The former French Catholic diocese of Chalon-sur-Saône (Lat.: dioecesis Cabilonensis) existed until the French Revolution. After the Concordat of 1801, it was suppressed, and its territory went to the diocese of Autun. Its see was Chalon Cathedral.
Julius Caesar first mentions Cabillonum in his Gallic Wars. Later it is said to be an oppidum or castrum. It was a civitas of the Burgundians. Chalon was not made a city, separate and distinct from Autun, until the fifth century, and it is probably as a consequence of this development that a bishop, Paul (I.), first appears. The first Christians in the neighborhood are said to have been a priest of Lyon named Marcellus, who was imprisoned by the Roman government along with other Christians of Lyon and their bishop, Pothinus, ca. 177 in the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180). The rest were executed, but Marcellus, eschewing martyrdom, managed to break out of prison and escape north along the Saône river, first to Tournus and then to Chalon. There he was taken in by a pagan, whom he converted to Christianity. Leaving Chalon, Marcellus encountered the provincial governor, who invited him to a celebration in his residence. When the governor began the celebration with an appropriate sacrifice, Marcellus excused himself on the grounds that he was a Christian; the governor ordered him to participate in the sacrifice, and Marcellus refused. This constituted refusal to obey a legitimate order bottled glass water, and, since prayer to the members of the Imperial Cult was involved, refusal constituted treason (laesa majestas) as well. The governor is said to have had Marcellus buried up to his waist on the bank of the Saône, where he died three days later. The method of death may be shocking, but Marcellus was a prison escapee, who refused a patriotic sacrifice, and disobeyed a Roman governor
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. Christians made him into a martyr.
Bishop Flavius is credited with the foundation of the monastery of S. Pierre, just north of Chalon, in 584. It was destroyed by the Arabs in the 8th century, and rebuilt by Bishop Gerboldus, ca. 887 as a Benedictine monastery. The monastery was attacked by the Huguenots in 1562 and despoiled, and the monks were driven out. King Charles IX turned the monastic buildings into a fortress in 1566 and paid the monks an annual pension in recompense.
Bishop Lupus (ca. 600), in a Life otherwise devoid of facts, is credited with founding a school for the study of the scriptures. By the time of Bishop Guillaume de Bellevesure (1294 – 1301), schools were to be found not just in Chalon, but also in towns and villages of the diocese.
The original cathedral of Chalon was dedicated to Saint Étienne. In 541 King Childebert presented the cathedral with relics purported to be those of Saint Vincent of Saragossa, in whose honor the name of the cathedral was changed. That cathedral was destroyed by the Arabs in the 8th century, and rebuilt by Charlemagne. It was in that church that the Council of 813 was held. In 1310 extensive repairs were necessary, and Bishop Robert de Decize taxed every curé in the diocese the sum of its first year’s income upon entry into office to pay for the works. This tax was imposed for ten years. Bishop Nicolas de Vères completed two vaults of the choir in 1386. Bishop Hugues d’Orges erected the third vault, and Bishop Jean d’Arsonval the fourth and fifth, with contributions from the Chapter and the people. The consecration took place in 1403 by Bishop Olivier de Matreuil. The cathedral was severely damaged by the Huguenots in 1562.
The Cathedral was served by a Chapter, which was composed of dignities and canons. There were seven dignities at Chalon: the Dean, the Cantor, the Treasurer (who were elected by the whole Chapter), and the four Archdeacons (who were appointed by the bishop). There were once thirty canons, but the number was reduced to twenty in 1218. In 1327 the number was set at twenty-five.In 1648 there were twenty-four Canons. In 1772 the number was twenty. All the cathedral chapters in France were abolished by the Constituent Assembly on 13 February 1790.
There was also a Collegiate Church in the city of Chalon, dedicated to Saint George. Saint George had originally been a parish church, under the control of the monastery of Saint Pierre. It escaped the fire which destroyed most of the town during the siege of 834, but in 1323 it became a collegiate church with twelve canons. It was served by a Chapter composed of a Dean, a Cantor, a Sacristan, and thirteen prebends. The bishop has the right to confirm the election to vacant canonries. One of the canons was assigned the task of being the priest of the parish.
The abbey of Saint Marcellus (Marcel) was founded by King Guntram of Burgundy (561–592), where he completed a church in 577, and in which he was buried. The abbey was ruined by the Arabs in the 8th century, and again in the 10th century. When the Counts of Chalon became abbots commendatory, it recovered its prestige and financial status. The counts ceded their rights to the Abbey of Cluny, when then became one of their priories. Peter Abelard spent his final months at the priory of St. Marcel, where he died on 21 April 1142. His body was interred there for a time, but secretly moved to the nunnery of the Paraclete and the care of Abbess Héloïse.
A council of the church was held at Chalons c. 470, under the leadership of the Metropolitan, Bishop Patiens of Lyon, to elect a successor to the deceased Paul of Chalon. In the midst of party strife, the bishops fastened on Joannes and made him bishop.
In 579 a council was summoned at Chalon by King Guntram to deal with Bishop Salonius of Embrun and Bishop Sagittarius of Gap, who had already been condemned in the second synod of Lyon on charges of adultery and homicide.
In 603 a council was held at Chalon, in which, at the instigation of Queen Brunhilda of Austrasia, Bishop Desiderius of Vienne was deposed and exiled.
Around the year 650 thirty-eight bishops met in council at Chalon, among whom was Bishop Gratus of Chalon. The council produced some twenty decisions (canons). Bishops Agapius of Digne and Bobo of Valence were degraded from the episcopal order for disregarding church canons. In 674 Bishop Desideratus (Diddo) of Chalon and the deposed bishop Bobo of Valence attacked Autun and seized Bishop Leger, their enemy, who had led a revolt of the Burgundian nobility against Ebroin, Mayor of the Palace of Neustria. They blinded him on orders of Ebroin, and held him in a monastery for two years, at which point they cut off his ears and cut out his tongue; after two more years, they killed him.
In 732 Chalons was captured and held by the Arabs of Spain, led by Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, Governor-General of al-Andalus, until after their defeat by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours.
A provincial council of Tertia Lugdunensis was held at Chalon in 813. It produced sixty-six canons. Among the most important was the requirement of the establishment of a school in each cathedral, in which reading and writing and the scriptures would be taught.
In 875 an assembly of bishops, led by Archbishop Remigius of Lyon, took place at Chalon at the church of S. Marcellus for the consecration of Adalgerius as Bishop of Autun. They then met and confirmed the properties belonging to the monastery of Tournus. Gerboldus Bishop of Chalon was present buy goalkeeper gloves.
In 887 nine archbishops and bishops, Bishop Stephen of Chalon among them, met at the church of Saint Marcellus outside the walls of Chalon, to deal with property issues of churches and villas involving the bishop of Langres.
In 894 three bishops, headed by Bishop Gualo of Autun and including Ardradus of Chalon, met at the church of S. John the Baptist outside the walls of Chalon, to settle the case of the monk and Deacon Gerfredus of Autun, who had been accused of poisoning Bishop Adalgarus of Autun. Gerfredus was able to demonstrate his innocence by taking an oath and receiving holy communion, and was purged of the charge by all of the bishops.
On 31 October 915 seven bishops met under the presidency of Austerius, Archbishop of Lyon, at the church of S. Marcellus outside the walls of Chalon to deal with the case of Roculsus, Count of Mâcon, who was threatened with excommunication for his refusal to respect various properties belonging to the church. They also dealt with a dispute between two priests over a parish church which was being usurped. Bishop Ardradus participated.
A council was held at Chalon by the papal Apocrisiarius Aldebrannus (Hildebrand) in 1065, to adjudge the ownership of the church of Spinola. The Bishop of Chalon Guido (Wido) was present.
A council was held at Chalon by Cardinal Peter Damiani, the Papal Legate, and thirteen bishops in 1063 in the reign of Pope Alexander II. Bishop Drogo of Mâcon had violated the privileges of the monastery of Cluny, and Abbot Hugh had gone to Rome and complained. The council found in favor of Cluny, and Bishop Drogo was compelled to beg pardon.
In 1115 a council was held at Tournus in the diocese of Chalon, presided over by Archbishop Guy of Vienne, the Papal Legate, at which Bishop Gualterius was present. The issue was a conflict between the two Collegiate Churches of Besançon, Saint John and Saint Stephen. Pope Paschal II had previously committed the case to Archbishop Guillaume of Besançon, who was unable to bring the two parties to agreement.
In July 1348 the bubonic plague reached Chalon. The mortality rate, at least in some sections of the diocese, is recorded at fifteen times the normal death rate.
Bishop Cyrus de Thiard de Bissy was particularly favorable to the religious orders. He brought the Franciscans to Chalon in 1598, the Capuchins in 1604, the Carmelites in 1610, and the Dominicans in 1621. Efforts to bring the Jesuits to Chalon also began in the time of Bishop Cyrus, but the impetus came from the town council
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, which was eager to upgrade the quality of the Collège de Chalon. In 1608 the project was discussed, but the stumbling block was financial. The establishment of a Jesuit college in Autun kindled local patriotism, led by the Sieur de Pontoux who was serving as Mayor, and a committee of lawyers was appointed to try to obtain a royal brevet, which, succeeded, but this second project also failed for financial reasons. In 1618 yet another attempt was made under a new mayor, Sieur Mathieu, who convinced the town council to begin by consulting the Jesuit Provincial in Dijon, Fr. Ignace Armand. The Provincial sent an agent to Chalon to preach a series of sermons, and also to investigate the situation. Their conclusion was that the revenues were inadequate. Then, in 1618, it was learned that the Baron de Huxelles was willing to resign his benefice of the Priory of Saint-Marcel, and the town officials considered whether it could be handed over to the Jesuits. But the Baron’s brother intervened, and one of the town councilors was opposed, and the project failed. In 1626 the Marquis de Huxelles inspired the convocation of a general assembly of the burghers and citizens of Chalon to provide the needed funds, but an opposition party proposed the introduction of the Oratorians instead, and nothing was accomplished. It was even questioned whether the assembly was legitimate. When the Prince de Condé obtained the government of Burgundy, he visited Chalons in December 1632, and ordered the Mayor to convoke an assembly, which he would attend personally. The opposition party, however, was able to speak to the Prince during a banquet given by Bishop de Neuchèze, which seriously upset the Prince, who left Chalon immediately. In June 1634, a new set of town officials was able to convince the Jesuit Provincial in Dijon, Fr. Filleau, as well as the Prince, that the arrangements were all in order, and on 26 June 1634 the contracts were finalized and the Jesuits placed in possession of the Collège de Chalon. They maintained the college until their exuplsion from France in 1762. In 1784 King Louis XVI handed over the Collège de Chalon to the priests of the Congrégation-Saint-Joseph. In February 1791, the oath of allegiance to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy was demanded, and the priests of the Collège de Chalon refused to take the oath, bringing about their dismissal. Agents of the municipality took their place.
In April 1635 Bishop de Neuchèze entertained in the episcopal palace for six days Zaga Christos, the (purported) twenty-two year old son of the Emperor of Ethiopia, who was on his way to the French Court.
In 1635 a pestilence struck Chalon and all of Provence. The house of the Franciscans in Chalon was very severely hit, and they were helped by a Capuchin, Fr. Mathias de Beaune, who had been sent after an appeal from the magistrates of Chalon. The unhappiness of the population was increased by the end of the siege of Dôle, which let loose on the countryside numbers of marauders who burned villages and robbed everyone and everything. In the same year the government demanded the registration of all adherents of the Protestant religion, and with the agreement of the Prince of Condé and Bishop de Neuchèze this was begun. Feeling ran so high in Chalon that the ‘temple’ of the Huguenots was burned to the ground.
In 1790 the Civil Constitution of the Clergy abolished (suppressed) more than fifty ‘redundant’ dioceses in France, as part of an effort to align the ecclesiastical dioceses in France with new political divisions called ‘departements’. Chalon-sur-Saône became part of the ‘Departement de Saône-et-Loire’, with its headquarters at Autun, and was part of the ‘Metropole du Sud-Est’ with its headquarters at Lyon. On 15 February 1791 the ‘electors’ of Saône-et-Loire chose Jean-Louis Gouttes as their ‘Constitutional Bishop’. He was executed during the Reign of Terror on 26 March 1794, shortly after Religion had been abolished in France and replaced by Reason.
On 29 November 1801, Pope Pius VII reestablished the dioceses of France, but Chalon was not one of them. Chalon remained part of the diocese of Autun, with Lyon as its Metropolitan. In 1853, the Bishop of Autun was granted the title of Bishop of Autun-Châlon-sur-Saône-Mâcon, in memory of the suppressed dioceses, and on 8 December 2002, as part of a general reorganization of the ecclesiastical map of France, Pope John Paul II created a new archdiocese at Dijon, and made the diocese of Autun-Châlon-sur-Saône-Mâcon-Cluny its suffragan.