which is relied upon as an argument for attributing the authorship of the work to John Gersen. The civil archives are not less important, and contain documents dating from 882. The extensive seminary contains a large library.

Vercellae (Vercelum) was a city of the Libici, or Lebecili, a Ligurian tribe; it became an important municipium, near which in 101 B.C. Marius defeated the Cimbri and the Teutones, and Stilicho annihilated the Goths 500 years later. It was half ruined in St. Jerome's time. After the Lombard invasion it belonged to the Duchy of Ivrea. From 885 it was under the jurisdiction of the bishop, who was a count of the empire. It became an independent commune in 11120, and joined the first and second Lombard leagues. Its statutes are among the most interesting of those of the medieval republics. In 1197 they abolished the servitude of the glebe. In 1228 the University of Pavia was transferred to Vercelli, where it remained till the fourteenth century, but without gaining much prominence. Only a university school of law has been maintained. During the troubles of the thirteenth century it fell into the power of the Della Torre of Milan (1263), of the Marquesses of Monferrato (1277), who appointed Matteo Visconti captain (1290-9). The Ghibellines (Tizzoni) and Guelphs (Avogadri) disputed the city from 1301 to 1334, the latter party being expelled several times, thus enabling the Marquess of Monferrato to take Vercelli (1328), which voluntarily placed itself under the Viscount of Milan in 1334. In 1373 Bishop Giovanni Fieschi expelled the Visconti, but Matteo reconquered the city. Facino Cane (1402), profiting by the strife between Giovani Maria and Filippo Maria Visconti, took Vercelli, but was driven out by Teodoro di Monferrato (1404), from whom the city passed to the dukes of Savoy (1427). In 1499 and 1553 it was captured by the French, and in 1616 and 1678 by the Spaniards. In 1704 it sustained an energetic siege by the French, who failed to destroy the fortress; after this it shared the fortunes of Savoy. In 1821 Vercelli rose in favour of the Constitution.

According to an ancient lectionary the Gospel was first preached here in the second half of the third century by Sts. Sabinianus and Martialis, bishops from Gaul, when they were returning to their dioceses. The episcopal see was not established till after the Peace of Constantine. The first bishop was St. Eusebius, a Sardinian, a lector of the Roman Church and a strenuous opponent of Arianism. From Vercelli the Gospel spread through the valley of the Po and its environs; towards the end of the fourth century, perhaps even during the episcopate of St. Eusebius, new dioceses were erected. From Eusebius to Nottingo (830) there were forty bishops, whose images were preserved in the Eusebian basilica, so called because St. Eusebius dedicated it to St. Theonestus, martyr, and was interred in it. He introduced the common and monastic life among his clergy, from whom bishops for the surrounding territory were often selected. Among his successors were: St. Simenus (370), who baptized and consecrated St. Ambrose; St. Honoratus (396), who administered the Viaticum to St. Ambrose; St. Justinianus (living in 451); St. AEmilianus (about 500) built an aqueduct for the city at his own expense; St. Flavianus (541); St. Celsus (665); Norgaudus (844) restored common life among the canons; Liutuardus (880), who had been archchancellor of Charles the Fat (deposed later); and who was slain during the invasion of the Huns (899), like Regenbertus (904- 24); Atto (d. 960), reformer of ecclesiastical discipline; Petrus (978), imprisoned in the Holy Land by the Egyptian Mussulmans; Leo (999), chancellor of Otto III and Henry II; Gisulfus (1133) re-established common life among the canons in 1144; St. Albertus (1185-1204), founder of the chair of theology, later Patriarch of Jerusalem; Renerio Avogadro (1296) opposed the partisans of the heretic Fra Dolcino; Guglielmo Didier (1437), an elector of Felix V, antipope; Giuliano della Rovere (1502), later Pope Julius II (1503); Cardinal Guido Ferrerio (1562), founder of the seminary, embellished the cathedral and introduced the Tridentine reform; Gianfrancesco Bonomo (1572) continued the reform and replaced (1573) the Eusebian Rite by the Roman. In 1817 the Diocese of Vercelli, then suffragan of Turin (but previously of Milan) was made an archdiocese, the first archbishop being Giuseppe di Grimaldi. The dioceses suffragan to Vercelli are: Alessandria, Biella, Casale, Novara, Vigevano. The archdiocese contains 136 parishes; 250,000 inhabitants; 447 secular and 33 regular priests; 7 houses of religious (men) and 4 of nuns; 4 educational institutes for boys and 8 for girls. The religious periodicals are "L'unione" (weekly) and "La santa infanzia" (monthly).

CAPPELLETTI, Le chiese d'Italia, XII; SAVIO, Gli antichi vescovi del Piemonte (Turin, 1899), 403; PASTI, Vercelli sacra (Como, 1909).

U. BENIGNI