Diocese in Spain; comprises a great part of the civil Province of Saragossa (Zaragoza). It is bounded on the north by Navarre and Huesca; on the east by Huesca, Lérida, and Tarragona; on the south by Valencia and Teruel; on the west by Guadalajara and Soria. The episcopal city, situated on the Ebro, has 72,000 inhabitants. Before the Roman period the site of Saragossa appears to have been occupied by Salduba, a little village of Edetania, within the boundaries of Celtiberia. Here in A.U.C. 727 Octavius Augustus, then in his seventh consulate, founded the colony of Caesar Augusta, giving it the Italian franchise and making it the capital of a juridical conventus. Pomponius Mela called it “the most illustrious of the inland cities of Hispania Tarraconensis.” In A.D. 452 it fell under the power of the Suevian king Reciarius; in 466 under that of the Visigoth Euric. Saint Isidore extolled it as one of the best cities of Spain in the Gothic period, and Pacensis called it “the most ancient and most flourishing.”
The diocese is one of the oldest in Spain, for its origin dates back to the coming of the Apostle James — a fact of which there had never been any doubt until Baronius, influenced by a fabulous story of García de Loaisa, called it in question. Urban VIII ordered the old lesson in the Breviary dealing with this point to be restored. Closely involved with the tradition of Saint James’s coming to Spain, and of the founding of the church of Saragossa, are those of Our Lady of the Pillar and of Saints Athanasius and Theodore, disciples of Saint James, who are supposed to have been the first bishops of Saragossa. About the year 256 there appears as bishop of this diocese Felix Caesaraugustanus, who defended true discipline in the case of Basilides and Martial, Bishops, respectively, of Astorga and Mérida. Saint Valerius, who assisted at the Council of Iliberis, was bishop from 290 to 315 and, together with his disciple and deacon Saint Vincent, suffered martyrdom in the persecution of Dacian. It is believed that there had been martyrs at Saragossa in previous persecutions as Prudentius seems to affirm; but no certain record is to be found of any before this time, when, too, Saint Engratia and the “numberless saints” (santos innumerables), as they are called, gained their crowns. It is said that Dacian, to detect and so make an end of all the faithful of Saragossa, ordered that liberty to practice their religion should be promised them on condition that they all went out of the city at a certain fixed time and by certain designated gates. As soon as they had thus gone forth, he ordered them to be put to the sword and their corpses burned. Their ashes were mixed with those of criminals, so that no veneration might be paid them. But a shower of rain fell and washed the ashes apart, forming those of the martyrs into certain white masses. These, known as the “holy masses” (las santas masas) were deposited in the crypt of the church dedicated to Saint Engratia, where they are still preserved.
Saint Vincent was taken to Valencia, where he suffered a long and terrible martyrdom. Saint Valerius was exiled to a place called Enet, near Barbastro, where he died, and whence his relics were translated first to Roda, the head and arm being brought thence to Saragossa when that city had been reconquered.
The See of Saragossa was occupied during the Gothic period by two illustrious bishops: Saint Braulius, who assisted at the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Councils of Toledo; and Tajón, famous for his own writings and for having discovered at Rome the third part of Saint Gregory’s “Morals.” From 592 to 619 the bishop was Maximus, who assisted at the Councils of Barcelona and Egara, and whose name, combined with that of the monk Marcus, has been used to form an alleged Marcus Maximus, the apocryphal continuator of Flavius Dexter. In 542, when the Franks laid siege to Saragossa to take vengeance for the wrongs of the Catholic princess, Clotilde, the besieged went forth in procession and delivered to the enemy, as the price of their raising the siege, a portion of the blood-stained stole of Saint Vincent, the deacon.
Before the Saracen invasion three national councils were held at Saragossa. The first, earlier than those of Toledo, in 380, when Valerius II was bishop, had for its object the extirpation of Priscillianism; the second, in 592, in the episcopate of Maximus was against the Arians; the third, under Bishop Valderedus, in 691, provided that queens, when widowed, should retire to some monastery for their security and for the sake of decorum. During the Saracen occupation the Catholic worship did not cease in this city; the churches of the Virgin and of Saint Engratia were maintained, while that of the Saviour was turned into a mosque. Of the bishops of this unhappy period the names are preserved of Senior, who visited Saint Eulogius at Cordoba (849), and of Eleca, who in 890 was driven from the city by the Moslems and took refuge at Oviedo. Paternus was sent by Sancho the Great to Cluny, to introduce the Cluniac reform into Spain in the monasteries of S. Juan de la Pena and S. Salvador de Leyre, and was afterwards appointed Bishop of Saragossa.
Alfonso I, the Fighter, of Aragon, reconquered the city on 18 Dec., 1118, and named as bishop Pedro de Librana, whose appointment was confirmed by Gelasius II. López, in his “Historia de Zaragoza,” says that Librana first resided at the Church of the Pillar, and on 6 Jan., 1119, purified the great mosque, which he dedicated to the Saviour, and there established his episcopal see. Hence the controversy which began in 1135, in the episcopate of García Guerra de Majones, between the canons of the Pillar and those of Saint Saviour as to the title of cathedral.
In 1318 the See of Saragossa was made metropolitan by a grant of John XXII (14 June), Pedro López de Luna being bishop. For more than a century (1458-1577) princes of the royal blood occupied the see: Juan of Aragon, natural son of Juan II (1458); Alonso of Aragon (1478); another Juan of Aragon (1520); Fernando of Aragon, who had been the Cistercian Abbot of Veruela.
In the factions which followed upon the death of King Martin, Archbishop García Fernández de Heredia was assassinated by Antonio de Luna, a partisan of the Count of Urgel (1411). In 1485 the first inquisitor-general, Saint Peter Arbues, fell a martyr in the cathedral, slain by some relapsed Jews who were led by Juan de la Abadia.
The cathedral is dedicated to the Saviour, as it had been before the Mohammedan invasion. It shares its rank with the Church of Nuestra Señor del Pilar, half of the chapter residing at each of the two churches, while the dean resides six months at each alternately. The building of the cathedral was begun by Pedro Tarrjao in the fourteenth century. In 1412 Benedict XIII caused a magnificent baldachinum to be erected, but one of its pillars fell down, and it was reduced to its present condition. In 1490 Archbishop Alonso of Aragon raised the two lateral naves, which had been lower, to an equal height with the central, and added two more; Fernando of Aragon added three other naves beyond the choir, to counterbalance the excessive width of the building, and thus, in 1550 was the Gothic edifice completed. The great chancel and choir were built by order of Archbishop Dalmau de Mury Cervellón (1431-58). In the chapel of S. Dominguito del Val are preserved the relics of that saint, a boy of seven who was crucified by the Jews in 1250. The façade of the cathedral is Renaissance, and beside it rises the tower, more modern than the body of the church, having been begun in 1790.
The Church of Nuestra Señor del Pilar is believed to have originated in a chapel built by the Apostle James. Bishop Librana found it almost in ruins and appealed to the charity of all the faithful to rebuild it. At the close of the thirteenth century four bishops again stirred up the zeal of the faithful to repair the building, which was preserved until the end of the seventeenth century. In 1681 work was commenced on the new church, the first stone being laid by Archbishop Diego de Castrillo, 25 July, 1685. This grandiose edifice, 500 ft. (about 457 English feet) in length, covers the capella angelica, where the celebrated image of the Blessed Virgin is venerated. Though the style of the building is not of the best period, attention is attracted by its exterior, its multitude of cupolas, which are reflected in the waters of the Ebro, giving it a character all its own.
Saragossa possesses many very noteworthy churches. Among them are that of Saint Engratia, built on the spot where the victims of Dacian were martyred. It was destroyed in the War of Independence, only the crypt and the doorway being left; a few years ago, however, it was rebuilt, and now serves as a parish church. The University of Saragossa obtained from Carlos I (the Emperor Charles V) in 1542, the privileges accorded to others in Spain. Its importance was afterwards promoted by Pedro Cerduna, Bishop of Tarazona; he gave it a building which lasted until it was blown up by the French in 1808. A separate building has been erected for the faculties of medicine and sciences.
The archiepiscopal palace is a splendid edifice erected by Archbishop Agustin de Lezo y Palomeque. There are two ecclesiastical seminaries: that of Sts. Valerius and Braulius, founded by Archbishop Lezo in 1788, was destroyed by an explosion and was rebuilt in 1824 by Archbishop Bernardo Frances Caballero; that of Saint Charles Borromeo, formerly a Jesuit college, was converted into a seminary by Carlos III.
- Ramón Ruiz Amadó. “Saragossa”. . Saints.SQPN.com. 20 January 2014. Web. 19 September 2014. <>