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Diocese of Alessio

In European Turkey

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Alessio (Lissus, Alexiensis), Diocese of, in European Turkey, since 1886 suffragan of Scutari. It is one of the principal seaports of Albania, is favorably located near the mouth of the Drin, was founded by Dionysius of Syracuse, and was an important and beautiful city in the time of Diodorus Siculus. It is now known as Alise, Lesch, Eschenderari, or Mrtav. Like all the cities of Albania, it frequently changed masters in the Middle Ages until the Venetians took possession of it in 1386. It still belonged to them when Skanderbeg died, but shortly afterwards it fell into the hands of the Turks. In 1501 the inhabitants again returned to the Venetian domination, but in the year 1506 Sultan Bajazet obtained the restitution of the city, after it had been evacuated and deprived of its ramparts. Today it is a poor straggling hamlet of about 2,000 people, one-third of whom are Catholics. In it, however, the mountaineers hold a weekly bazaar where very large transactions take place. The Acrolissus or citadel is interesting for the well preserved Roman cisterns and medieval arches it still holds. The first known Bishop of Alessio is Valens, who attended the Council of Sardica in 340. It does not figure prominently in ecclesiastical history until the sixth century, when it is mentioned as a see in the correspondence of St. Gregory the Great (590-604). Since the end of the fourteenth century, when it came under Venetian rule, it has had again a series of Latin bishops.

Alessio had formerly five churches. The cathedral was dedicated to St. Nicholas and once held the mortal remains of the patriot George Castriota, the immortal Skanderbeg, who died in 1467. Local tradition relates that when the Turks took the town they opened his grave and made amulets of his bones, believing that these would confer indomitable bravery on the wearer. Transformed into a mosque, the cathedral was abandoned by the Ottomans after three dervishes had successively committed suicide from one of its towers. Two other churches dedicated to St. George and to St. Sebastian still survive as mosques. The population is mostly Catholic (about 14,000), attended by fifteen secular priests. The present bishop, elected May 24, 1870, is Monsignor Francis Malczyinski, an alumnus of the Propaganda. He resides at Calmeti, a little distance from Alessio.

At the summit of a group of rocky hills, on the west bank of the Drin, facing the town, are the church and convent of St. Anthony of Padua under the care of the Franciscan friars, a last remnant of the thirty convents they once possessed in Albania. The site is said to have been chosen by the saint himself, and is greatly venerated, especially by the mountaineers of Scutari who make an annual pilgrimage to it on June 13, and exhibit on that occasion a very striking piety. The Mussulmans themselves respect the church and confide their treasures to the friars whenever they have reason to fear the rapacity of their pashas.

Within the diocesan limits of Alessio is the quasi-episcopal abbey (abbatia nullius) of St. Alexander Orosci or Orochi, the mountain stronghold of the small but brave body of the Catholic Mirdites of Albania. Since 1888 it enjoys an independent jurisdiction over this faithful and warlike people which in 1894 obtained from the Porte, through the good offices of Leo XIII, a civil jurisdiction for its abbot, and thereby freed itself from the irksome protectorate of Austria. The abbot has jurisdiction over about 18,000 Catholics, with 16 churches, 13 chapels, 11 secular priests, and 2 Franciscans. The present abbot, elected in 1888, is Monsignor Primo Dochi, an alumnus of the Propaganda.


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