Saint of the Day – 16 March – Blessed Giovanni de Surdis Cacciafronte OSB (1125 – 1184) Bishop and Martyr, Monk and Abbot (also known as John Sordi, John Cacciafronte and John de Surdis) – born in 1125 at Cremona, Italy as Giovanni de Surdis and died by being murdered on 16 March 1183 at Vicenza, Italy. He lived at the time of the struggle waged by the emperor Federico Barbarossa (1125-1190), against the Papacy and the Italian Municipalities. Patronage – persecuted Christians.
Giovanni was born in Cremona around 1125 to Evangelista Sordi and Berta Persico, both of very noble origins. At an early age Giovanni Sordi lost his father, his mother remarried with the nobleman Adam Cacciafronte, who loved him like a son of his own, giving him his name. He was educated in an excellent way by the two parents, receiving religious and cultural training.
At sixteen he entered the Benedictine abbey of St Lorenzo in Cremona as a Benedictine monk. Over the years his qualities and virtues were increasingly evident, winning the sympathies of his superiors and confreres. He was first appointed Prior of the small monastery of St Vittore, dependent on the abbey of St Lorenzo and then Abbot of the same great Abbey of Cremona.
In those years the schism broke out in the Church, with the election of the antipope Vittore IV (1159-1164), supported by Federico Barbarossa, against the legitimate pope Alexander III (1159-1181), who opposed the imperial power, supporting the Lombard League of Municipalities, which countered the invasion of Barbarossa’s troops.
The Abbot Cacciafronte by his influence, managed to keep Cremona in obedience to Pope Alexander III but the emperor had him exiled for this. Later the pope entrusted him with the government of the diocese of Mantua, it is not specified whether as Apostolic Administrator or as Bishop, instead of Bishop Graziadoro who had joined the schism of the antipope Victor IV and his successors Pasquale III (1164-1168) and Callisto III (1168-1179).
After the famous battle of Legano (29 May 1176) lost by the emperor of the Lombard League, to whose head Pope Alexander III was elected (the foundation of a new city, called in honour of the pope, Alexandria ). There was peace deal in Venice in 1179, the antipope in office Callisto III was deposed.
The repentant Bishop Garziadoro returned to the episcopal see of Mantua and in 1179, Giovanni Cacciafronte, was transferred to the Bishopric of Vicenza. During his tenure he opened a new Seminary and fought against the heresy of the Cathars.
Just two years later, on 16 March 1181, Bishop Cacciafronte was killed by a certain Pietro, feudal lord in concession of the goods of the Vicenza Church, who wanted to take revenge because the Bishop had excommunicated him and deprived him of property, due to his frequent violations of the rights of the Church, which included embezzlement of ecclesiastical funds.
The assassination of the Bishop is mentioned in the “decretals” of Pope Gregory IX (1227-1241), in the text of a letter dated 21 March 1198, sent by Pope Innocent III, to the bishop of Vicenza, Msgr. Pistore, forbidding him to give the property of the Church in fiefdom to the assassins of Bishop Giovanni and their heirs.
The body of the holy Bishop and Martyr was buried in the Cathedral of Vicenza, the Cathedral of the Assumption and moved to the same cathedral in 1441, in a more dignified marble tomb in it’s own side chapel, see the Statue below.
The cult of blessed Giovanni Cacciafronte, Bishop and Martyr, for centuries bestowed on him, was confirmed by Pope Leo XII on 30 March 1824. As Giovanni died working for the Church and correcting a sinner, he is considered a Martyr. His liturgical feast is set for 16 March while in the diocese of Mantua his memory is celebrated on 9 July.