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The Diocese of Brescia takes its name from the principal city in the province of the same name in Lombardy, between the Mella and the Naviglio. The city of Brescia contains 60,000 inhabitants and is of great commercial importance. It was founded by the Gauls, and in 197 B.C. was captured by the Romans, who called in Brixia. When, in 312, Constantine advanced against Maxentius, an engagement took place at Brescia in which the enemy was forced to retreat as far as Verona. During the invasion of the Huns under Attila, the city was besieged. In 774 Charlemagne captured it from the Lombards.
The Bishops of Brescia received the title of Count from Louis II, and in consequence became civil rulers of the city and the countship. Many struggles followed, however, in particular after Arduin Lord Marcher of Ivrea, who had proclaimed himself King of Italy (1002), had slain the bishop of this city of holding allegiance to Emperor Henry II. Henry, to ensure the fidelity of the citizens of Brescia, was obliged to confirm the civil liberty granted them by Arduin, which is the origin of the commune of Brescia. In the successive struggles between the Lombard cities and the emperors, Brescia was implicated in some of the leagues and in all of the uprisings against them. Memorable in the history of these conflicts is the siege laid to Brescia by Frederick II in 1238 on account of the part taken by this city in the battle of Cortenova (27 November, 1237). Brescia came through this assault victorious. After the fall of the imperial house of Swabia republican institutions declined at Brescia, as well as in the other free cities and the leadership was contested between several powerful families, chief among them the Maggi and the Brusati, the latter of the Ghibelline party. In 1311 Henry VII laid siege to Brescia for six months, losing three-fourths of his army. Later the Scaligeri of Verona, aided by the exiled Ghibellines, sought to place Brescia under subjection. The citizens of Brescia then had recourse to John of Luxemburg ; Mastino II della Scala, however, expelled the governor appointed by him. His mastery, in turn, was soon contested by the Visconti of Milan, but not even their rule was undisputed, as Pandolfo Malatesta in 1406 took possession of the city, but in 1416 bartered it to Filippo Visconti, who in 1426 sold it to the Venetians. The Milanese nobles, however, forced Filippo to resume hostilities against the Venetians, and thus to attempt the recovery of this city, but he was defeated in the battle of Maclodio (1427), near Brescia. In 1439 Brescia was once more besieged by Francesco Sforza, captain of the Venetians, who conquered Piccinino, Filippo's condottiere . Thenceforward Brescia acknowledged the authority of Venice, with the exception of the years between 1512 and 1520, when it was occupied by the French armies. From 1796 it shared the fortunes of the republic.
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The Bishop of Brescia is suffragan to the Archbishop of Milan. Legend traces the beginnings of Christianity in Brescia to St. Barnabas, who is said to have made St. Anatolus bishop. However, Milan also claims Anatolus as its first bishop, consecrated by St. Barnabas. In any case, the Faith was probably brought to Brescia by way of Milan. During the reign of Hadrian, Brescia was the scene of the martyrdom of Sts. Faustinus and Jovita (cf. Acta SS., 15 February). From the time of the persecutions tradition mentions the names of several bishops, but nothing authentic is known concerning them. In the fourth century there was the celebrated St. Philastrius, a most zealous champion of orthodoxy against heresy, of whom it is related that he converted many pagans. He was succeeded by St. Gaudentius, consecrated by St. Ambrose (c. 387), who erected outside the city walls the church Ad Concilia Sanctorum , in which the holy matron Silvia was buried later. A great number of the bishops who ruled this diocese form the fourth to the seventh centuries are inscribed on the rolls of the saints, e.g. St. Paul, St. Theophilis, St. Silvinus, St. Gaudiosus, St. Ottapianus, St. Vigilius, St. Hercalanus, St. Poterius, St. Anastasius (610), who built the church of San Pietro, and made it the cathedral, and St. Dominic (613), who with the many gifts he received from Queen Theodolinda, erected the church called the Rotonda. Bishop Ramperto brought to Brescia the Benedictines, who constructed a church to which they transferred the relics of Sts. Faustinus and Jovita ; he also took part in the Council of Mantua of 827. Notingus (844) was the first bishop who bore the title of Count. Landolfo II (1007) built the church of Santa Eufemia outside the walls.
During the episcopate of Manfredo Lucciaga (1133), Arnold of Brescia disseminated his teachings, with the result that the governors of the city all but confiscated the property of the churches of Brescia. Alberto Rezzato (1213) had the Paterines to contend against; he also brought many relics from the Holy Land. Blessed Gualla Ronio (1229), of the Friars Preachers , was distinguished for his virtue. Berardo Maggi (1275), a Guelph, was made Duke and Count of the city, and constructed among other works two canals diverting the waters of the Rivers Chiese and Mella, in order to furnish the motive force for many factories. Tommaso Visconti (1388) did much for the maintenance of discipline among the clergy. Under Bishop Francesco de' Mareri (1418), the preaching of St. Bernardine of Siena wrought a great moral reform in the city of Brescia. Pietro dal Monte (1442) adorned the episcopal palace, erected a hospital, and wrote various works. Paolo Zane (1481) built the shrine of Santa Maria delle Grazie and established the hospital for incurables. In the sixteenth century three cardinals succeeded each other: Francesco Cornaro (1532), Andrea Cornaro (1543), and Durante de' Duranti (1551). Domenico Bollani (1559) convened a diocesan synod (1574) in conformity with the decree of the Council of Trent, and founded the seminary. Giovanni Dolfin (1579) seconded St. Charles Borromeo in his work of reform, and that saint by his own desire celebrated the obsequies of Bishop Dolfin. Bishop Pietro Ottoboni (1654) was later elevated to the chair of St. Peter under the name of Alexander VIII. Cardinal Alb. Badoaro (1706) was a very zealous pastor, combating in an especial manner the Quietism which had infected his diocese. Cardinal Angelo M. Quirini (1727) was a man of great learning; he founded the library of the commune, which took its name from him, and did much towards the restoration of the cathedral. During the episcopate of Giovanni Nani (1773) the French invasion took place, with the attendant pillaging of churches and convents.
The most important churches of the city have been mentioned in connexion with the bishops. There is still to be noted that of San Francesco, Romanesque in style, with a beautiful façade. Noteworthy, also, is the cemetery of Brescia, dating from the beginning of the nineteenth century, containing a large watch tower.
The diocese contains 79 rural deaneries, 389 parishes, 774 churches, chapels, and oratories, 997 secular priests, 77 regular clergy, 398 seminarists, 283 members of female religious orders, 4 schools for boys, and 8 for girls, and a population of 527,475.
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