Coat of arms of Brixen

Coat of arms of Brixen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Former Bishopric, the southwestern diocese in the province of Salzburg, lying on both side of the Alps.   The city, now in northern Italy and called BRESSANONE, stands near the confluence of the Rivers Isarco and Rienza, the former leading to the Brenner Pass and the latter to the Pustertal, the valley that links the basins of the Adige and the Danube.  The see was originally at Säben, further down the valley of the Isarco, near Chiusa, but transferred to Brixen in the late 10th century.

In 1027 the Emperor Conrad II gave control over land on both sides of the Brenner Pass to the Bishop;  the early Emperors favoured using Bishops in politically sensitive areas, and this region contained the most important route between his two Kingdoms of Germany and Italy.   In 1091 lands in the Pustertal, the valley that lay first along the Rienza and then along the upper Drau (Drave), were entrusted to the Bishop.   The Bishop had therefore become a quite substantial territorial prince, having collected together something similar to the later Tirol, but it was not easy at that time for a churchman to hold on to his territory.   He tended to lack the fighting men.   Later times sustained the ecclesiastical princes with the ministerials and the Imperial Knights, but in the 11th and 12th centuries, Bishops often fulfilled their obligations by handing out land in exchange for military service or by giving a lay protector, an advocate (in German, Vogt) considerable authority in his lands.

The Bishop of Brixen granted considerable lands on the north side of the Alps in the Inntal and on the south side in the Pustertal to a powerful Bavarian family, the Counts of Andechs.  Another family, from within the Alpine region, also became important, and became known, from their castle near Merano in the valley of the Adige, as the Counts of Tirol.   They eventually held the advocacy of the diocese.   The Andechs family died out in 1248 in the male line and their Alpine territory largely came to the Count of Tirol, whose own lands and title passed in 1253 to an heiress, who was married to a member of the family of the Counts of Görz, who themselves held lands in the Pustertal.

The Bishops still retained a scattered princely territory around Brixen and in pockets of land in the Pustertal;  they also held a fairly substantial territory far away on the upper Sava and in the eastern Alps around Veldes, which (called Bled) is now in northwestern Slovenia.   By 1363 all these enclaves lay within Habsburg territory and normally the Habsburgs were influential within the Bishopric.

In 1802-3 the Bishopric was secularised and added to Austria.   The Tirolese lands became part of Bavaria in 1805, returning to Austria in 1814 and becoming Italian in 1919.   The lands on the Sava were temporarily lost by Austria to the Illyrian Provinces of the French Empire in 1810, and permanently to Yugoslavia in 1919.   They now form part of Slovenia.

After 1818 the diocese had a Vicar General in Feldkirch for the Vorarlberg.   The diocese itself was divided as a result of the territorial changes after the First World War.   In 1921 Bressanone became a diocese directly under the Holy See.   From 1964 the diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone belonged to the province of Trento.   In Austrian Tirol an Apostolic Administrator resident in Innsbrück had the direction of the see.   From 1964 it formed the diocese of Innsbrück in the province of Salzburg.   In the Vorarlberg the Vicar General became the Bishop of Feldkirch in 1968.

The majority of the people living in the town of Bressanone are German-speaking, and with the autonomy that was given to the province of Bolzano in the later years of the 20th century, German names like Brixen and Bosen are becoming more than the colloquial names of the local inhabitants.

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