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Diocese comprising the entire department of the Basses Alpes; suffragan of the Archbishopric of Aix. By the Concordat of 1801, this diocese was made to include the two departments of the Hautes and Basses Alpes, in addition to the former Diocese of Digne, the Archdiocese of Embrun, the Dioceses of Gap, Sisteron and Senez, a very considerable part of the Dioceses of Glandèves and Riez, and fourteen parishes in the Archdiocese of Aix and the Diocese of Apt. In 1822 Gap was made an episcopal see and, thus divested of the department of the Hautes Alpes, the present Diocese of Digne covers the territory formerly included in the Dioceses of Digne, Senez, Glandèves, Riez, and Sisteron.
Former Diocese of Digne
This diocese was evangelized by Sts. Domninus and Vincentius who came from Africa in the second half of the fourth century with St. Marcellinus, the Apostle of Embrun. It is not certain that they were bishops. The first historically known bishop was Pentadius who attended the Council of Agde in 506. Among the incumbents of the See of Digne may be mentioned: Elzéar de Villeneuve (1334-41), author of a celebrated form of oath to be taken by Jews ; Pierre III de Verceil (1432-39), who represented the clergy and the Count of Provence at the Council of Basle ; Guillaume V d'Estoute ville (1439-55), closely connected with the history of the Pragmatic Sanction and later Archbishop of Rouen ; Antoine III Hérouet (1552-68), poet and translator of Plato ; Forbin Janson (1664-68), afterwards a cardinal and ambassador to Poland ; Miollis (1805-38), whose kindness was proverbial, and who was the original of "Mgr. Myriel" in Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables", and Sibour (1839-48), who died Archbishop of Paris.
Diocese of Senez.
Marcellus I, the first known Bishop of the Diocese of Senez, attended the Council of Agde in 506; nevertheless, Senez must have been an episcopal city as early as 439. Jean IV Soanen, the Oratorian, noted for his opposition to the Bull "Unigenitus", was Bishop of Senez from 1696 until the time of his deposition in 1727.
Diocese of Glandèves
Claudius, the first known bishop of the diocese, ascended the episcopal throne in 541, but Glandèves was probably a see as early as 439. Among its bishops were Symphorien Bullioud (1508-20), also ambassador from Francis I to Julius II and chaplain to Francis I ; Francis I Faure (1651-53), the pulpit orator, later Bishop of Amiens, and de Belloy (1752-55), who died a centenarian in 1808, as Archbishop of Paris.
Diocese of Sisteron
Johannes, the first known Bishop of Sisteron, appears early in the sixth century. Owing to the ungracious reception accorded Bishop Gérard by the Chapter of Sisteron, the bishops of that see remained at Forcalquier from 1061 to 1169 and, until the time of the Revolution, the church at Forcalquier bore the title of cathedral. Laffittau, the Jesuit who was agent of Cardinal Dubois, and also an historian, occupied the See of Sisteron from 1719 to 1764.
Diocese of Riez
According to an unsupported tradition, the establishment of the Church in this diocese is attributed to the first century and to Eusebius of Eudochius, companion of St. Lazarus. A certain St. Prosper of Reggio in Emilia (at the beginning of the fifth century) figures in the history of Riez and was perhaps its bishop ; however, the first certainly known bishop is St. Maximus (433-60), who succeeded St. Honoratus as Abbot of Lérins and who, in 439, held a council at Riez with a view to improving the deplorable condition of the churches of Southern Gaul. His successor, St. Faustus (461-93), also Abbot of Lérins, was noted for his writings against Predestinationists ; it was to him that Sidonius Apollinaris dedicated his "Carmen Eucharisticum" in gratitude for hospitality received at Riez. Robert Ceneau, the pulpit orator (1530-32), afterwards Bishop of Avranches and Gui Bentivoglio (1622-25), who was nuncio in France and defender of French interests at Rome and who played an important role under Louis XIII, are also mentioned among the bishops of Riez.
The Diocese of Digne numbers the following saints : St. Thyrsus of Sisteron and St. Promatius of Forcalquier, both perhaps of the third century; the abbots St. Marius and St. Donatus (fifth, sixth centuries), natives of Orléans, and founders of monasteries near Forcalquier and Sisteron; St. Mayeul (or Majolus) (910-94), born at Valensole and noted as Abbot of Cluny and a friend of Emperor Otto II ; St. Bevon (tenth century), born at Noyers, helped to deliver Provence from the Saracens ; Blessed Gérard, founder of the Hospitallers of Jerusalem, who died in 1120, his relics being preserved at Manosque; St. John of Matha (1160-1213), born at Faucon and founder of the Trinitarians; Blessed Hugh, a great Franciscan preacher who was attached to the doctrines of Joachim of Floris and died in 1255; his sister St. Douceline, who was born at Digne, founded the Beguines of Hyères and died in 1274; St. Elzear of Sabran who died in 1332, and his wife St. Delphina of Sabran (1284-1360); and the Venerable Jacques Chastan (1803-38), born at Marcoux and martyred in Korea. During the Middle Ages the Franciscan convent in Digne produced François de Meyronnes, conspicuous at the Sorbonne and known as the "enlightened doctor", and Gassendi, the philosopher who, from 1634 to 1655, was provost of the Church of Digne, on which he wrote a learned work. The principal places of pilgrimage are: Notre Dame des Anges at Lure, frequented annually by over 10,000 of the faithful, a shrine founded in the century by a recluse from Orléans ; Notre Dame de Romigier at Manosque, dating back to the fifth century, Notre Dame du Roc at Castellane, established in the eighth century; and Notre Dame de Beauvoir at Moustiers Ste Marie. This last named shrine was visited in the time of Sidonius Apollinaris. Two rocks overhang the chapel of Our Lady and are held together by an iron chain, from which is suspended a golden star presented by a Knight of Rhodes who, having been taken prisoner, invoked Our Lady of Moustiers and was delivered.
Prior to the enforcement of the law of 1905 there were in the diocese, Benedictines, the Missionaries of Ste Garde, the Brothers of Christian Schools and Brothers of Christian Instruction of St. Gabriel . Local orders of women especially worthy of mention are: the Congregation of Our Lady of the Presentation, a teaching order at Manosque, and that of the Sisters of Christian Doctrine of the Holy Childhood, whose mother house is at Digne, and who devote themselves alike to teaching and hospital work. In 1899 the following institutions in the diocese were under the care of religious: 12 infant schools, 2 orphanages for boys and girls, 13 hospitals and hospices, 1 house of retreat and 4 houses for religious nurses. In 1905 (the last year of the Concordatory period) the Diocese of Digne had a population of 115,021, 35 pastorates, 314 succursal parishes (mission churches), and 13 curacies subventioned by the State.
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