Located in Sicily. The city is situated, in the shape of an amphitheatre, along the slope of the Hills of Neptune, on an inlet of the sea at the Strait of Messina, which separates Sicily from the peninsula. Its harbour, with its size and fine situation, is one of the most important in Italy after those of Genoa and of Naples. Nevertheless, the hopes entertained for its commerce, in view of the opening of the Suez Canal, were disappointed, for, between 1887 and 1894, the commerce of Messina decreased from 940,000 tons to 350,000 tons; still, in 1908, it grew again to 551,000 tons. The neighbouring seas are rich in coral, molluscs, and fish; and from the mountains are obtained calcic sulphate, alabaster, sulphates of argentiferous lead, antimony, iron, and copper. Messina is said to have been founded by some pirates from Cumæ, a very ancient Greek colony, and to have received from its founders the name of Zancle (sickle) on account of the semicircular shape of the port. In 735 a colony of Messenians was taken there by Gorgos, a son of King Aristomenes, the brave but unfortunate defender of the Messenians against the Spartans. Thereafter, the population of the city was increased by fugitives from Chalcis, Samos, and Eubœa, who had escaped from the Persian invasion; they became preponderant in the town and made it join the Ionian League. In 493 B. C. Anaxilas, tyrant of Rhegium, also a Messenian colony, drove the Samians from Zancle, took the town, and called it Messana (the a of the Doric dialect, which becomes n in the Ionic coming later to be pronounced as English e). In 426 the city was retaken by the Ionians under the Athenian Laches, who, however, lost it in 415; an attempt of another Athenian, Nicias, to recover it failed. In consequence of the rivalry of the Athenians and the Carthaginians for the possession of Sicily, Messina was pillaged and destroyed by the Carthaginians in 396, but was rebuilt by Dionysius. In 312 the town was taken by Agathocles, and at his death the Campanian mercenaries of his army, called Mamertines, took possession of the city, and established there a military republic; having been defeated by Hiero II near Mylæ (Milazzo) in 269, and then besieged in the town itself, a part of them sought the assistance of the Carthaginians, and a part that of the Romans. The Carthaginians under Hanno were the first to arrive, but in 264 the consul, Appius Claudia Caudex, took the city, repelling Carthaginians and Syracusans. This brought about the Punic Wars. Other events of the pre-Christian history of Messina are the victory of Piso over the slaves in 133; and the naval victory of Agrippa over Pompey in 36. In the Gothic wars Messina had a considerable part; while, in A. D. 831, it fell into the hands of the Arabs. In the Norman conquest of Sicily, Messina was naturally the basis of operations. In 1038 the Byzantine general, George Maniakes, assisted by the Normans, captured the town, but it was lost again, on the recall of that general. In 1060 Count Roger made his first expedition, and in the following year was master of Messina, which from that time followed the fortunes of the Kingdom of Naples . There was a serious revolt against Frederick II in 1232; and in 1282 Messina also had its " Vespers ", and on that account was besieged by King Charles II, who was, however, compelled to retreat, and left Sicily to the King of Aragon. In 1676, the Messenians rebelled against Spanish domination, and were assisted by a French fleet, sent by Louis XIV ; Viscount Duquesne obtained a naval victory over the Spaniards, but soon a royal order obliged the French to leave the city. Messina had a part in the wars for the union of Italy : it was bombarded in 1848; and in 1860, after a long resistance was taken by Garibaldi.
The city has often been a prey to earthquakes, the most disastrous of which were those of 1783 and of 1908; the latter, on 28 December of that year, destroyed Messina almost entirely. The most beautiful of the palaces and of the churches were overthrown, among them the cathedral, a structure of three naves, containing six great columns of Egyptian marble that came from the ruins of Cape Faro (the ancient Pelorum Promontorium); the chief entrance of this temple was a jewel of Roman art, rich in little columns, fretwork, spirals, bas-reliefs, and statuettes; the marble pulpit, a work of Gagini, was in the shape of a chalice ; the tribune was adorned with mosaics of the time of Frederick II ; and the walls were decorated with frescoes and oil paintings of great masters. The residence of the canons, and the sacristy also, had paintings by such masters as Salvo d'Antonio, Quagliata, Rodriguez, Catalano, Alibrandi, Fiammingo, etc. On the cathedral square, before the façade of the Franciscan convent, was a monumental fountain, the work of Gian Angelo da Montorsoli (1551). The most beautiful church of Messina is that of the Madonna of Montevergine; other interesting churches are those of San Francesco dei Mercadanti; the church and monastery of San Giorgio with pictures by Guercino and by other masters; Santa Maria dell' Alto where is preserved the only known picture by Cardillo (about 1200); the church of San Francesco d'Assisi, built in the Gothic style, but disfigured in 1721; lastly, the churches of San Nicolò and of San Domenico, the latter containing the mausoleum of the family of Cicala by Montorsoli and a fine Pietà in marble. The episcopal palace, spared by the last earthquake, and the adjoining seminary, are interesting buildings; likewise, the city hail, with its Fountain of Neptune by Montorsoli, and the university dating from 1549, which had a most valuable library of 3000 editiones principes , 241 manuscripts, and 10 parchments with miniature paintings, a gallery of pictures, and a collection of coins, all of which is yet buried under the ruins. The hospital of La Pietà and the fortifications, constructed mostly under Charles V, were ornaments of the city.
According to the legend, Christianity was brought hither by Saints Peter and Paul, and there is still preserved at Messina a letter attributed to the Blessed Virgin, which, it is claimed, was written by her to the Messenians when Our Lady heard of their conversion by St. Paul. St. Bachiritis or Bacchilus is venerated as the first Bishop of Messina. There is record of several bishops of Messene in the fourth and fifth centuries, but it is not known whether it be Messina, or Messene in Greece, to which reference is made; Eucarpus, a contemporary of Pope Symmachus (498), is the first Bishop of Messina of known date ; the bishops who are known to have followed him were Felix (about 600), Peregrinus (649), Benedict (682), Gaudiosus (787), and Gregory (868); the latter was for some time a follower of Photius. Nothing is known of the episcopal see during the time of the Saracen occupation. In 1090, Roger established there, as bishop, Robert, who built the cathedral. Under Bishop Nicholas (1166) Messina was made an archbishopric. Among other bishops of this see may be mentioned the Englishman, Richard Palmer (1182); Archbishop Lando, often an intermediary between Gregory IX and Frederick II ; Francesco Fontana (1288), expelled by the Messenians; Guidotto dei Tabiati (1292), whose mausoleum was one of the works of art of the cathedral ; Cardinal Antonio Cerdani (1447); in 1473 the chapter elected the Basilian archimandrite, Leontios, and he not being acceptable to the pope or to the king, the friar, Jacob da Santa Lucia, was appointed in his stead, but was not received; Cardinal Pietro Sveglie (1510), who had served on several occasions as pontifical legate ; Cardinal Innocenzo Cibo (1538); Cardinal Gianandrea de Mercurio (1550), who had a controversy with the Greek bishop, Pamphilius, the latter claiming jurisdiction over the Greek priests of the archdiocese ; Andrea Mastrilli (1618), convoked many synods, and rebuilt the episcopal palace and the seminary ; the Dominican, Tommaso Moncada (1743), who at the same time was Patriarch of Jerusalem. The Archbishop of Messina is also Archimandrite of San Salvatore; this convent of Greek Monks of St. Basil was founded by Count Roger in 1094, and its archimandrite had jurisdiction over all the Basilian monasteries of the kingdom, of which there were forty-four, as well as over many parishes. In 1421, the archimandritate was secularized and was given in commendam to secular prelates, of whom Bessarion was one. In time the monastery fell into decadence; a fortification was erected on its site (1538), and the monks moved to the church of La Misericordia. Urban VIII made the archimandritate and its territory immediately subject to the Holy See, and Leo XIII in 1883 united it with the Archdiocese of Messina. The collegiate church of Santa Maria del Graffeo, called the "Cattolica", is noteworthy in Messina: the so-called Græco-Latin Rite is used there, its characteristics being a combination of Latin vestments, unleavened bread, etc., with the Greek language: on solemn occasions, the Epistle and the Gospel are read, first in Latin and then in Greek. In certain functions, the canons of the cathedral and those of the "Graffeo" officiate together, either at the latter church or at the cathedral. The clergy of the "Graffeo" have at their head a protopope who is under the jurisdiction of the archbishop. Formerly, the Greek Rite was in use in other churches of Messina, introduced there probably during the Byzantine domination. The archdiocese and the Abbey of San Salvatore together had 179 parishes, with 250,000 inhabitants, 22 religious houses of men, and 26 of women. The seminary was uninjured by the earthquake, and since then the Jesuits reopened a college. There is a Catholic journal that appears three times each week. Within the territory of the archdiocese is the prœlatura nullius of Santa Lucia del Melo, which has 7 parishes, with nearly 15,000 inhabitants. The suffragan sees of Messina are those of Lipari, Nicosia, and Patti.
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