Fiesole, Diocese of (FIESULANA), in the province of Tuscany, suffragan of Florence. The town is of Etruscan origin, as may be seen from the remains of its ancient walls. In pagan antiquity it was the seat of a famous school of augurs, and every year twelve young men were sent thither from Rome to study the art of divination. Sulla colonized it with veterans, who afterwards, under the leadership of Manlius, supported the cause of Catiline. Near Fiesole the Vandals and Suevi under Radagaisus were defeated (405) by hunger rather than by the troops of Stilicho. During the Gothic War (536-53) the town was several times besieged. In 539 Justinus, the Byzantine general, captured it and razed its fortifications.—In the early Middle Fiesole was more powerful than Florence in the valley below, and many wars arose between them. In 1010 and 1025 Fiesole was sacked by the Florentines, and its leading families obliged to take up their residence in Florence.
According to local legend the Gospel was first preached at Fiesole by St. Romulus, a disciple of St. Peter. The fact that the ancient cathedral (now the Abbazia Fiesolana) stands outside the city is a proof that the Christian origins of Fiesole date from the period of the persecutions. The earliest mention of a Bishop of Fiesole is in a letter of Gelasius I (492-496). A little later, under Vigilius (537-55), a Bishop Rusticus is mentioned as papal legate at one of the Councils of Constantinople. The legendary St. Alexander is said by some to belong to the time of the Lombard
King Autari (end of the sixth century), but the Bollandists assign him to the reign of Lothair (middle of the ninth century). A very famous bishop is St. Donatus, an Irish monk, the friend and adviser of Emperors Louis the Pious and Lothair. He was elected in 826 and is buried in the cathedral, where his epitaph, dictated by himself, may still be seen. He founded the abbey of San Martino di Mensola; Bishop Zanobi in 890 founded that of St. Michael at Passignano, which was afterwards given to the Vallombrosan monks. Other bishops were Hildebrand of Lucca (1220), exiled by the Florentines; St. Andrew Corsini (1352), born in 1302 of a noble Florentine family, and who, after a reckless youth, became a Carmelite monk, studied at Paris, and as bishop was renowned as a peacemaker between individuals and States. He died January 6, 1373, and was canonized by Urban VIII. Other famous bishops were the Dominican Fra Jacopo Altovita (1390), noted for his zeal against schism; Antonio Aglio (1466), a learned humanist and author of a collection of lives of the saints; the Augustinian Guglielmo Bachio (1470), a celebrated preacher, and author of commentaries on Aristotle and on the “Sentences” of Peter Lombard; Francesco Cataneo Diaceto (1570), a theologian at the Council of Trent and a prolific writer; Lorenzo della Robbia (1634), who built the seminary. Among the glories of Fiesole should be mentioned the painter Mino da Fiesole, Lorenzo Monaco (1370-1424). But the greatest name associated with the history of the city is that of Blessed Giovanni Angelico, called da Fiesole (1387-1455). His baptismal name was Guido, but, entering the convent of the Reformed Dominicans at Fiesole, he took the name of Giovanni in religion; that of Angelico was afterwards given to him in allusion to the beauty and purity of his works.
The Cathedral of St. Romulus was built in 1028 by Bishop Jacopo Bavaro with materials taken from several older edifices; it contains notable sculptures by Mino da Fiesole. The old cathedral became a Benedictine abbey, and in course of time passed into the hands of the regular canons of Lateran. It once possessed a valuable library, long since dispersed. The abbey was closed in 1778. The diocese has 254 parishes and 155,800 souls. Within its limits there are 12 monasteries of men, including the famous Vallombrosa, and 24 convents for women.
The principal holy places of Fiesole are: (I) the cathedral (Il Duomo), containing the shrine of St. Romulus, martyr, according to legend the first Bishop of Fiesole, and that of his martyred companions, also the shrine of St. Donatus of Ireland; (2) the Badia or ancient cathedral at the foot of the hill on which Fiesole stands, supposed to cover the site of the martyrdom of St. Romulus; (3) the room in the bishop’s palace where St. Andrew Corsini lived and died; (4) the little church of the Primerana in the cathedral square, where the same saint was warned by Our Lady of his approaching death; (5) the church of S. Alessandro, with the shrine of St. Alexander, bishop and martyr; (6) the monastery of S. Francesco on the crest of the hill. with the cells of St. Bernardine of Siena and seven Franciscan Beati; (7) S. Girolamo, the home of Venerable Carlo dei Conti Guidi, founder of the Hieronymites of Fiesole (1360); (8) S. Domenico, the novice-home of Fra Angelico da Fiesole and of St. Antoninus of Florence; (9) Fontanelle, a villa near S. Domenico where St. Aloysius came to live in the hot summer months, when a page at the court of Grand Duke Francesco de’ Medici; (10) Fonte Lucente, where a miraculous crucifix is greatly revered. A few miles distant is (11) Monte Senario, the cradle of the Servite Order, where its seven holy founders lived in great austerity and were cheered at their death by the songs of angels; also (12) S. Martino di Mensola, with the body of St. Andrew, an Irish saint, still incorrupt.