ALBERT BOSCHETTI, BISHOP
Albert was the son of Gerard Boschetti, one of the leading and most influential citizens of Modena, northern Italy. His parents gave him a splendid education. Brought up as Christian children should be reared, he took care to develop the excellent gifts with which nature blessed him by the practice of virtue and study of the sciences. He did not suffer the wealth of his family to fill him with pride or unman his character. Positions of honor, to which he might reasonably have aspired in the world, he did not let tempt him to ambition. Indeed, the young scion of the Boschetti family made a generous sacrifice of all his worldly prospects that he might give himself to the service of God and the salvation of souls in the Order of Friars Preacher. It is thought that he received the habit in 1221, when in the twentieth year of his age, from the hands of Saint Dominic.(1)
Albert's piety and gentleness were not slow to win the affections of his confrères in religion. His rare talents made him shine even in an Order in which men of ability abounded. He preached and labored far and near, everywhere not only stirring the people by his eloquence, but also exciting admiration by his learning, and winning esteem by his model life. Perhaps, however, in no place was he so deeply and universally loved as in Modena, his native city. When, therefore, William of Savoy, of whom mention was made in the sketch of Blessed John di Scledo of Vicenza, resigned his bishopric, Albert Boschetti was chosen as his successor in Modena by the unanimous voice of both clergy and people(2)
In order fully to understand the significance of the election, it must be borne in mind that Modena had long been governed by a chief pastor whose life in all things resembled that of the early bishops of the Church, and the diocese wished to give him a successor like himself. For this reason, they selected the worthy Friar Preacher, although he was a native of the place. Ughelli, speaking of this event, says:
When William [of Savoy] resigned the See of Modena, Albert Boschetti, a noble native of the city, a member of the Order of Preachers, and the son of Gerard who was one of Modena's most influential men, enjoyed such a reputation for sanctity that he was acclaimed bishop by clergy and people alike. This happened in 1234. When the Sovereign Pontiff confirmed the election, Albert was installed amidst the rejoicing of the entire City.(3)
This unanimity of sentiment is the more striking, not so much because it is out of the ordinary, as because it was in a country torn by dissension, and at a time when two bitterly opposing parties kept up a division of the people which was equally harmful to Church and State. Possibly the accord in the present instance surprised Gregory IX, although he was perfectly aware of the merit and ability of the man chosen for the place. So did the Pope know full well the fidelity which the family of the bishop elect had ever shown to the interests of the Holy See. These considerations, no doubt, hastened Gregory to confirm the deed of the Diocese of Modena. Albert then took possession of his see, which he governed for thirty years with no little advantage to religion.
All that the most zealous successor of the apostles can do for a flock whom he loves with his whole heart, and whose affections are reciprocated, that Bishop Boschetti did for the people in the Diocese of Modena in order to train them in solid piety. Indeed, his efforts more than fulfilled the hopes that were placed in him at the time of his election. Never did he grow tired of doing good, or cease to bear with patience the ingratitude of those who returned evil for his kindly deeds. However, neither his continual exertions to preserve or establish peace, nor the high esteem in which his virtue was universally held, prevented the unhappy factions which then desolated all Italy from finally bringing trouble upon himself, as well as upon his diocese.(4)
The Ghibellines, blindly attached to the interests of Frederic II, carried their violence against those who were opposed to the emperor to such extremes that Modena experienced all the horrors of a civil war. Not infrequently a father was on one side, and a son on the other. Friend turned against friend. This rendered the conflict the more cruel. Eventually the imperialists gained the ascendancy. The Guelfs were then driven away from their homes, together with their wives and families. Priests and religious, because determined to remain true to the Holy See, either left the city of their own accord, or were soon compelled to seek a place of safety.(5)
The Ghibellines trampled under foot every law of society, religion, and charity. By the maddened mob Bishop Boschetti could neither make his authority heeded, nor his character respected. He, therefore, retired to the house of his brethren in Bologna, to remain here until the storm should quiet down. Bitter tears did he weep for the sins of his people, and fervent prayers did he offer to the God of mercy in behalf of his diocese.
Albert's flight brought consternation even to those of the Ghibellines in Modena who were not totally blinded by passion. The poor clamored for the recall of their protector, while the widows and orphans wept over the loss of their source of earthly consolation. Even few were the mutinous, however great their pride, who did not finally begin to blush at their outrageous excesses. Just when the violence reached its climax, Gregory IX, justly irritated by the crimes of the Ghibellines, placed the City of Modena under edict, and fulminated the sentence of excommunication against the leaders in the revolt.(6)As history shows, evil men in control stop at nothing so long as they have the power to make themselves feared. This was Gregory's experience in the present instance. Although such penalties were then generally held in great horror, the Ghibelline chiefs paid no attention to the censures of the Church.
God then struck the imperial forces in another way. The Bolognese, faithful allies of the Holy See, sent troops into the belligerent province. Enzio, a natural son of Frederic II and king of Sardinia, was decisively beaten in battle. Siege was then laid to the City of Modena. Thus the Ghibellines, who had hitherto been dominant in this municipality, soon found themselves in the humiliating necessity of accepting the law which they had wished to force on others, and of redeeming their lives on the conditions laid down by those whom they had tried to crush.
Real piety never permits itself to be extinguished by evil. Thus we may judge of the true character of Bishop Boschetti's charity and wisdom by his action on this occasion. He thoroughly realized that the contempt which the Ghibellines had shown for his authority and counsel did not make them cease to belong to his flock, or release him from the duty of laboring for the salvation of their souls. Although they had been ungrateful and even rebellious, he zealously pleaded their cause. They were indebted to him for the moderation shown them by the victorious Guelfs. Furthermore, he besought Gregory IX to show a spirit of kindliness towards them. When the ecclesiastical censures were lifted from Modena, through his influence, Albert came back to the episcopal city accompanied by all who had followed him to Bologna. Those who had been sincerely grieved by his absence showered blessings on him. Speaking of this event, the Cistercian abbot, Ugbelli, says:
After they had beaten the imperial forces under Enzio, the natural son of Frederic and king of Sardinia, the Bolognese laid siege to interdicted Modena. The city was in the dilemma of either being destroyed, or submitting to the written conditions of the besiegers. Bishop Albert, although an exile, then pleaded with the utmost zeal and piety that the vanquished should be kindly treated. His prayers being heard, and the ecclesiastical censures removed from the episcopal city, he returned to his diocese, together with those who had followed him into exile.(7)
One of the first cares of Boschetti, on resuming his charge, was, not to search out the most guilty in the revolt to make an object lesson of them, but to extinguish the last spark of hostility by returning good for evil. Indeed, through diplomacy and wise moderation, the pious prelate soon not only won all hearts again, but also restored the ways of peace and union. Quite naturally, this disposed the recalcitrant to sentiments of contrition, and prepared the way for a reconciliation with God through the sacraments. How thorough and lasting was the good order thus restored may be judged by the incident which we have now to relate.
On his return from the first council of Lyons, Innocent IV honored Bishop Boschetti with a visit, while on his way back to the Eternal City. This was some years after the Ghibelline insurrection of which we have just spoken. Innocent was so well pleased with the piety, good order, discipline, and docility which he observed in the Diocese of Modena, all of which was gratefully attributed to the wisdom and virtue of its spiritual head, that he at once selected our Friar Preacher to restore peace to the Church in another part of Italy. The inhabitants of Rimini were giving their metropolitan, the archbishop of Ravenna, serious cause for complaint. As it seemed impossible for the disagreeing parties to settle their differences among themselves, Innocent appointed Albert his legate in the matter. Through his happy mediation the trouble was soon amicably adjusted, and its reasons removed.(8)
Innocent had already experienced Boschetti's ability in such affairs. Objections and difficulties had arisen in regard to the privileges accorded the Friars Preacher by the Holy See; and in September, 1245, the same Pope commissioned the bishops of Modena and Bologna (the Right Rev. James Buoncambio, O. P.) to look after their preservation. Largely through Albert's skill and well-known virtue, the matter was settled much to the satisfaction of the Supreme Pontiff.(9)
Such occupations as these, in which he was not infrequently called to take a hand, never caused the zealous prelate to neglect in the least his personal piety, or to slacken his care over the diocese specially entrusted to his guidance.(10) His own life was as simple as that of a religious. Yet his liberality towards hospitals, churches, monasteries, and similar works of charity was princely. To Modena he brought the Augustinians and Franciscans, no less than his own Order of Friars Preacher. He loved them all, and played the part of father towards them without distinction.
The bishop's comparatively long life was filled with fruitful labors. Worn out by these, he surrendered his pure soul to God on April 13, 1264. He had all but completed the thirtieth year of his episcopate. Until the last he retained the love, esteem, and veneration of his entire diocese. It could not have been otherwise, such were his zeal, kindness, and generosity. As Ughelli says: "The copious and sincere tears shed by all on the occasion were an eloquent testimony to his sanctity."(11) Albert Boschetti is still considered one of Modena's model and holiest bishops.
1. Annales Veteres Mutinentium, p. 6; SPONDE, Henry de, Annales Ecclesiastici, Anno 1268, No. 19; Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, II; SANSOVINO, Francis, Delle Famiglie Illustri D' Italia; UGHELLI, Ferdinand, Italia Sacra, II, col. 124.
2. FONTANA, Vincent, 0. P., Sacrum Theatrum Dominicanum, p. 243; FLEURY, Claud, Histoire Ecclésiastique, XVII, 105-106.
3. UGHELLI, as in note 1. Albertus Boschettus, nobilis Mutinensis, Praedicatorii Ordinis alumnus, filius Gerardi potentissimi civis, ea sanctimoniae laude florebat ut, ex cessione Guillelmi, populo cleroque Mutinensi acclamante ad hanc sedem subvectus sit, anno 1234, atque, a Romano Pontifice confirmatus, inauguratus fuit universa civitate laetante.
4. UGHELLI, as in note 1.
7. Ibid. Cumque postea cum Entio, Friderici spurio Sardiniae Rege, Bononienses Caesarianos fregissent, Mutinamque interdicto innodatam cinxissent obsidione, obsessisque aut pereundzim foret, aut ab obsidentibus scriptis conditionibus parendum, Albertus, tametsi exul, ut cum Perituris aequioribus legibus ageretur, omni studio Pietateque contendit. Quod cum feliciter sane cecidisset, ipse cum gentibus suis in patriam ecclesiasticis censuris exolutam remigravit.
8. Ibid.; FONTANA, as in note 2.
9. Bullarium Ordinis Fratrum Praedicatorum, I, 155.
10. UGHELLI, as in note 1.
11. Ibid. Cui omnium justissimae lacrimae parentarunt tanquam sanctitatis laude praestanti.