Nimes, Diocese of (NEMAUSENSIS) suffragan of Avignon, comprises the civil Department of Gard. By the Concordat of 1801 its territory was united with the Diocese of Avignon. It was reestablished as a separate diocese in 1821, and a Brief of April 27, 1877, grants to its bishops the right to add Alais and Uses to their episcopal style, these two dioceses being now combined with that of Nimes.
That Nimes (Nemausus) was an important city in Roman antiquity is shown by the admirable Maison Carree, the remains of a superb amphitheatre, and the Pont du Gard, four and a half leagues from the city. Late and rather contradictory traditions attribute the foundation of the Church of Nimes either to Celidonius, the man “who was blind from his birth” of the Gospel, or to St. Honestus, the apostle of Navarre, said to have been sent to southern France by St. Peter, with St. Saturninus (Sernin), the apostle of Toulouse. The true apostle of Nimes was St. Baudilus, whose martyrdom is placed by some at the end of the third century, and, with less reason, by others at the end of the fourth. Many writers affirm that a certain St. Felix, martyred by the Vandals about 407, was Bishop of Nimes, but Duchesne questions this. There was a see at Nimes as early as 396, for in that year a synodical letter was sent by a Council of Nimes to the bishops of Gaul. The first bishop whose date is positively known is Sedatus, present at the Council of Agde in 506. Other noteworthy bishops are: St. John (about 511, before 526); St. Remessarius (633-40); Bertrand of Languissel (1280-1324), faithful to Boniface VIII, and for that reason driven from his see for a year by Philip the Fair; Cardinal Guillaume d’Estouteville (1441-49); Cardinal Guillaume Briconnet (1496-1514); the famous pulpit orator Flechier (1687-1710); the distinguished polemist Plantier (1855-75) whose pastoral letter (1873) called forth a protest from Bismarck; the preacher Besson (1875-88). Urban II, coming to France to preach the crusade, consecrated the cathedral of Nimes in 1096 and presided over a council. Alexander III visited Nimes in 1162. Clement IV (1265-68), born at Saint Gilles, in this diocese, ranted the monastery of that town numerous favors. St. Louis, who embarked at Aigues-Mortes for his two crusades, surrounded Nimes with walls. In 1305, Clement V passed through the city on his way to Lyons to be crowned. In consequence of disputes about the sale of grapes to the papal household, Innocent VI laid an interdict on Nimes in 1358. The diocese was greatly disturbed by the Religious Wars: on September 29, 1567, five years before the Massacre of St. Bartholemew, the Protestants of Nimes, actuated by fanaticism, perpetrated the massacre of Catholics known in French history as the Michelade. Louis XIII at Nimes issued the decree of religious pacification known as the Peace of Nimes.
The first Bishop of Uses historically known is Constantius, present at the Council of Vaison in 442. Other bishops were St. Firminus (541-53) and St. Ferreol (553-81). In the sixteenth century, Bishop Jean de Saint Gelais (1531-60) became a Calvinist. The celebrated missionary Bridaine (1701-67) was a native of the Diocese of Uses. This little city was for seventy days the enforced residence of Cardinal Pacca, after his confinement at Fenestrelles (1812). The town of Pont Saint Esprit, on the Rhone, owes its names to a bridge built there between 1265 and 1309 with the proceeds of a general collection made by the monks.
About 570, Sigebert, King of Austrasia, created a see at Arisitum (Alais), taking fifteen parishes from the Diocese of Nimes. In the eighth century, when Septimania was annexed to the Frankish Empire, the Diocese of Alais was suppressed and its territory returned to the Diocese of Nimes. At the request of Louis XIV, a see was again created at Alais by Innocent XII, in 1694. The future Cardinal de Bausset, Bossuet’s biographer, was Bishop of Alais from 1784 to 1790. After the Edict of Nantes, Alais was one of the places de surete given to the Huguenots (see Huguenots. History). Louis XIII took back the town in 1629, and the Convention of Alais, signed June 29 of that year, suppressed the political privileges of the Protestants.
The chief pilgrimages of the present Diocese of Nimes are: Notre Dame de Grace, Rochefort, dating from Charlemagne, and commemorating a victory over the Saracens. Louis XIV and his mother, Anne of Austria, established here a foundation for perpetual Masses. Notre Dame de Grace, Laval, in the vicinity of Alais, dating from not later than 900. Notre Dame de Bon Secours de Prime Combe, Fontanes, since 887. Notre Dame de Bonheur, founded 1045 on the mountain of l’Aigoual in the vicinity of Valleraugues. Notre Dame de Belvezet, a shrine of the eleventh century, on Mont Andavu. Notre Dame de Vauvert, whither the converted Albigenses were sent, often visited by St. Louis, Clement V, and Francis I. The shrine of St. Veredeme, a hermit who died Archbishop of Avignon, and of the martyr St. Baudilus, at Trois Fontaines and at Valsainte near Nimes. The following Saints are especially venerated in the present Diocese of Nimes: St. Castor, Bishop of Apt (fourth to fifth century), a native of Nimes; the priest St. Theodoritus, martyr, patron saint of the town of Uzes; the Athenian St. Giles (Aegidius, sixth cent.), living as a recluse near Uses when he was accidentally wounded by King Childeric, later abbot of the monastery built by Childeric in reparation for this accident, venerated also in England; Blessed Peter of Luxemburg who made a sojourn in the diocese, at Villeneuve-lez-Avignon (1369-87).
Prior to the Associations Law of 1901 the diocese had Augustinians of the Assumption (a congregation which originated in the city of Nimes), Carthusians, Trappists, Jesuits, Missionaries of the Company of Mary, Franciscan Fathers, Marists, Lazarists, Sulpicians, and various orders of teaching brothers. The Oblates of the Assumption, for teaching and foreign missions, also founded here, and the Besancon Sisters of Charity, teachers and nurses, have their mother-houses at Nimes. At the beginning of the century the religious congregations conducted in this diocese: 3 creches, 53 day nurseries, 6 boys’ orphanages, 20 girls’ orphanages, 1 employment agency for females, 1 house of refuge for penitent women, 6 houses of mercy, 20 hospitals or asylums, 11 houses of visiting nurses, 3 houses of retreat, 1 home for incurables. In 1905 the Diocese of Nimes contained 420,836 inhabitants, 45 parishes, 239 succursal parishes, 52 vicariates subventioned by the State.