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Archdiocese of Bordeaux

Diocese in France

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Bordeaux (BURDIGALA), Archdiocese of, Comprises the entire department of the Gironde and was established conformably to the Concordat of 1802 by combining the ancient Diocese of Bordeaux (diminished by the cession of Born to the Bishopric of Aire) with the greater part of the suppressed Diocese of Bazas. Constituted by the same Concordat metropolitan to the Bishoprics of Angouleme, Poitiers, and La Rochelle, the See of Bordeaux received in 1822, as additional suffragans, those of Agen, withdrawn from the metropolitan jurisdiction of Toulouse, and the newly reestablished Perigueux and Lugon; and still later, in 1850, the three colonial Bishoprics of Fort-de-France (Martinique), Basse-Terre (Guadeloupe), and Saint-Denis (Reunion).

The Old Diocese of Bordeaux.—According to old Limousin legends which date back to the beginning of the eleventh century, Bordeaux was evangelized in the first century by St. Martial (Martialis), who replaced a temple to the unknown god, which he destroyed, with one dedicated to St. Stephen. The same legends represent St. Martial as having brought to the Soulac coast St. Veronica, who is still especially venerated in the church of Notre-Dame de Fin des Terres at Soulac; as having cured Sigebert, the paralytic husband of the pious Benedicta, and made him Bishop of Bordeaux; as addressing beautiful Latin letters to the people of Bordeaux, to which city he is said to have left the pastoral staff which has been treasured as a relic by the Chapter of Saint-Seurin (For this cycle of legends see Diocese of Limoges).

The first Bishop of Bordeaux known to history, Orientalis, is mentioned at the Council of Arles, in 314. By the close of the fourth century Christianity had made such progress in Bordeaux that a synod was held there (385-386) for the purpose of adopting measures against the Priscillianists, whose heresy had caused popular disturbances. This was during the episcopate of Delphinus (380-404), who attended the Council of Saragossa in 380 and maintained correspondence with St. Ambrose and with St. Paulinus of Nola. At the beginning of the fifth century a mysterious personage who, according to St. Gregory of Tours, came from the East, appeared at Bordeaux. This was St. Seurin (or Severinus), in whose favor Bishop Amand abdicated the see from 410 to 420, resuming it after Seurin’s death and occupying it until 432. In the sixth century Bordeaux had an illustrious bishop in the person of Leontius II (542-564), a man of great influence who used his wealth in building churches and clearing lands and whom the poet Fortunatus calls patriae caput. During this Merovingian period the cathedral church, founded in the fourth century, occupied the same site that it does today, back to back against the ramparts of the ancient city. The Faubourg Saint-Seurin outside the city was a great center of popular devotion, with its three large basilicas of St. Stephen, St. Seurin, and St. Martin surrounding a large necropolis from which a certain number of sarcophagi are still preserved. This faubourg was like a holy city; and the cemetery of St. Seurin was full of tombs of the Merovingian period around which the popular imagination of later ages was to create legends. In the high noon of the Middle Ages it used to be told how Christ Himself had consecrated this cemetery and that Charlemagne, having fought the Saracens near Bordeaux, had visited it and laid Roland’s wonderful horn Olivant on the altar of Saint-Seurin.

Dessus l’autel de Saint Seurin le baron,

Il met l’oliphant plein d’or et de mangons

—says the “Chanson de Roland”. Many tombs passed for those of Charlemagne‘s gallant knights, and others were honored as the resting-places of Veronica and Benedicta. At the other extremity of the city, the Benedictines filled in the marshes of l’Eau-Bourde and founded there the monastery of Sainte-Croix. While thus surrounded by evidences of Christian conquest, the academic Bordeaux of the Merovingian period continued to cherish the memory of its former school of eloquence, whose chief glories had been the poet Ausonius (310-395) and St. Paulinus (353-431), who had been a rhetorician at Bordeaux and died Bishop of Nola. The reigns of William VIII and William IX, Dukes of Aquitaine (1052-1127), were noted for the splendid development of Romanesque architecture in Bordeaux. Parts of the churches of Sainte-Croix and Saint-Seurin belong to that time, and the Cathedral of Saint-Andy was begun in 1096.

In the Middle Ages, a struggle between the Sees of Bordeaux and Bourges was brought about by the claims of the latter to the primacy of Aquitaine. This question has been closely investigated by modern scholars, and it has been ascertained that a certain letter from Nicholas I to Rodolfus, which would date the existence of the primacy of Bourges from the ninth century, is not authentic. As the capital of Aquitania prima, Bourges at an early date vaguely aspired to preeminence over the provinces of Aquitania secunda and tertia, and thence over Bordeaux. It was about 1073 that these aspirations were more formally asserted; between 1112 and 1126 the papacy acknowledged them, and in 1146 Eugenius III confirmed the primacy of Pierre de la Chatre, Archbishop of Bourges, over Bordeaux. In 1232, Gregory IX gave the Archbishop of Bourges, as patriarch, the right to visit the province of Aquitaine, imposed upon the Archbishop of Bordeaux the duty of assisting, at least once, at the councils held by his “brother” of Bourges, and decided that appeals might be made from the former to the latter. Occasionally, however, as in 1240 and 1284, the Archbishops of Bourges, coming to Bordeaux, found the doors of the churches closed against them, and answered with excommunication the solemn protests which the Bordeaux clergy made against their visits. Aquitaine was lost to France by the annulment of that marriage between Louis VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine which was celebrated in the Cathedral of Bordeaux in the year 1137, and Bordeaux became the capital of the English possessions in France. Thereupon the struggle between the Sees of Bordeaux and Bourges assumed a political character, the King of France necessarily upholding the claims of Bourges. Most of the archbishops were conspicuous as agents of English policy in Aquitaine, notable amongst them being Guillaume Amanieu (1207-26), on whom King Henry III of England conferred the title of seneschal and guardian of all his lands beyond the sea, and who took part in Spain in the wars against the Saracens; Gerard de Mallemort (1227-60), a generous founder of monasteries, who acted as mediator between St. Louis and Henry III, and defended Gascony against the tyranny of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. During the episcopate of Gerard de Mallemort the old Romanesque church of Saint-Andre was transformed into a Gothic cathedral. Pope Clement V (1305-14) was unfavorable to the claims of Bourges. He was a native of Villandraut near Bazas, where he had built a beautiful collegiate church, was Archbishop of Bordeaux from 1300 to 1305, and political adviser to Philip the Fair. When he became pope, in spite of his French sympathies, his heart was set upon the formal emancipation of Bordeaux from Bourges. Blessed Pierre Berland, or Peyberland as tradition calls him (1430-57), was an Archbishop of Bordeaux, illustrious for his intelligence and holiness, founder of the University of Bordeaux and of the College of St. Raphael for poor students, who, after helping the English to defend Bordeaux against the troops of Charles VII, received Dunois into his episcopal city and surrendered it to France. It was during his episcopate that the beautiful campanile known as the Pey Berland Tower was added to the cathedral.

The rich and powerful chapters of Saint-Andre and Saint-Seurin subsisted in the Middle Ages as a vestige of that duality which was already noticeable in Merovingian Bordeaux. Between the two there were frequent and very animated conflicts. The artistic feeling of the canons in the thirteenth century is attested by the Gothic portal of Saint-Seurin which is still extant. At the end of the fourteenth century Canon Vital de Carle established the great Hospital of Saint-Andre, which he placed under the protection of the municipality; and it was through the exertions of the chapter of Saint-Andre that the first city library of Bordeaux was founded, towards the year 1402. During the Middle Ages Bordeaux was a great monastic city, with its Carmelite, Franciscan, and Dominican convents, founded respectively in 1217, 1227, and 1230. In 1214 an important council was held in Bordeaux against usurers, highwaymen, and heretics. When, after the Hundred Years’ War, Bordeaux again became French, Louis XI flattered its citizens by joining the confraternity of Notre-Dame de Montuzet, a religious association formed of all the mariners of the Gironde, by heaping favors on the church of Saint-Michel, the tower of which, built in the period between 1473 and 1492, was higher than the Pey Berland, and by furthering the canonization of its former archbishop, Pierre Berland.

Among the Archbishops of Bordeaux, in the modern epoch, may be mentioned: Charles de Gramont (1530-44), who during its earliest years helped the College of Guyenne (founded in 1533) and introduced into Bordeaux the art of the Renaissance; Francois de Sourdis (1599-1628), who had great political influence during the minority of Louis XIII, caused the marshes in the neighborhood of Bordeaux to be filled in, erected there a magnificent Carthusian monastery, welcomed to Bordeaux many congregations devoted to ecclesiastical reform, approved (1606) the teaching order of the Filles de Notre-Dame, founded by Blessed Jeanne de Lestonnac, and befriended the College of the Madeleine founded by the Jesuits in opposition to the College of Guyenne which, during the sixteenth century, was open to Protestant influences; Cardinal de Cheverus (1826-36), who during the cholera epidemic had the sign Maison de Secours (House of Refuge) put over his palace, of whom M. Jullian said that no prelate in the history of the diocese had come nearer the ideal of sanctity, and during whose episcopate Therese de Lamourus, the “Good Mother”, considered by Cardinal Cheverus a saint worthy of the early days of the Church, opened for repentant women the Maison de la Misericorde; Cardinal Donnet (1837-82), who reestablished the old provincial councils interrupted for 224 years.

The Old Bishopric of Bazas.—According to Gregory of Tours, Bazas had a bishop at the time of the Vandal invasion in the fifth century. The dedication of the cathedral to St. John the Baptist is explained in an account given by the same historian, that a lady of Bazas, whom certain hagiographers of the nineteenth century believe to have been St. Veronica, brought from Palestine a relic of St. John the Baptist at the time of that saint’s death. For two hundred and fifty years prior to 1057, the Bishop of Bazas bore the title of Bishop of Aire, Dax, Bayonne, Oloron, and Lescar. Urban II (1088-99) preached the crusade at Bazas.

Places of Ecclesiastical Interest in the Archdiocese.—The town of La Reole (from Regula, rule) owes its origin, and even its name, to a Benedictine monastery founded in 777, destroyed by the Northmen, and rebuilt in 977 by Sancho of Gascony and his brother, Bishop Gombald. It was there that Abbo, Abbot of Fleury, who came to reform the monastery in 1004, was assassinated. The town of Saint-Emilion is likewise indebted for its origin to the hermit of that name, a native of Vannes, who died in 767 after having founded in these parts an abbey which the Augustinians occupied after the year 1110. The Abbey of Saint-Romain at Blaye in which, it is said, the remains of Roland, nephew of Charlemagne, were once preserved, was founded on the spot where, in the fourth century, St. Romanus, the recluse, died in the arms of St. Martin. The Benedictine monastery of the Grande Sauve entre Deux Mers was founded in 1080 by St. Gerard of Corbie. The Abbey of Notre Dame at Guitres had for abbot, between 1624 and 1637, Peiresc the celebrated numismatist, one of the greatest scholars of the seventeenth century (1580-1637).

The most important pilgrimage is that of Notre Dame of Verdelais, founded in 1390 by Isabella, Countess of Foix, when her mule stumbled over a buried statue of the Blessed Virgin.

Statistics.—In 1900 the religious orders for men were represented in the Archdiocese of Bordeaux as follows: Augustinians, Jesuits, Franciscans, Lazarists, Carmelites, and Fathers of the Holy Ghost at Bordeaux; Olivetans at Soulac; Dominicans at Arcachon; Redemptorists at Contras; Marists at Notre Dame de Verdelais and several houses of Marianists. In 1900 the congregations for women peculiar to the diocese were, in addition to those mentioned above: Sisters of Charity of the Holy Agony, a teaching and nursing order founded in 1849, with the mother-house at Bordeaux; Sisters of the Christian Doc-trine, founded in 1814, with the mother-house at Bordeaux; Sisters of the Holy Family, founded in 1820 by the Abbe Noailles. The last-named congregation has 200 houses, in different parts of the world. It includes the: Sisters of St. Joseph, who have charge of asylums for orphans and working women; Sisters of the Immaculate Conception and Ladies of the Immaculate Conception, who conduct boarding-schools; Agricultural Sisters (Soeurs Agricoles); Sisters of Hope, attendants on the sick; Contemplative Sisters (Soeurs Solitaires); Sisters of St. Martha, for domestic service. In 1899, the following charitable and educational institutions were to be found in the Archdiocese of Bordeaux: 1 foundling hospital, 11 infant asylums, 66 infant schools, 2 children’s infirmaries, 2 deaf-mute institutes for girls, 2 orphanages where farming is taught, 1 boys’ and girls’ orphanage, 34 girls’ orphanages, 1 servants’ guild, 2 guilds for penitent women, 10 charity kitchens, 12 hospitals or hospices, 8 communities for the care of the sick in their homes, 8 houses of retreat, 3 homes for incurables, 2 insane asylums, and 7 homes for the aged, all conducted by sisters; and 1 institute for deaf, dumb, and blind boys, and 1 orphanage where farming is taught, both conducted by brothers. At the close of the year 1905 the archdiocese contained 823,131 inhabitants, 79 parishes, 431 mission churches, and 70 curacies.


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