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Abbey and Diocese of Bobbio

Ecclesial territory in Italy

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Bobbio, ABBEY AND Diocese of.—The diocese (Ebovium, or Bobium; Dioecesis Eboviensis, or Bobiensis), which is suffragan to the Archiepiscopal See of Genoa, is conterminous with the civil district of Bobbio. This district is situated in the Province of Pavia and contains, besides Bobbio, its chief town, only two small villages and eighteen communes. The diocese was suppressed from 1803 to 1817, during which time it was annexed to Alexandria, then to Casala. Pius VII reestablished it in 1818. The population, entirely Catholic, is (1907) about 30,000. There are 52 parishes and 105 churches or chapels, served by 80 secular priests. The cathedral chapter consists of a provost, archpriest, and ten canons. In the diocesan seminary there are at present 40 students. Under Bishop Gianelli a congregation of priests was formed in 1839 under the title of Oblates of St. Alphonsus Liguori. They devote themselves especially to hearing confessions in prisons and hospitals, as well as to spreading good literature among the people. Bobbio also possesses a Congregation of Daughters of Mary, popularly known as Gianelliane.

HISTORY.—The origin of the See of Bobbio, indeed of the town itself, is due to the establishment of a monastery here by the Irish saint, Columban, in 614. The Lombards, with other savage tribes, had invaded northern Italy under their leader Alboin in 568. A half-Arian, half-heathen horde, wherever they passed all the horrors of wanton destruction and cruelty marked their track. But at length the new barbarian ruler, Agilulph, became less hostile and by degrees even not unfavorably disposed towards the Catholic Faith. Queen Theodelinda, whom he married in 590, was a fervent Catholic; she had wonderful influence over her consort, and at last he was converted by the preaching of Columban. From the day of his baptism, Agilulph displayed great zeal for the conversion of his subjects, and for this purpose gave St. Columban a ruined church and devastated district known as Ebovium, which, before the Lombards seized it, had formed part of the Patrimony of St. Peter. Columban had set his heart on this secluded place, for while intent on instructing the Lombards he chose solitude for his monks and himself. By the side of this little church, which was dedicated to St. Peter, soon arose the walls of an abbey. Here the nucleus of what was to be the most celebrated library in Italy was formed by the MSS. which Columban had brought from Ireland and the treatises of which he himself was the author.

The sainted founder of Bobbio was soon afterwards laid to rest (November 23, 615), but his crosier passed into worthy hands. The names of St. Attala (627) and St. Bertulf (640) will live forever in ecclesiastical history. Both were conspicuous for holiness and learning, and both inherited Columban’s apostolic spirit. It was indeed sorely needed, for a reaction towards Arianism set in, which became formidable under the Arian king, Rotharis (636-652). Arioald, the immediate predecessor of Rotharis, who became a Catholic, had before his conversion caused St. Bladulf, a monk of Bobbio, to be assassinated, because Bladulf would not salute him, as being an Arian. It is said that Attala restored Bladulf to life and delivered Arioald from a diabolical possession, the punishment of his crime; and that this two-fold miracle led to Arioald’s conversion. In 628, when St. Bertulf made a pilgrimage to Rome, Honorius I exempted Bobbio from episcopal jurisdiction, thus making the abbey immediately subject to the Holy See. Under the next abbot, Bobolen, the rule of St. Benedict was introduced. At first its observance was optional, but in course of time it superseded the more austere rule hitherto in use, and Bobbio joined the Congregation of Monte Cassino. In 643, at the request of Rotharis and Queen Gundelberga, Pope Theodore I granted to the Abbot of Bobbio the use of the mitre and other pontificals. It has even been asserted that Bobbio had a bishop, named Peter Aldus, as early as the seventh century, but according to the best authorities (Ughelli, Gams, and others) the See of Bobbio was not founded till four centuries later, although recent investigation has shown that the name of its first bishop really was Peter Aldus (Savio,158).

From the seventh century on, in the midst of widespread turmoil and ignorance, Bobbio remained a home of piety and culture. Through the efforts of St. Columban’s disciples, increasing numbers of the Lombards were received into the Church. But during the first half of the seventh century, the large tract of country lying between Turin and Verona, Genoa and Milan, was in a very irreligious and disturbed state; and even idolatry was not unknown. In fact not until the reign of the usurper Grimoald (663-673), himself a convert, was the bulk of the nation brought into the Church. But from that time Arianism disappeared in the West. The historians of the abbey regard as one of its chief glories the prominent part which it took in the final contest with this heresy. Theodelinda’s nephew, the pious Arribert (653-663), restored all the lands of Bobbio which belonged by right to the Prince of the Apostles. Arribert II also gladly confirmed this restitution to John VII in 707. The unruly Lombards soon dispossessed the pope, but in 756 Aistulf was compelled by Pepin to give up the lands. In 774 Charlemagne made liberal grants to the abbey. In 1153 Frederick Barbarossa confirmed by two charters various rights and possessions. Thus it came to pass that the abbots were for centuries entrusted with a large administration of temporals.

The fame of Bobbio reached the shores of Ireland, and the memory of Columban was dear to the hearts of his countrymen. Bobolen’s successor was St. Comgall who had resigned his see in Ireland in order to become a monk of Bobbio; St. Cummian who did the same died in the abbey about 730 (Holder-Egger in “Mon. Germ. Hist.”); and the learned St. Dungal (d. after 827) bequeathed to the abbey his valuable library, consisting of some seventy volumes, among which was the famous “Antiphonary of Bangor“. A tenth-century catalogue, published by Muratori, shows that at that period every branch of knowledge, divine and human, was represented in this library. Many of the books have been lost, the rest have long since been dispersed and are still reckoned among the chief treasures of the later collections which possess them. In 1616 Cardinal Federigo Borromeo took for the Ambrosian Library of Milan eighty-six volumes, including the famous “Bobbio Missal“, written about 911, the “Antiphonary of Bangor“, and the palimpsests of Ulfilas‘s Gothic version of the Bible. Twenty-six volumes were given, in 1618, to Paul V for the Vatican Library. Many others were sent to Turin, where, besides those in the Royal Archives, there were seventy-one in the University Library until the disastrous fire of January 26, 1904. As scholars of later ages have owed a great deal to the Bobbio MSS., so, too, did those of the tenth century. Gerard of Aurillac, for example, who was afterwards Pope Sylvester II, became Abbot of Bobbio in 982; and with the aid of the numerous ancient treatises which he found there he composed his celebrated work on geometry. And indeed it appears that at a time when Greek was almost unknown in western Europe, the Irish monks of Bobbio read Aristotle and Demosthenes in the original tongue.

In the year 1014, the Emperor Henry II, on the occasion of his own coronation in Rome, obtained from Benedict VIII the erection of Bobbio as a see. Peter Aldus, its first bishop, had been Abbot of Bobbio since 999, and his episcopal successors for a long time lived in the abbey, where many of them had been monks. According to Ughelli and others, Bobbio was made a suffragan see of Genoa in 1133; but Savio finds this subordination mentioned for the first time in a Bull of Alexander III, dated April 19, 1161. From time to time disputes arose between the bishop and the monks, and in 1199 Innocent III issued two Bulls, restoring the abbey in spirituals and temporals, and empowering the bishop to depose an abbot if within a certain time he did not obey.

Bobbio’s greatest bishops have been (I) Blessed Albert (1184), who was translated to the Patriarchal See of Jerusalem and died a martyr at Acre in 1214; (2) the learned canonist Giovanni de Mondani (1477-82), whose remains were found incorrupt in 1614; and (3) Venerable Antonio Gianelli (1838-46), whose cause has been introduced. St. Columban’s abbey and church were taken from the Benedictines by the French soldiers in 1803; what remains of the abbey is now used as a municipal school, and the church, where the relics of Sts. Columban, Attala, Bertulf, Cummian, and others repose, is now a parish church, served by secular priests. The altars and the sarcophagi in the crypt present beautiful specimens of the interlaced ornamentation which is characteristic of Irish art. In the Cathedral of Bobbio there is a beautiful tabernacle in the Ravenna style.


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