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Updated:  Aug 12, 2013
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Diocese of Vitoria

Suffragan of Burgos, in Spain

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.


Vitoria, Diocese of (VICTOMENSIS), suffragan of Burgos, in Spain, bounded on the north by the Bay of Biscay; on the east by Guipuzcoa and Navarre; on the south by Logrofio; and on the west by Burgos. It comprises the Basque Provinces and the greater part of the Province of Alava. The principal city, Vitoria, has more than 27,000 inhabitants. Prior to the tenth century the city was called Gazteiz, a Basque word meaning "the height of the fray", and belonged to the very ancient Federation of Arriaga, a federation of the towns of Alava. It occupied the upper portion of the present city, which is called el Campillo, or Villa de Suso. The name Gazteiz is found in a document of the Conde Fernan Gonzalez, dated 934, preserved in the monastery of San Millan de Rioja. The Navarrese king D. Sancho the Wise took possession of this region in 1181, giving it the name of Victoria, which has been converted into Vitoria by the peculiarities of the local phonetics, and conferred upon it the privileges of a town. He built two castles, surrounded the town with walls, appointed Pedro Ramirez its military chief, and granted it the fuero, or charter, of Logrofio. Alfonso VIII conquered it for Castile and conferred upon it still further fueros and privileges, which were confirmed by Ferdinand III and Alfonso X the Wise. John II conferred a city charter upon it on November 20, 1431. Isabella the Catholic obtained from Pope Alexander VI the transfer of the collegiate Church of Armentia to the parochial Church of Santa Maria de Vitoria the present cathedral, and in 1862 the Diocese of Vitoria was erected, in conformity with the Concordat of 1851, under the Bull of Pius IX, October 5, 1861.

When Calahorra was conquered by the Moors, its episcopal see was established in the Church of Armentia, and the kings of Asturias then gave it the name of Diocese of Alava. Theodomir, Reccared, and Vivere (eighth and ninth centuries) signed as bishops of Calahorra, although they resided in Armentia. Bishop Fortunius was one of those who defended the use of the Mozarabic Rite before Alexander II, and at his death (1088) the Diocese of Alava was suppressed, the Church of San Andres de Armentia taking rank simply as a collegiate with canons and dignitaries, the Archdean of Alava being the principal. This was transferred to Vitoria in 1498. In the fifteenth century Vitoria was disturbed by the factions of the Callejas (Aristocrats) and the Agalas (Democrats); the former held their meetings in the Church of San Pedro, and the latter in that of San Miguel. Ferdinand the Catholic made strenuous efforts to restore peace.

The three distinct periods of its existence can easily be traced in the city of Vitoria. The most ancient city, the Campillo, or Villa de Suso; surrounded by walls and ramparts, now for the most part in ruins; the old city, built at the foot of the Villa de Suso and now shut in by the modern Vitoria with its handsome edifices. The Cathedral of Santa Maria, the ancient collegiate, church, which in 1181 was a fortress as well as a church, was situated in the old city. It disappeared when the fourteenth-century edifice was built. This is a Gothic structure of the second period; its beautiful open portico is surmounted by a clock tower; it has three naves and a transept; the main chapel (capilla mayor) has a beautiful tabernacle, the work of Olaguibel, and reredos by Valdivieso) both natives of Alava. In the sacristy is the "Immaculate Conception" by Juan de Carreno, a "Pieta" attributed to Van Dyck, and some small pictures by Zurbaran and Juan de Juanes. The processional cross is attributed to Benvenuto Cellini. The image of the Blessed Virgin, called de la esclavitud, because she holds an S and a nail (clavo) in her hand, is a precious relic of the twelfth century. A new cathedral, which will be larger than that of Burgos, is now (1912) being built through the zeal of the bishop, D. Jose Cadena y Eleta. The crypt was opened in 1911. Other notable churches of Vitoria are San Vicente and San Miguel, which were the churches of Gazteiz in the time of Sancho the Wise. The Church of San Miguel is built on the site of an ancient Roman temple and contains a statue of the Blessed Virgin called La Blanca, from the whiteness of the stone of which it is made. The parish church of San Pedro contains some curious tombs. The convent of the Dominicans was founded by St. Dominic on the site of the house of Sancho the Strong of Navarre. It has since served for a barracks and a military hospital. The convent of San Francisco, founded in 1214, is also a barracks for infantry and cavalry. Adrian of Utrecht was living in the famous "Casa del Cordon" when he received the news of his elevation to the papacy.

The conciliar seminary was inaugurated in 1880 under the patronage of St. Prudentius and St. Ignatius. It was enlarged by Bishop Mariano de Miguel y Gomez. The seminary of Aguirre was founded in 1853. During the civil wars it was used for a military storehouse. The secondary school has a good building surrounded by the gardens of La Florida. The hospital occupies the old seminary building of San Prudencio which was founded in the seventeenth century by Bishop Salvatierra of Segorbe and Ciudad-Rodrigo, a native of Vitoria. Orate is situated in this diocese. Its university dates from about the middle of the sixteenth century, having been founded by Rodrigo de Mercado y Zuazola, Bishop of Majorca and Avila. Paul III, in 1540, issued a Bull to establish a collegio mayor and university under the invocation of the Holy Spirit. During the first civil war this institution was transferred to Vitoria, and then suppressed. Some years later it was reopened as an independent institution, but was afterwards again closed. D. Carlos de Borbon gave his protection to the university while he was in power in the Basque Provinces during the last Carlist war. The Loyola House, which formerly belonged to the Diocese of Pamplona, now belongs to Vitoria.


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