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DIOCESE OF ORIHUELA (ORIOLENSIS, ORIOLANA).

The Diocese of Orihuela comprises all the civil Province of Alicante except the two townships (pueblos) of Caudete (Albacete) and Ayora (Valencia). The city of Orihuela, with its suburbs, has a population of 24,364. The episcopal see was in ancient times at Bigastro or the place known as Cehegín. Jaime the Conqueror recovered Orihuela from the Moors in 1265, giving it to his son-in-law Alfonso X, the Wise, of Castile, and restoring the church, which came under the jurisdiction of the See of Cartagena. When Orihuela was lost to the Castilian crown, in 1304, Martin of Aragon petitioned the pope to give it a bishop of its own. The first concession was made, by the antipope Benedict XIII (Luna), who made the church of Salvador a collegiate church. On the petition of Alfonso V, Martin V instituted a vicariate-general, independent of Murcia and Cartagena, for the portion of the diocese lying within the Kingdom of Aragon. No bishop was appointed until 1437, when it was given as its first, a scion of the House of Corella, who never took possession. Eugenius IV suppressed the new diocese ; Julius II accorded to the church of Orihuela the rank of cathedral (1510), but subject to the Bishop of Cartagena. Peace was secured only when Philip II, in the Cortes of Monzón (1563), decided to separate the church of Orihuela from Cartagena, and obtained from Pius IV, in 1564, the creation of a new bishopric.

The first bishop was a native of Burgos, Gregorio Gallo y Andrada, confessor to Queen Isabel of Valois. Among his successors, José Esteban added to the cathedral the chapter of St. Stephen , where he is buried. Juan Elias Gómez de Terán built at his own expense (1743) the conciliar seminary of La Purísima Concepción, the Seminary of St. Miguel, and the House of Mercy. He also caused to be erected the Chapel of the Holy Communion, the chapter house, and the archivium . This bishop lies buried in the church of La Misericordia at Alicante. José de Rada y Aguirre was confessor to Ferdinand VI. José Tormo enlarged the seminary, rebuilt much of the episcopal palace, erected episcopal residences at Cox and Elche, and the Chapel of the Holy Communion in the great church of the latter city. Several works of public utility are due to him, such as the aqueduct of Elche, the ridge of Rojales, and a wall protecting the cultivated lands of Orihuela against inundation. Another occupant of this see was Cardinal Despuig (1791). Francisco Antonio Cebrián y Valda (1797) ruled the diocese eighteen years, afterwards becoming Patriarch of the Indies. The episcopate of Felix Herrero Valverde was long and fruitful; he improved the cathedral and other churches, laboured to repair the damage done by the earthquake of 1829, and suffered a long exile in Italy after the death of Ferdinand VII.

Conspicuous among the buildings of Orihuela is the Seminary of St. Miguel, situated upon a rocky eminence. Founded in 1743, it possesses a good library, a hall of exercises ( salón de actos ) built by Bishop Pedro María Cubero (1859), and the general archivium of the diocese. It is divided into two colleges : that of the Apostolic Missionaries, founded by Bishop Terán, and the episcopal college. The most notable of the churches is the Cathedral of the Transfiguration (El Salvador): its style is a simple ogival of the fourteenth century. The principal door -- the "Door of the Chains" -- is Gothic; that of the Annunciation is Plateresque. The great chapel, of beautiful ogival work, was demolished in 1827 to enlarge the enclosure. The grille of the choir and the high altar have been considered the finest in the kingdom (Viciana): they are Renaissance of the sixteenth century. The vast episcopal palace, separated from the cathedral by a street, was built in 1733 by Bishop José Flores Osirio, on the left bank of the River Segura. It contains a magnificent staircase. The principal churches are Sta Justa y Rufina and the Apostól Santiago (St. James the Apostle ), both restored Gothic. The former is said to have been a parish church in the time of the Goths, but it was reconstructed between 1319 and 1348. That of Santiago is a fine Gothic structure, and bears the device of the Catholic Sovereigns: TANTO MONTA; and the arms of Charles V. The great chapel was built between 1554 and 1609, and the tabernacle, of rare marbles, is eighteenth-century work.

Orihuela had many monasteries and convents -- Augustinian, Franciscan, Carmelite, Mercedarian, Dominican, Trinitarian, Alcantarine, Capuchin, and of the Hospitallers of St. John of God. Those of the Franciscans and the Capuchins are still extant, as also of the Salesian and Augustinian Sisters and the Clarissas. But the principal edifice of Orihuela is that of its university ; otherwise called the Patriarchal College of Preachers, founded by the prelate Fernando de Loaces, a native of Orihuela, who spent 80,000 ducats ($800,000) on it and gave it to the Dominicans. At first this institution was occupied only with ecclesiastical studies, for members of the order, but it afterwards obtained faculties for the conferring of scientific degrees, with privileges equal to those of the most celebrated universities, and the titles of Illustrious, Royal, and Pontifical (1640). It was suppressed in 1824. The building, having been declared an historical monument, was given to the Jesuits, who now carry on in it a college and boarding-school. In the same building the public archives and library are housed, the latter consisting largely of books taken from the suppressed convents. The sarcophagus of the founder is in the chancel of the magnificent church. A statue of St. Thomas stands above the principal door, and above it a colossal Minerva.

By the Concordat of 1851, the See of Orihuela is to be transferred to Alicante, a city with two excellent churches: that of S. Nicolás and the older church of Sta. María, formerly a mosque. It was destroyed by fire and entirely rebuilt in the ogival style. The collegiate church founded by Alfonso X, the Wise, was made a collegiate church by Clement VIII (1600), and, by the terms of the Concordat, is destined to be the cathedral of Alicante. Also celebrated is the sanctuary of the Holy Face at Alicante, originally occupied by Hieronymites, but now by the Poor Clares. The linen cloth bearing the imprint of the Holy Face was brought from Rome by Mossén Mena of Alicante and is an object of great veneration in that part of the country. Elcha, famous for its palm-trees, has a noteworthy church dedicated to the Assumption, on which feast it still holds a dramatic representation of medieval character. Orihuela has a hospital, a Casa de Misericordia for the poor and orphans (1734), and a foundling asylum founded by Charles III in 1764.


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