“The main point we must consider is that a bishop isn’t just a bishop on his own. He is a bishop of a Church and that Church must be somewhere. In ancient times there were very many more dioceses, which were effectively swept away either by invasion of Muslims or the erosion of demographics, etc. In more modern times, in the “propaganda” countries, Sees were sometimes established, but the town lost importance for one reason or another and it became impractical to maintain the see there.”
Words from Father Z in this blog post, in which he answers a question about titular dioceses and the rights that bishops may or may not have in them. It prompted me to take a look at the titular sees in my neck of the woods, continental north western Europe. In nine countries (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden), it turns out, there are only seven of those. Compared to southern Europe, north Africa and the Middle East, that is very few indeed, but it does allow for an easy overview of which titular sees they are and who is appointed to them. In other words, who are the other bishops in these countries*?
Let’s take an alphabetical look.
We start way up north, in Iceland, with the titular see of Hólar. Currently all of Iceland is part of the Diocese of Reykjavík, but in the twelfth century there were two others, once of which was Hólar. It was suppressed in 1550, after which the island fell under various ecclesiastical jurisdictions. The village of Hólar lies on Iceland’s northern coast and nowadays is home to some 100 people. In the past it was the heart of Iceland’s Catholicism and a major centre of learning. Today, it is the titular see of Bishop Stanisław Budzik, auxiliary bishop of the Polish diocese of Tarnów.
Next is one of the two titular sees located in Belgium. Ieper (in Dutch) or Ypres (in French) was one of the dioceses established in answer to the Reformation in the Low Countries. Unlike the dioceses further north, it existed for a fair amount of time. It wasn’t until 1801, when it was suppressed to become part of the Diocese of Gent. The establishment of the diocese reflected its importance as a commercial trading city and also its origins as a French enclave in the Holy Roman Empire. Its current titular bishop is one of the three new auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, Msgr. Jean Kockerols.
Not far from there lies the third see on our list, and the only Dutch titular see: Maastricht. It can trace its origins to the first arrival of Christianity in the Netherlands. It was created in 530 from the Diocese of Tongeren and Maastricht and survived for almost two centuries. In 720 it was incorporated into the powerful Diocese of Liège, an indication that the centre of Catholic gravity in that area had moved south. Bishop Marco Pérez Caicedo is the titular bishop of Maastricht. In daily life he is one of the auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese of Guayaquil in Ecuador.
From Maastricht we go back to Scandinavia, to Norway where, in 1070, a Diocese of Selja was established. Also know as Selia, the titular see is based on a tiny island near the city of Bergen and is the predecessor of the Diocese of Bergen. In fact, it was named so only 10 years after its establishment, and survived until the Reformation. It was suppressed in 1537. The current titular bishop is Auxiliary Bishop Pero Sudar of Vrhbosna in Bosnia and Hercegovina.
Then back to Belgium it is, to the ancient titular see of Tongeren or Tongres. This is the oldest diocese in the Low Countries, established in 344 from Cologne. From here, the Diocese of Maastricht was established in 530, the same year that saw the end of Tongeren as a diocese. Later, it was one of the seeds for the powerful prince-bishopric of Liège. Like Belgium’s other titular see, a Belgian bishop holds it. He is Msgr. Pierre Warin, auxiliary of the nearby Diocese of Namur.
That leaves only two titular dioceses on our list, and both are currently vacant. The first is Chiemsee in Germany, that country’s only titular see. It’s been vacant for a long time: it’s last titular bishop was Bishop Sigmund Christoph, Count of Waldburg-Zeil-Trauchburg. His tenure ended in 1808.
The last diocese on our last takes us back to our starting point, Iceland. When Hólar was an important centre in the north, its equivalent in the south was the Diocese of Skálholt. It’s history is very similar to that of Hólar, although it is a few years older. It is vacant, but it hasn’t been for as long as Chiemsee. It’s last titular bishop died in 2008, and he was Dutch: Bishop Alphons Castermans, auxiliary of Roermond.
*Not that these bishops have any rights or duties in their titular sees, as Father Z explains in the aforementioned post.