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Marseilles (Massilia)

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Diocese of Marseilles (Massiliensis), suffragan of Aix, comprises the district of Marseilles in the Department of Bouches-du-Rhône. Founded about 600 B.C. by a colony of Phoenicians and taken by Cæsar in 49 B.C., Marseilles was captured by the Visigoths in A.D. 480; later it belonged to the Burgundians, afterwards, from 507-537, to the Ostrogoth Theodoric and his successors. In 537 it was ceded to the Franks under Childebert and annexed to the Kingdom of Paris. Later the city was divided between Sigebert of Austrasia and Gontran of Burgundy. It had various masters until Boson became of King of Burgundy-Provence (879). The Marseilles of the Middle Ages owed allegiance to three sovereignties. The episcopal town, for which the bishop swore fealty only to the emperor, included the harbour of La Joliette, the fisherman's district, and three citadels (Château Babon, Roquebarbe, and the bishop's palace). The lower town belonged to the viscounts and became a republic in 1214; and the abbatial town, dependent on the Abbey of St. Victor, comprised a few market towns and châteaux south of the harbour. In 1246 Marseilles was subjugated by Charles of Anjou, County of Provence. Finally, in 1481 it was annexed by Louis XI to the crown of France.

Bishops of Marseilles

Mgr Duchesne has proved that the traditions which make St. Lazarus the first Bishop of Marseilles do not antedate the thirteenth century. A document of the eleventh century relative to the consecration of the church of St. Victor by Benedict IX (1040) mentions the existence of relics of St. Lazarus at Marseilles but does not speak of him as a bishop. In the twelfth century it was believed at Autun that St. Lazarus was buried in their cathedral, dedicated to St. Nazarius; that St. Lazarus had been Bishop of Marseilles was yet unknown. The earliest Provençal text in which St. Lazarus is mentioned as Bishop of Marseilles is a passage of the "Otia Imperialia" of Gervase of Tilbury, dating from 1212. Christianity, however, was certainly preached at Marseilles at a very early date. The city was always a great commercial entrepôt, and must have been for Provence what Lyons was for Celtic Gaul, a centre from which Christianity radiated widely. The Christian Museum at Marseilles possesses among other sarcophagi one dating from 273. The epitaph of Volusianus and Fortunatus, two Christians who perished by fire, martyrs perhaps, is one of the oldest Christian inscriptions (Le Blant, "Inscriptions chrétiennes de la Gaule", Paris, 1856-65). The first historically known bishop is Oresius who attended the Council of Arles in 314. Proculus (381-428) was celebrated for his quarrel with Patrocles, Bishop of Arles, as to the limits of their dioceses, and his difference with the bishops of the province of Narbonnensis Secunda concerning the metropolitan rights which Marseilles claimed over that entire region; the Council of Turin, about the year 400, theoretically decided in favour of Narbonne against Marseilles, but allowed Proculus to exercise metropolitan rights until his death. In 418 Pope Zosimus, influenced by Patrocles of Arles, was about to depose Proculus, but Zosimus died and the matter was dropped. To Bishop Venerius (431-452) we owe the so-called "Marseilles Breviary". The Bollandists question the existence of St. Cannat, and the "Gallia Christiana" does not count him among the bishops of the see. Alban's maintains his existence, trusting the eightieth chapter of the "De viris ill." of Gennadius, written towards the close of the sixth century; relying also on the veneration certainly paid to him at Marseilles since 1122, Alban's accepts him as bishop about 485.

Among the noteworthy bishops (following the chronology of Abbé Alban's) are: Honoratus I (about 495) an ecclesiastical writer, approved by Pope Gelasius; St. Theodore (566-91), urged by St. Gregory the Great to use only persuasion with the Jews, and persecuted by King Gontran; St. Serenus (596-601) reproved by the same pope for removing from the churches and destroying certain pictures which the faithful were inclined to worship; St. Abdalong (eighth century); St. Maurontius (780), former Abbot of St. Victor; Honoratus II (948-976), who began the restoration of the Abbey of St. Victor; Pons II (1008-73); Pierre de Montlaur (1214-29), who founded in 1214 the first chapel of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde; Cardinal William Sudre (1361-66), afterwards Bishop of Ostia, commissioned in 1368 by Urban V to crown the empress, wife of Charles IV, and in 1369 to receive the profession of faith of Johannes Palæologus, Emperor of Constantinople; Cardinal Philippe de Cabassole (1366-68), protector of Petrarch, author of a "Life of St. Mary Magdalen", protector of St. Delphine, governor under Urban V of the Comtat Venaissin, 1367-69: he died in 1372, while legate of Gregory XI at Rome; the preacher and ascetical writer Antoine* Dufour (1506-09), confessor of Louis XII; Claude Seyssel (1509-1517), ambassador of Louis XII at the Lateran Council, 1513; Cardinal Innocent Cibò (1517-1530), grandson of Innocent VIII, nephew of Leo X and Clement VII; the preacher and controversialist Nicolas Coëffeteau, 1621-23; the Oratorian Eustace Gault (1639-40) and his brother Jean-Baptiste Gault (1642-43) famed for his charity to the galley slaves; de Forbin-Janson (1668-79), sent by Louis XIV to the Diet of Poland (1674) which elected John Sobieski. Belsunce de Castelmoron (1710-55); Jean-Baptiste de Belloy (1755-1801), died almost a centenarian as Archbishop of Paris; Eugène de Mazenod (1837-61) who founded the Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate; Patrice Cruice (1861-65), of Irish descent, founder and director of the school of higher ecclesiastical studies established at Paris in the former monastery of the Carmelites (Carmes), and well known for his excellent edition of the so-called "Philosophoumena" (see HIPPOLYTUS). The moralist Guillaume du Vair, president of the Parlement of Aix, was named Bishop of Marseilles in 1603 by Henry IV, but the Provincial Estates entreated the king to retain him as head of the administration of justice.

Abbey of St. Victor

About 415, Cassian founded the two monasteries of St. Victor, one for men, the other for women. In the crypt of St. Victor lay formerly the remains of Cassian, also those of Saints Maurice, Marcellinus, and Peter, the body of one of the Holy Innocents, and Bishop St. Mauront. The biography of St. Izarn, Abbot of St. Victor in the eleventh century (Acta SS., 24 Sept.), gives an interesting account of the first visit of St. Izarn to the crypt. All that now remains of the abbey is the Church of St. Victor dedicated by Benedict IX in 1040 and rebuilt in 1200. In the fifth century the Semipelagian heresy, that began with certain writings of Cassian, disturbed greatly the Abbey of St. Victor and the Church of Marseilles (see CASSIAN; AUGUSTINE; HILARY; PROSPER OF AQUITAINE); from Marseilles the layman Hilary and St. Prosper of Aquitaine begged St. Augustine and Pope St. Celestine to suppress this heresy. After the devastations of the Saracens the Abbey of St. Victor was rebuilt in the first half of the eleventh century, through the efforts of Abbot St. Wiffred. From the middle of the eleventh century its renown was such that from all points of the South appeals were sent to the abbots of this church to restore the religious life in decadent monasteries. The abbey long kept in touch with the princes of Spain and Sardinia and even owned property in Syria. The polyptych of St. Victor, compiled in 814, the large chartulary, or collection of charters (end of the eleventh and beginning of the twelfth century), and the small chartulary (middle of the thirteen century) edited by M. Guérard, and containing documents from 683 to 1336, enable the reader to grasp the important economic rôle of this great abbey in the Middle Ages. Blessed Bernard, Abbot of St. Victor 1064-1079 was one of the two ambassadors delegated by Gregory VII to the Diet of Forchheim, where the German princes deposed Emperor Henry IV. He was seized by one of the partisans of Henry IV and passed several months in prison. Gregory VII also sent him as legate to Spain and in reward for his services exempted St. Victor from all jurisdiction other than that of the Holy See.

Blessed William de Grimoard was made Abbot of St. Victor, 2 August, 1361, and became pope in 1362 as Urban V. He enlarged the church, surrounded the abbey with high crenelated walls, granted the abbot episcopal jurisdiction, and gave him as diocese the suburbs and villages south of the city. He visited Marseilles in October, 1365, consecrated the high altar of the church, returned to St. Victor in May, 1367, and held a consistory in the Abbey. What became of the library of St. Victor is still a problem. Its contents are known through an inventory of the latter half of the twelfth century. It was extremely rich in ancient manuscripts, and must have been scattered in the latter half of the sixteenth century, probably between 1579 and 1591; M. Morhreuil conjectures that when Giuliano de' Medici was abbot (1570-88) he scattered the library to please Catherine de' Medici; it is very likely that all or many of the books became the property of the king. Mazarin was Abbot of St. Victor in 1655. Thomas le Fournier (1675-1745) monk of St. Victor, left numerous manuscripts which greatly aided the Maurists in their publications. The secularization of the Abbey of St. Victor was decreed by Clement XII, 17 December, 1739.

Councils were held at Marseilles in 533 (when sixteen bishops of Provence, under the presidency of St. Cæsarius at Arles, passed sentence on Contumeliosus, Bishop of Riez), also in 1040 and in 1103. Several saints belong in a particular way to Marseilles: the soldier St. Victor, martyr under Maximian; the soldier St. Defendens and his companions, martyrs at the same time; the martyrs St. Adrian, St. Clemens, and their twenty-eight companions (end of the third century); St. Cyprian, Bishop of Toulon (fifth-sixth centuries); St. Eutropius, Bishop of Orange, native of Marseilles, celebrated for his conflict with Arianism and Semipelagianism (fifth century); St. Bonet (Bonitus), prefect of Marseilles in the seventh century, brother of Avitus, Bishop of Clermont, and a short while Bishop of Clermont; St. Eusebia, abbess of the monastery of nuns founded by Cassian, and massacred by the Saracens with thirty-nine of her companions, (perhaps in 838); St. Tzarn, Abbot of St. Victor, d. in 1048, at whose instigation Raymond Béranger, Count of Barcelona, compelled the Moors to free the monks of Lérins; St. Louis, Bishop of Toulouse (1274-97), of the family of the counts of Provence and buried with the Friars Minor of Marseilles; St. Elziar de Sabran (1286-1323) a student of St. Victor's, and husband of St. Delphine of Sabran; Blessed Bertrand de Garrigue, (1230), one of the first disciples of St. Dominic, founder of the convent of Friars Preachers at Marseilles; Blessed Hugues de Digne, a Franciscan writer of the thirteenth century, buried at Marseilles (with his sister St. Douceline, foundress of the Béguines) after having founded near the city, about 1250, the Order of Friars of Penance of Jesus Christ. Hughes de Baux, Viscount of Marseilles induced St. John of Manta to found in Marseilles, in 1202, a house of Trinitarians for the redemption of captives; in this house the Trinitarians from Southern France, Spain, and Italy held annually their General Chapter. Near by was founded in 1306 a brotherhood of penitents who collected money in the city for the redemption of captives.

St. Vincent de Paul's first visit to Marseilles, in 1605, on a business matter ended with the saint's captivity in Tunis; his second visit in 1622, as chaplain general was marked by the pious and heroic fraud which led him to take the place of a galley slave. In 1643 he sent Lazarists to attend the hospital for convicts founded by Philippe Emmanuel de Gondi, Chevalier de la Costa, and Bishop Gault. The Jesuit College of St. Régis was founded in 1724, at Camp Major, for missionaries on their way to the East who studied there the various languages spoken in the commercial towns along the Mediterranean coast. The Jesuits also conducted the Royal Marine Observatory and a school of hydrography. The hospital of Marseilles, founded in 1188, is one of the oldest in France. Anne Magdaleine de Remusat (1696-1730), daughter of a rich merchant of Marseilles, who had entered the convent of the Visitation of St. Mary, 2 October, 1711, sent word to Mgr Belzunce that on 17 October, 1713, the twenty-third anniversary of the death of Margaret Mary Alacoque, she had received certain revelations from Christ; in consequence a confraternity of the Sacred Heart was founded, and enriched with indulgences by Clement XI (1717); Anne Magdaleine published in 1718 a small manual of devotion to the Sacred Heart. The Marseilles merchants carried this devotion to Constantinople and Cairo and the society soon comprised 30,000 members. At the time of the plague in Marseilles (39,152 victims out of 80,000 inhabitants), Belzunce, following new revelations received by Anne Magdaleine, instituted in the diocese the feast of the Sacred Heart (22 October, 1720); later, on 4 June, 1722 at his instigation the magistrates consecrated the city to the Sacred Heart, as the first act of consecration formulated to the Sacred Heart by a corporate body.

Marseilles plays also an important part in the history of the devotion to St. Joseph. As early as 1839 Bishop Mazenod decreed that Marseilles was to venerate St. Joseph as the patron of the diocese, and that wherever the churches admitted of three altars one should be dedicated to this saint. The church of Cabot near Marseilles was the first in the Christian world to be consecrated to St. Joseph as patron of the Universal Church. The pilgrimage of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde dates from 1214. In 1544 a large church was built on the hill overlooking Marseilles; in 1837 a statue of the Madonna was blessed there, and in 1864 was inaugurated a new sanctuary visited daily by numerous pilgrims. In the church of St. Victor is the statue of Notre-Dame-des-Confessions or Notre-Dame-des-Martyrs, said to have been venerated at Marseilles since the end of the second century. The pilgrimage of Notre-Dame-du-Sacré-Coeur, at Château-Gonbert, gave rise to a confraternity which now has almost one million members.

Before the law of 1901 on associations the Diocese of Marseilles counted Benedictines, Capuchins, Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans, Lazarists, African Missionaries, White Fathers, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Redemptorists, Salesians, Brothers of Christian Doctrine of St. Gabriel, Little Brothers of Mary, Brothers of the Sacred Heart, Hospitaller Brothers of St. John of God, Clerks of St. Viateur, Fathers of the Sacred Heart of the Child Jesus. A number of religious congregations for women originated in the diocese; the Capuchins, and Nuns of the Visitation of Saint Mary, contemplative orders founded at Marseilles in 1623; Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Family, founded in 1851 under the name of Soeurs de l'Intérieur de Jésus et Marie; Sisters of Mary Immaculate, who take care of the dumb and the blind; Sisters of Our Lady of Compassion, a teaching order; Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, devoted to nursing and teaching; Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, teachers (mother-houses of all the foregoing are in Marseilles); Sisters of the Holy Name of Jesus, a teaching order founded in 1832 (mother-house at La Ciotat), discalced Trinitarian Sisters, founded in 1845 by Abbé Margalhan-Ferrat, who attend to the sick at home, to hospitals, and until recently to schools (mother-house at Sainte-Marthe). At the beginning of the twentieth century the religious congregations had under their care 5 crêches, 38 day nurseries, 1 asylum for the blind, 3 boys' orphanages, 21 girls' orphanages, 7 industrial work rooms, 4 societies for the prevention of crime, 1 protectory, 1 dispensary, 1 general pharmacy for societies of mutual assistance, 4 houses of retreat and sanitariums, 4 houses for the care of the sick in their own homes, 1 insane asylum, 4 hospitals. In 1905 the Diocese of Marseilles (last year of the Concordat) counted 545,445 inhabitants, 11 parishes, 82 succursal parishes, 9 vicariates paid by the State.


Gallia Christiana I (nova, 1715), 1,627,678; instrum., 106-118; Alban's and Chevalier, Gallia Christiana novissima; Marseille (Valence, 1899); Alban's, Armorial et sigillographie des évêques de Marseille (Marseilles, 1884); Belzunce, L'antiquité de l'église de Marseille et la succession des évêques (ibid., 1747-51); Biscard, Les évêques de Marseille depuis St. Lazare (ibid., 1872); De Vivien, Les origines chrétiennes de la Gaule méridionale, légendes et traditions provençales (Lyons, 1883); Le Blant, Catalogue des monuments chrétienes du musée de Marseille (Paris, 1894); De Roy, Les saints de l'église de Marseille (Marseilles, 1885); Guérard, Cartulaire de l'abbaye de S. Victor (Paris, 1857); Marseille à la fin de l'ancien régime, the ecclesiastical chapters are by Bérengier (Marseilles, 1896); G. de Rey, Les Saints de l'église de Marseille (ibid., 1885); Mortreuil, La bibliothèque de l'abbaye de S. Victor (ibid., 1854); Camau, Les institutions de bienfaisance, de charité et de prévoyance à Marseille (ibid., s.d.); Idem, Marseille au XV siècle (Paris, 1905); Chevalier, Topobibl., 1857-1862).

About this page

APA citation. Goyau, G. (1910). Marseilles (Massilia). In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Goyau, Georges. "Marseilles (Massilia)." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Mary Thomas.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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