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Diocese ; suffragan of Bologna. The city is located on the Santerno, and was anciently called Forum Cornelii, from the dictator L. Cornelius Sulla, who founded it about 82 B.C. The name Imola was first used in the seventh century by the Lombards, who applied it to the fortress (the present Castellaccio, the construction of which is attributed to the Lombard Clefi), whence the name passed to the city itself. According to Paul the Deacon, Imola was in 412 the scene of the marriage of Atawulf, King of the Visigoths, and Placidia, daughter of Theodosius the Great. In the Gothic war, and after the Lombard invasion, it was held alternately by the Byzantines and barbarians. With the exarchate it passed under papal authority. In the ninth century it was bravely defended against the Saracens and Hungarians by Fausto Alidosi. In the tenth century Troilo Nordiglio acquired great power. This and the following centuries witnessed incessant wars against the Ravennatese, the Faentines, and Bolognese, as well as the intestine struggles of the Castrimolesi (Castro Imolese) and the Sancassianesi (San Cassiano). Amid these conflicts was formed the republican constitution of the city. In the contest between pope and emperor Imola was generally Ghibelline, though it often returned to the popes (e.g. in 1248). Several times, powerful lords attempted to obtain the mastery of the city (Alidosi, 1292; Maghinardo Pagano, 1295). Benedict XII turned the city and its territory over to Lippo Alidosi with the title of pontifical vicar, the power remaining in the same family (Alidosi) until 1424, when Angelo della Pergola, "capitano" for Filippo Maria Visconti, gained the supremacy. But in 1426 the city was restored to the Holy See, and the legate (later Cardinal ) Capranica inaugurated a new regime in public affairs.
In 1434, 1438, and 1470 Imola was conferred on the Sforza, who had become lords of Milan. It was again brought under papal authority when it was bestowed as dowry on Catherine Sforza, the bride of Girolamo Riario, nephew of Sixtus IV . Riario was invested with the Principality of Forli and Imola. This proved advantageous to Imola, which was embellished with beautiful palaces and works of art (e.g. in the cathedral, the tomb of Girolamo, murdered in 1488 by conspirators of Forli ). The rule of the Riarii, however, was brief, as Alexander VI deprived Ottaviano, son of Girolamo, of power, and on 25 November, 1499, the city surrendered to Caesar Borgia. On his death two factions, that of Galeazzo Riario and that of the Church, contested the rule of the city. The ecclesiastical party was victorious, and in 1504 Imola submitted to Julius II. The last trace of these contests was a bitter enmity between the Vaini and Sassatelli families. In 1797 the French established a provisional government at Imola; in 1799 it was occupied by the Austrians ; in 1800 it was united to the Cisalpine Republic. After that it shared the fortunes of the Romagna.
Noteworthy among the secular edifices of Imola are the Farsetti and the municipal palaces. In the latter is a fresco representing Clement VII and Charles V (1535) passing through the city. The public library was established in 1747 by the Conventual Padre Setti. In the sixteenth century the Accademia degli Industriosi flourished. Among the celebrated men of Imola were: Pope Honorius II; Benvenuto da Imola (Rambaldi), a lecturer on Dante at the University of Bologna in the fourteenth century, Taddeo della Volpe, a captain in the service of the popes and Venice (in 1510 Venice presented him with a staff bearing the image of a fox and his device: S IMUL ASTU ET DENTIBVS UTAR ); Giovanni Sassatelli, surnamed il Cagnaccio , who was also a captain; Ottaviano Vestri and his son Marcello, famous jurists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; Innocenzo da Imola (Francucci) , a pupil of Francia and Gaspare Sacchi, distinguished painters ; Andrea and Giuseppe Bagnari, noted for their skill in inlaid work; Cosimo Morelli, the famous architect who designed the sacristy of St. Peter's, Rome.
The Christian origins of Imola are obscure. The episcopal see certainly antedates St. Ambrose , who sede vacante ordered the Bishop of Vigorenza to visit the church of Imola and provide for the election of a pastor. The martyrdom of Saint Cassian is likewise certain, being described by Prudentius (Peristeph., IX) from pictures seen by him in the cathedral of Imola. Saint Cassian was a schoolmaster, put to death for his faith by his pupils, under Diocletian. Some have identified him with Saint Cassian, Bishop of Sabiona (Saeben in the Tyrol), said to have been transferred to Imola, but this would place the martyrdom in the time of Julian. In 435 Valentinian III built the church of S. Maria in Arenula. The bishop then was St. Cornelius, whose deacon was made Bishop of Ravenna by Sixtus III and is known as St. Peter Chrysologus. His successor was Projectus, at whose ordination Chrysologus pronounced a magnificent eulogy of St. Cornelius. Chrysologus himself was buried at Imola. His tombstone, discovered in 1698, was a rude block on which was written PETRUS. Of the gifts of St. Peter Chrysologus to the church of Imola there is still preserved a paten, with the figure of a lamb on an altar, surrounded by the metrical legend
Hostia fit gentis primi pro labe parentis.
These leonine verses, however, indicate a much more recent date. At the same period flourished the deacon St. Donatus. Other bishops worthy of mention are: John (946), who restored the cathedral and embellished the tomb of St. Peter Chrysologus ; Blessed Basil (1063); Ridolfo (1146), and Enrico (1174), who suffered for their adherence to Alexander III, Enrico laid the foundations of the present cathedral, finished in 1271 under Bishop Sinibaldo; Pietro Ondedei (1416), a distinguished canonist and theologian ; the Dominican Gaspare Sighigelli (1450), learned and saintly; Girolamo Dandini (1546), formerly nuncio at Paris, founder of an orphan asylum ; Francesco Guarini (1566), the founder of the seminary ; Cardinal Fabio Chigi (1652), afterwards Pope Alexander VII ; Cardinal Filippo Gualtieri (1702), founder of a mone frumentario to supply the poor peasant with seed; Cardinal Giancarlo Bandi (1752), who rebuilt the cathedral and the basilica of Valentinian ; Cardinal Barnaba Chiaramonti (1785), afterwards Pope Pius VII ; Cardinal Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti (1832), afterwards Pius IX.
Imola has 121 parishes with 120,000 souls ; 7 religious houses of men and 12 of women ; 4 educational institutions for boys, and 12 for girls.
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