Bergamo, Diocese of.—The city, called by the ancients Bergonum, is capital of the province of that name in Lombardy, and contains 45,000 inhabitants. It is said to be of Etruscan foundation. During the anarchy that reigned in Italy in the eleventh century, Bergamo set itself up as a commune, and as such joined the various leagues of Lombard communes formed to resist the power of the German emperors. At a later period, however, a number of powerful families succeeded each other in the mastery of the city, e.g. the Turriani, the Visconti, and the Suardi. From 1797 to 1859 Bergamo passed through all the political vicissitudes of Northern Italy It has always been a city of great industrial and commercial importance. The neighboring territory is rich in minerals, chiefly iron; there are also extensive quarries of choice marble. Among the celebrities of Bergamo are the poet, Bernardo Tasso, father of Torquato; the Jesuit Maffei, known for his history of Italian literature; Donizetti, the musical composer; Cardinal Angelo Mai, etc.
Bergamo is the seat of a bishop, suffragan to the Archbishop of Milan; the diocese contains a population of 430,000. Legend traces the beginnings of Christianity in this city back to St. Barnabas, said to have ordained St. Narnus who became first Bishop of Bergamo. More trustworthy is the account of the martyrdom of St. Alexander, said to have been tribune of the Theban Legion. Whatever the value of the details of the legend, the fact has been proved that long before Diocletian proclaimed the great persecution in 303, both Galerius and Maximian in the West inaugurated, on their own responsibility, a crusade against Christianity and sought particularly to remove all Christians from the armies (Allard, La persecution de Diocletien, I, 101-146). St. Alexander was one of the victims of this persecution, and his martyrdom may well have taken place in 287. To this martyr was dedicated the first cathedral of the city, richly endowed by the Lombard king, Grimoaldus, and by Charlemagne.
In 1561 this was destroyed by the Venetians on account of its adaptability to the purposes of a fortress, and the church of San Vincenzo was raised to the dignity of a cathedral under the title of San Alessandro. This is a magnificent church adorned with a cupola of unusual size, rebuilt in 1689 after the designs of Carlo Fontana. It contains paintings by Previtali, Tiepolo, Ferrari, Moroni, Palma it Giovine, and Colghetti who decorated the interior of the cupola in the nineteenth century; likewise bassorilievos of Fantoni, of exquisite workmanship. Worthy of special note is the octagonal baptistery formed of eight pieces of rosso antico (old red marble), the work of Giovanni da Campion, originally placed in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, the most beautiful of the churches of Bergamo. The interior is decorated with wonderful frescoes by Cavagna, Procaccini, Luca Giordano, Ciro Ferri, etc. Remarkable also are the tombs of Cardinal Longo, of the Alessandri, and of Bartolommeo Colleoni, the last a work of the sculptor Amedeo. The chapel of this tomb is adorned with paintings by Tiepolo, Angelica Kaufmann, and Giuseppe Crespi. Other churches are those of San Alessandro in Colonna, with a beautiful “Last Supper” by Calligarino; San Alessandro della Croce, adorned by Palma it Vecchio, Bramanti’Io, and others; San Andrea with paintings of Padovanino and Moretto; San Grata; San Bartolomeo; Santa Maria del Sepolcro with a wonderful picture of St. Sigismund, the masterpiece of Previtali. Among the shrines of the diocese may be mentioned that of the Blessed Virgin della Cornabusa, formed by a great natural cavern, extending between three and four hundred feet into Monte Albenza, not far from the Jura Pass. Within recent times Bergamo has become the center of important and far-reaching Catholic movements of a popular character.
The diocese contains 350 parishes, 512 churches, chapels, and oratories, 1,157 secular and 58 regular clergy, 400 seminarists, 84 lay brothers, 478 members of female religious orders, 8 schools for boys, 34 for girls, and a population of 430,000.