Corsica, the third island of the Mediterranean in point of size, only Sicily and Sardinia being of greater extent. The distance from the French seaport Antibes, on the Riviera, to Calvi, the port of Corsica nearest to France, is one hundred and eleven miles. There is a brisk commerce between Leghorn, in Italy, and Bastia, in Corsica, the voyage being made in five hours. The island is mountainous and well watered, a large part being covered with forests and almost impenetrable thickets called maquis. The climate is mild on the coast, but cold in the elevated regions. The area of Corsica is 3367 square miles, the population 300,000. Both the natives of the interior and those of the coast, whose ancestors were Italians, are nearly all Catholics.
The island was early visited by the Phoenicians and Phocians who established colonies there. For a time it belonged to Carthage, but was taken by the Romans, who retained possession from 260 B.C. to the end of the fifth century of the Christian Era. But they never subdued the mountain tribes of the interior, and even in the time of Gregory I (590-604) there were many heathens in Corsica, which long retained its early reputation as a wild and unhospitable island. On the fall of the Western Empire (476) Corsica was taken by the Vandals, but was recovered by Belisarius, only to be captured by the Goths under Totila. Eventually, however, it became subject to the exarchs of Ravenna, and remained a Byzantine possession until the eighth century. At the end of the sixth and the beginning of the seventh century the Roman Church owned large landed estates in Corsica. By the Donation of Pepin the Short (754-55) the island came under the civil sovereignty of the popes (Liber Pontif., ed. Duchesne, I, 498; II, 104, note 35). From the eighth to the eleventh century it was frequently plundered by Saracen pirates. Pisa then set up a claim of overlordship which was soon disputed by Genoa. In 1300 the latter made good its claim to the civil and ecclesiastical influence hitherto exercised by Pisa, and despite numerous revolutions (Sampiero, 1567; Baron Neuhof, 1729; Paoli, 1755) held at least a nominal authority until 1768. In that year Genoa ceded Corsica to France, since which time the island has remained a French province. Ajaccio, its chief town, is historically famous as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte.
It has been asserted that Christianity was introduced into Corsica in Apostolic times. Ughelli, in his “Italia Sacra”, says of Mariana, one of the oldest settlements: “It received the Catholic Faith, and has had its own pastors, ever since the times of the Apostles“; but this would be difficult to establish. Another tradition which finds favor with historians is, that Christianity was spread in the island by confessors of the Faith exiled thither (Hergenrother, I, in French tr., Paris, 1901, p. 297). The Bollandists say the country was entirely Christian in A.D. 439. It gave saints and martyrs to the Church; Msgr. de la Foata, in his “Recherches” (see bibliography infra), cites the names of three Corsican Friars Minor of the Observance, Bernardino Alberti, Franceschino Mucchieli, Teofilo Designorio, whose virtues had been authoritatively declared heroic, and also claims as Corsicans St. Laurina, virgin and martyr, whose festival was celebrated as a first-class feast in the ancient Diocese of Aleria, St. Partheeus, martyr, St. Vindemialis and St. Florentius. It is said, also, that St. Julia was a Corsican.
We have seen that before and after 600 Corsica was in close dependence on the Apostolic See, and always remained so, (see Cappelletti, Le Chiese d’Italia, XVI, 307 sqq.). In 1077 Gregory VII named as his vicarius for Corsica the Bishop of Pisa. In 1092 Pope Urban II made its bishops suffragans of the Archbishop of Pisa. In 1133 Innocent II, having granted the pallium to the Archbishop of Genoa, gave him for suffragans the Corsican Bishops of Mariana, Nebbio, and Accia, the Archbishop of Pisa retaining as suffragans the sees of Ajaccio, Aleria, and Sagona. The Bishoprics of Mariana and Accia were united, January 30, 1563. About 1580 the Blessed Alexander Sauli (q.v.), known as the “Apostle of Corsica” awoke the islanders to a more earnest religious life and founded a seminary on the model of those decreed by the Council of Trent. At the time of the French Revolution there were five dioceses in Corsica: Mariana and Accia, Nebbio, Aleria, Sagona, and Ajaccio. A decree of July 12, 1790, of the National Assembly at Paris, whose members had voted the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, reduced these five bishoprics to one, giving to Bastia the pastoral care of the whole island. On May 8, 1791, the election of the Constitutional bishop took place. The choice of the electors fell upon the canon Ignatius Francis Guasco, Vicar—General of Mariana, and Provost of the Cathedral. He, however, made a public and solemn recantation December 22, 1794. The Concordat of 1801, between the Holy See and the French Republic, which officially restored Catholic worship in France, made of Corsica a single diocese with Ajaccio as its episcopal city. (See The French Concordat of 1801; Diocese of Ajaccio.) St. Euphrasius, bishop and martyr, is the patron of the diocese. Sts. Julia and Devota were declared patronesses of the island by decree of the S. C. of Rites, August 5, 1809, and March 14, 1820. The “Directorium Cleri” of the diocese for 1907 states that there are in Corsica one bishop and five hundred and ninety-seven priests, professors, directors, and chaplains. There are one vicar-general, eight titular canons, twenty-nine honorary canons, five archpriests, thirteen parishes of the first class, forty-eight of the second class, and three hundred and thirty-three chapels. Parochial councils, composed of members of the laity, assist the parish priests, since the suppression of the former boards of trustees by the separation of Church and State. In Ajaccio there was, until recently, a diocesan seminary, but the students were dispersed on account of the non-acceptance by Pope Pius X of the so-called “Law of Separation”. At the time it ceased to exist, it had thirty-eight students and ten candidates for the priesthood. Every newly ordained priest is required to present himself yearly for five consecutive years for examination in ecclesiastical sciences before a special committee. The degrees in theology may dispense from several or all of these examinations, but a young priest is never admitted to the parish ministry without having passed an examination of this kind. In Corsica there are numerous charitable and pious brotherhoods, founded in the days of Italian rule. Several of these associations assemble in their own chapels. The churches are usually of the Italian style of architecture and sometimes richly adorned. The Society for the Propagation of the Faith is directed by a diocesan committee instituted February 13, 1859. The St. Vincent de Paul Society has two conferences. An Association for free Catholic schools is supported by the subscriptions of the faithful, who also provide for the needs of Catholic worship. Before the suppression of the religious orders there were in Corsica one house of the Jesuits, six Francis-cans, one Dominican, and five Capuchin monasteries, and one house of the Oblates of Mary. These, as well as the schools of the Christian Brothers and all convent schools, have been closed by the Government. There are still six convents of nuns. In consequence of the new laws of France, the Catholic Church in Corsica, a poor country, is confronted with a crisis: the people, habituated to look to the State for the support of public worship, must now adopt new methods and make many sacrifices for the maintenance of religion.