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A former city of the Roman Empire, situated at the head of the Adriatic, on what is now the Austrian sea-coast, in the country of Goerz, at the confluence of the Anse and the Torre. It was for many centuries the seat of a famous Western patriarchate, and as such plays and important part in ecclesiastical history, particularly in that of the Holy See and Northern Italy.

The site is now known as Aglar, a village of 1500 inhabitants. The city arose (180 B.C.) on the narrow strip between the mountains and the lagoons, during the Illyrian wars, as a means of checking the advance of that warlike people. Its commerce grew rapidly, and when Marcus Aurelius made it (168) the principal fortress of the empire against the barbarians of the North and East, it rose to the acme of its greatness and soon had a population of 100,000. It was pillaged in 238 by the Emperor Maximinus, and it was so utterly destroyed in 452 by Attila, that it was afterwards hard to recognize its original site. The Roman inhabitants, together with those of smaller towns in the neighbourhood, fled to the lagoons, and so laid the foundations of the city of Venice. Aquileia arose again, but much diminished, and was once more destroyed (590) by the Lombards; after which it came under the Dukes of Friuli, was again a city of the Empire under Charlemagne, and in the eleventh century became a feudal possesion of its patriarch, whose temporal authority, however, was constantly disputed and assailed by the territorial nobility.

Ecclesiastical history

Ancient tradition asserts that the see was founded by St. Mark, sent thither by St. Peter, previous to his mission to Alexandria. St. Hermagoras is said to have been its first bishop and to have died a martyr's death (c. 70). At the end of the third century (285) another martyr, St. Helarus (or Hilarius) was bishop of Aquileia. In the course of the fourth century the city was the chief ecclesiastical centre for the region about the head of the Adriatic, afterwards known as Venetia and Istria. In 381, St. Valerian appears as metropolitan of the churches in this territory; his synod of that year, held against the Arians, was attended by 32 (or 24) bishops. In time part of Western Illyria, and to the north, Noricum and Rhaetia, came under the jurisdiction of Aquileia. Roman cities like Verona, Trent, Pola, Belluno, Feltre, Vicenza, Treviso, Padua, were among its suffragans in the fifth and sixth centuries. As metropolitans of such an extensive territory, and representatives of Roman civilization among the Ostrogoths and Lombards, the bishops of Aquileia sought and obtained from their barbarian masters the honorific title of patriarch, personal, however, as yet to each titular of the see. This title aided to promote and at the same time to justify the strong tendency towards independence that was quite manifest in its relations with Rome, a trait which it shared with its less fortunate rival, Ravenna, that never obtained the patriarchial dignity. It was only after a long conflict that the popes recognized the title thus assumed by the metropolitans of Aquileia. Owing to the acquiescence of Pope Vigilius in the condemnation of the "Three Chapters", in the Fifth General Council at Constantinople (553) the bishops of Northern Italy (Liguria and Aemilia) and among among them those of the Venetia and Istria, broke off communion with Rome, under the leadership of Macedonius of Aquileia (535-556). In the next decade the Lombards overran all Northern Italy, and the patriarch of Aquileia was obliged to fly, with the treasures of his church, to the little island of Grado, near Trieste, a last remnant of the imperial possessions in Northern Italy. This political change did not affect the relations of the patriarchate with the Apostolic See; its bishops, whether in Lombard or imperial territory, stubbornly refused all invitations to a reconciliation. Various efforts of the popes at Rome and the exarchs at Ravenna, both peaceful and otherwise, met with persistent refusal to renew the bonds of unity until the election of Candidian (606 or 607) as Metropolitan of Aquileia (in Grado). Weary of fifty years' schism, those of his suffragans whose sees lay within the empire joined him in submission to the Apostolic See; his suffragans among the Lombards persisted in their schism. They went further, and established in Aquileia itself a patriarchate of their own, so that henceforth there were two little patriarchates in Northern Italy, Aquileia in Grado and Old-Aquileia. Gradually the schism lost its vigour, and by 700 it was entirely spent; in the synod held that year at Old-Aquileia it was formally closed. It was probably during the seventh century that the popes recognized in the metropolitans of Grado the title of Patriarch of Aquileia, in order to offset its assumption by the metropolitans of Old-Aquileia. In succeeding centuries in continued in use by both, but had no longer any practical significance. The Patriarchs of Old-Aquileia lived henceforth, first at Cormons, and from the eighth to the thirteenth century at Friuli (Forum Julii). In the later part of the eighth century the creation of a new metropolitan see at Salzburg added to the humiliation of Old-Aquileia, which claimed as its own the territory of Carinthia, but was obliged to acquiesce in the arbitration of Charlemagne, by which Ursus of Aquileia (d. 811) was obliged to relinquish to Arno of Salzburg the Carinthian territory north of the Drave. German feudal influence was henceforth more and more tangible in the ecclesiastical affairs of Old-Aquileia. In 1011 one of its patriarchs, John IV, surrounded by thirty bishops, consecrated the new Cathedral of Bamberg. Its influential patriarch, Poppo, or Wolfgang (1019-42) consecrated his own cathedral at Aquileia, 13 July 1031, in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary. in 1047, the Patriarch Eberhard, a German, assisted at the Roman synod of that year, in which it was declared that Aquileia was inferior in honour only to Rome, Ravenna, and Milan. Nevertheless, Aquileia lost gradually to other metropolitans several of its suffragans, and when the Patriarchate of Grado was at last transferred (1451) from that insignificant place to proud and powerful Venice, the prestige of Old-Aquileia could not but suffer notably. In the meantime, during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the Patriarchs of Aquileia had greatly favoured as a residence Udine, an imperial donation, in Venetian territory. In 1348 Aquileia was destroyed by an earthquake, and its patriarchs were henceforth, to all intents and purposes, Metropolitans of Udine. Since the transfer of the patriarchical residence to Udine the Venetians had never lived in peace with the patriarchate, of whose imperial favour and tendencies they were jealous. When the patriarch Louis of Teck (1412-39) compromised himself in a war between Hungary and Venice, the latter seized on all the lands donated to the patriarchate by the German Empire. The loss of his ancient temporal estate was acquiesced in a little later (1445) by the succeeding patriarch, in return for an annual salary of 5,000 ducats allowed him from the Venetian treasury. Henceforth only Venetians were allowed to hold the Patriarchate of Aquileia. Under the famous Domenigo Grimani (Cardinal since 1497) Austrian Friuli was added to the territory of the patriarchate whose jurisdiction thus extended over some Austrian dioceses.

Extinction of the patriarchate

The 109th and last Patriarch of Aquileia was Daniel Dolfin (Delfino), coadjutor since 1714 of his predecessor, Dionigio Dolfin, his successor since 1734, and Cardinal since 1747. The Venetian claim to the nomination of the Patriarch of Aquileia had been met by a counter-claim on the part of Austria since the end of the fifteenth century when, as mentioned above, Austrian dioceses came to be included within the jurisdiction of the patriarchate. Finally, Benedict XIV was chosen as arbiter. He awarded (1748-49) to the Patriarchate of Udine the Venetian territory in Friuli, and for the Austrian possessions he created a vicariate apostolic with residence at Goerz independent of the Patriarch of Aquileia, and immediately dependent on the Holy See, in whose name all jurisdiction was exercised. This decision was not satisfactory to Venice, and in 1751 the Pope divided the patriarchate into two archdioceses; one at Udine, with Venetian Friuli for its territory, the other at Goerz, with jurisdiction over Austrian Friuli. Of the ancient patriarchate, once so proud and influential, there remained but the parish church of Acquileia. It was made immediately subject to the Apostolic See and to its rector was granted the right of using episcopal insignia seven times in the year.


Neher in Kirchenlex. I, 1184-89; De Rubeis, Monum. Eccl. Aquil. (Strasburg, 1740); Ughelli Italia Sacra, I sqq.; X, 207; Cappelletti, Chiese d'Italia, VIII, 1 sqq.; Menzano, Annali del Friuli (1858-68); Paschini, Sulle Origini della Chiesa di Aquileia (1904); Glaschroeder, in Buchberger's Kirchl. Handl. (Munich, 1904), I, 300-301; Hefele, Conciliengesch. II, 914-23. For the episcopal succession, see Gams, Series episcoporum (Ratisbon, 1873-86), and Eubel, Hierarchia Cath. Medii Aevi (Muenster, 1898).

About this page

APA citation. Shahan, T. (1907). Aquileia. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Shahan, Thomas. "Aquileia." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by William Edmund Fahey. Please pray for the souls of Dr. William and Mrs. Beatrice Fahey of Lewiston, Maine.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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