Rodez, Diocese of (RIITHENIE), Was united to the Diocese of Cahors by the Concordat of 1802, and again became an episcopal see by the Concordat of 1817 and Bull of 1822, having jurisdiction over: (I) the ancient Diocese of Rodez with the exception of the deanery of Saint Antonin, incorporated with the Diocese of Montauban; (2) the ancient Diocese of Vabres; (3) a few scattered communes of the Diocese of Cahors. The Diocese of Rodez corresponds exactly to the Department of Aveyron (formerly Rouergue). It was suffragan of Bourges until 1676, then of Albi, and has again been suffragan of Albi since 1822. Modern tradition attributes to St. Martial the foundation of the church of Rodez and the sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin at Ceignac, for according to Cardinal Bourret, the church of Rodez honored St. Martial as early as the sixth century (see Limoges). There were bishops of Rodez before 675, as Sidonius Apollinaris mentions that the Goths left it at that date without bishops. Amantius, who ruled about the end of the fifth century, is the first bishop mentioned. Among others are: S. Quintianus who assisted at the Councils of Agde (506) and Orleans (511), afterwards Bishop of Clermont; S. Dalmatius (524-80); S. Gausbert (tenth century), probably a Bishop of Cahors; Jean de Cardaillac (1371-9); Patriarch of Alexandria, who fought against English rule; Blessed Francis d’Estaing (1501-29), ambassador of Louis XII to Juluis II; Louis Avelly (1664-6) who wrote the life of St. Vincent of Paul; Joseph Bourret (1871-96), made Cardinal in 1893. The Benedictine Abbey of Vabres, founded in 862 by Raymond I, Count of Toulouse, was raised to episcopal rank in 1317, and its diocesan territory was taken from the southeastern portion of the Diocese of Rodez. Some scholars hold that within the limits of the modern Diocese of Rodez there existed in Merovingian times the See of Arisitum which, according to Msgr. Duchesne, was in the neighborhood of Alais.
During the Middle Ages the Bishop of Rodez held temporal dominion over that portion of the town known as the Cite, while in the eleventh century the Bourg became the County of Rodez. The cathedral of Rodez (thirteenth and fourteenth centuries) is a beautiful Gothic building, famous for its belfry (1510-26) and unique rood-beam. It was spared during the Revolution for dedication to Marat. The town of Milhau adopted Calvinism in 1534, and in 1573 and 1620 was the scene of two large assemblies of Protestant deputies. In 1629 Milhau and Saint-Afrique, another Protestant stronghold, were taken and dismantled by Louis XIII. In 1628 a pest at Villefranche carried off 8000 inhabitants within six months; Father Ambroise, a Franciscan, and the chief of police Jean de Pomayrol saved the lives of many little children by causing them to be suckled by goats. The Cistercian Abbeys of Silbanes, Beaulieu, Loc-Dieu, Bonneval, and Bonnecombe were model-farms during the Middle Ages. Attacked by brigands in the Rouergue country on his way to Santiago di Compostella, Adalard, Viscount of Flanders, erected in 1031 a monastery known as the Domerie d’Aubrac, a special order of priests, knights, lay brothers, ladies, and lay sisters for the care and protection of travellers. At Milhau, Rodez, Nazac, and Bozouls, hospitals, styled “Commanderies”, of this order of Aubrac adopted the rule of St. Augustine in 1162.
The Diocese of Rodez is famous also through the Abbey of Conques and the cult of Sainte Foy. Some Christians, flying from the Saracens about 730, sought a refuge in the “Val Rocheux” of the Dourdou and built an oratory there. In 790 the hermit Dadon made this his abode and aided by Louis the Pious, then King of Aquitaine, founded an abbey, which Louis named Conques. In 838 Pepin, King of Aquitaine, gave the monastery of Figeac to Conques. Between 877 and 883 the monks carried off the body of the youthful martyr Ste-Foy from the monastery of Sainte Foy to Conques, where it became the object of a great pilgrimage. Abbot Odolric built the abbey church between 1030 and 1060; on the stonework over the doorway is carved the most artistic representation in France of the Last Judgment. Abbot Begon (1099-1118) enriched Conques with a superb reliquary of beaten gold and cloisonnes enamels of a kind extremely rare in France. Pascal II gave him permission for the name of Ste-Foy to be inserted in the Canon of the Mass after the names of the Roman virgins. At this time Conques, with Agen and Schelestadt in Alsace, was the center of the cult of Ste. Foy which soon spread to England, Spain, and America where many towns bear the name of Santa Fe. The statute of Ste-Foy seated, which dated from the tenth century, was originally a small wooden one covered with gold leaf. In time, gems, enamels, and precious stones were added in such quantities that it is a living treatise on the history of the goldsmiths art in France between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries. It was known during the Middle Ages as “Majeste de Sainte Foy”. The shrine enclosing the relics of the Saint, which in 1590 was hidden in the masonry connecting the pillars of the choir, was found in 1875, repaired, transferred to the cathedral of Rodez for a novena, and brought back to Conques, a distance of 25 miles, on the shoulders of the clergy.
Among Saints specially honored in the Diocese of Rodez and Vabres are: S. Antoninus of Pamiers, Apostle of the Rouergue (date uncertain); S. Gratus and S. Ansutus, martyrs (fourth century); S. Naamatius, deacon and confessor (end of fifth century); Ste. Tarsicia, grand-daughter of Clothaire I and of Ste-Radegunda, who retired to the Rouergue to lead an ascetic life (sixth century); S. Africanus, wrongly styled Bishop of Comminges, who died in the Rouergue (sixth century); S. Hilarianus, martyred by the Saracens in the time of Charlemagne (eighth and ninth century); S. George, a monk in the Diocese of Vabres, afterwards Bishop of Lodeve (877); S. Guasbert, founder and first abbot of the monastery of Montsalvy in the modern Diocese of St. Flour (eleventh century). Among natives of the diocese are: Cardinal Bernard of Milhau, Abbot of St. Victor‘s at Marseilles in 1063, and legate of Gregory VII; Theodatus de Gozon (d. 1353) and John of La Valetta (1494-1568), grand masters of the order of St. John of Jerusalem; the former is famous for his victory over the dragon of Rhodes, the latter for his heroic defense of Malta; Frassinous (1765-1841), preacher and minister of worship under the Restoration; Bonald (1754-1840) and Laromiguiere (1736-1837), philosophers; Affre (1793-1848), born at St. Rome de Tarn and slain at the Barricades as Archbishop of Paris. The chief shrines of the diocese are: Notre Dame de Ceignac, an ancient shrine rebuilt and enlarged in 1455, which over 15,000 pilgrims visit annually; Notre Dame du Saint Voile at Coupiac, another ancient shrine; Notre Dame des Treize Pierres at Villefranche, a pilgrimage dating from 1509.
Before the application of the Associations’ Law in 1901, there were in the Diocese of Rodez, Capuchins, Jesuits, Trappists, Peres Blanes, Premonstratensians, Fathers of Picpus, Sulpicians, Clerics of St. Victor, and many congregations of teaching brothers. This diocese furnishes more missionaries than any other in France. Of the numerous congregations for women which had their origin there, the principal are: affiliations of the Sisters of St. Francis of Sales, known as the Union, teaching orders founded in 1672, 1698, 1739, 1790, with motherhouses at St-Geniez, d’Olt, Bozouls, Lavernhe, Auzits; the Sisters of St. Joseph, founded in 1682 for teaching and district nursing, with motherhouse at Marcillac, and other sisters of the same name, united in 1822, 1824, 1856, with mother-houses at Milhau, Villecomtal, Sallesla-Source; the Sisters of the Holy Family, a teaching and nursing order, founded in 1816 by Emilie de Rodat, with motherhouse at Villefranche and many convents throughout the diocese; the Minim Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Mary founded in 1844 by Mlle. Chauchard, with motherhouse at Cruejouls, for the care of the sick and children of the working classes; two branches of Dominican Sisters, teaching orders, founded in 1843 and 1849 with motherhouses at Gramond and Bor-et-Bar; the Sisters of the Union of Ste-Foy, teaching and nursing nuns, founded in 1682 with mother-house at Rodez. At the close of the nineteenth century the religious congregations of the diocese had charge of 75 nurseries; 1 institute for the deaf and dumb; 3 orphanages for boys; 13 orphanages for girls; 2 houses of rescue; 2 houses of mercy; 1 economic bakery; 83 houses of religious women devoted to the care of the sick in their own homes; 3 hospitals. At the end of 1909 the diocese had a population of 377,299, 51 parishes, 617 auxiliary parishes, 287 curacies, and 1200 priests.