Benevento, the ancient Beneventum, the principal city of the province of the same name in Campania, is situated on the River Calore, and contains a population of 25,000. It was founded at a very early period by the Samnites, who named it Maleventum. In 275 B.C. the Romans, having conquered Pyrrhus not far from there, took possession of the city and changed its name to the present form. In 268 B.C. a Roman colony was established at Beneventum, which was enlarged and beautified by Augustus and other emperors. The arch of Trajan ( porta aurea ), entirely of Parian marble, still bears eloquent witness to the munificence of that emperor. In 545 the city was captured and destroyed by Totila, King of the Goths, but was rebuilt in 589 by the Lombard King Autharis, and made the seat of a duchy. In 1047 it fell into the hands of the Normans, who, however, were forced to relinquish it by Emperor Henry III in 1053.
The city, with the surrounding territory, was then turned over to Pope Leo IX, a relative of the emperor, in payment of the annual tribute rendered the Holy See by the Church of Bamberg ; but shortly afterwards it was reoccupied by the Normans. The pope thereupon placed himself at the head of a powerful army "ut saltem humano terrore resipiscerent, qui divina iudicia minime formidant" (that those who fear not the judgments of God may at least repent through human dread; Ep. VII ad Constantin. Monomach.). The opposing forces met at the Dragonara, and after a severe struggle the papal troops were put to flight, and the pope himself was forced to retire to Civitella. There Leo wrought more by word of mouth than the arms of all his soldiers had been able to accomplish. The Norman leaders swore fealty to the sovereign pontiff, conducted him back to Benevento with great honour, and continued from that time forward the most devoted and loyal champions of the Holy See. This warlike expedition of Leo IX called forth the severe criticism of St. Peter Damian.
Thenceforward Benevento was a part of the territory of the Holy See, which was always represented there by a delegate. From 1769 to 1774 it was in the possession of Ferdinand I of Naples and in 1806 Napoleon made Talleyrand Duke of Benevento. In 1814 it again came under the jurisdiction of the Holy See ; and from 1838 to 1841 Joachim Pecci (later Leo XIII ) was civil delegate to this part of the papal state in the heart of the Kingdom of Naples and won great praise for his wise administration and his stern repression of brigandage. In 1860 Benevento was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy. Most noted among the citizens of Benevento during ancient times are: Papinianus, the jurisconsult, and Arbilius, the grammarian; Popes Felix IV, Victor III (Dauferio), and Gregory VIII (Alberto di Morra) who were natives of Benevento; Cardinal Pietro Morra, Giovanni da Castrocelo, Dionisio Lorerio, Nicolò Coscia, Camillo Domenico, Gennaro de Simone, Bartolommeo Pacca, and Carlo Maria Pedieini.
Benevento is the seat of an archdiocese, which has as suffragans the Dioceses of Alife, Ariano, Ascoli, and Cerignola, Avellino, Boiano, Bovino, Larino, Lucera, San Severo , Sant' Agata de' Goti, Telese, and Termoli.
According to local tradition, the Christian Faith was first preached there by St. Potinus, at the command of St. Peter the Apostle. At a later period, during the persecution of Diocletian, we find mentioned as bishop of this city St. Januarius, who together with Proculus, his deacon, and two laymen, was imprisoned and beheaded at Pozzuoli in 305. His relics are preserved in the Cathedral of Naples, which also contains the remains of St. Agrippinus who was Bishop of Benevento. In 929 Benevento was raised to the dignity of a metropolitan see.
The cathedral, founded at a very early period was rebuilt in 1692, after being destroyed in the earthquake of 1688. The interior, divided into five naves, has fifty-four marble columns, which furnish a magnificent perspective. Mention should also be made of the two thrones near the high altar , carved about 1311 by a sculptor named Nicola. Of special historical interest is the so-called "altar of peace", erected in memory of the peace concluded at Benevento between Clement VII and Charles V, after the famous sack of Rome (1527). The façade is entirely of a yellowish marble; the great central door is of bronze, of Byzantine workmanship, brought from Constantinople in the twelfth century. In the spacious vestibule are the tombs of the Lombard dukes. The bell tower, constructed almost entirely of the fragments of ancient monuments, was begun by Bishop Capo di Ferro (1254).
The church of St. Sophia, in form a great rotunda, is also deserving of mention. It dates back to the Lombard epoch, if indeed it is not a pagan temple converted into a church. The cupola is particuiarly remarkable, being set upon six antique Corinthian columns. The church of Santa Maria delle Grazie is held in great veneration; adjoining it is a monastery the abode first of Benedictines, but since 1450 of monks of the Minor Observance. The statue of the Madonna with the Child in her arms is said to have been brought from Greece by St. Artelais, niece of Narses, general of the army of Justinian.
A number of councils were held at Benevento: those of 1059, 1061, and 1087, in the last of which Victor III excommunicated Guibert, the antipope ; that of 1091, in which the excommunication was renewed, and a number of disciplinary canons formulated; that of 1108 against lay investitures; those of 1113 and 1117, the latter against the Antipope Burdinus ; others in 1119, 1314, 1470, 1545, as recorded by Harduin, in the seventh volume of his collection of the Councils. In the following centuries the Archbishops of Benevento frequently held provincial synods. Gian Battista Foppa (1643) and Vincenzo Maria Orsini, O.P. (1686), later Pope Benedict XIII, did much to restore and beautify the churches of the city.
Among the bishops famous in the history of the Church of Benevento, passing over some saints of uncertain date, are: St. Marcianus (533), St. Zenoe (543), St. Barbatus (663), who had a golden serpent, an object of idolatrous worship of the Lombards, melted and made into a sacred paten which was preserved up to the time of the French invasion in 1799; Amaldo, a Franciscan monk (1533); Gaspare Colonna, generous in the decoration of churches, who, at the time of the Colonna consipiracy against Pope Eugenius IV, was imprisoned with the others, but quickly released; Giovanni della Casa, a distinguished writer and Italian orator (1544); Cardinal Giacomo Savelli (1560), founder of the seminary ; Cardinal Pompeio Arrigoni (1607); Cardinal Sinibaldo Doria (1731) who suffered much from the intrigues of Nicolò Coscia, administrator under the above-mentioned Archbishop Orsini. Doria founded a great library, subsequently enlarged by Cardinal Francesco Maria Banditi in 1775; Cardinal Domenico Spinucci (1796); Cardinal Camillo Siciliano di Rende (1879).
The Archdiocese of Benevento has a population of 590,500 Catholics with 138 parishes, 460 churches and chapels, 839 secular priests, 70 priests belonging to religious orders, 350 seminarists, 40 lay brothers, and 120 members of female religious orders.
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