(EMERITENSIS IN INDIIS)
A suffragan see of Santiago of Venezuela or Caracas, comprises the State of Los Andes, and part of Zulia and Zamora. It lies in the north-western portion of the republic, to the south of Lake Maracaibo. Until 17 Jan., 1905, it included the territory of the Goajira. Mérida was first erected into a bishopric on 17 Feb., 1777. Its first bishop, Juan Ramos de Lora, a Franciscan, born at Palacios y Villafranca, Diocese of Seville, in 1722, was nominated in the consistory of 23 Sept., 1782, and was a suffragan of Santa Fe de Bogotá. His immediate successors were Emanuelo Candido de Terrissos in 1791; and in 1795 Antonio Espinosa, of Corvera in the Diocese of Saragossa. In 1801 Pius VII appointed Jaime Hernández Milanes of Nieza, in the Diocese of Salamanca. By a Bull of the same pontiff, "In Universalis Ecclesiæ", 24 Oct., 1803, Mérida became suffragan to Caracas, which had just been raised to the archiepiscopal rank. In 1816 Rafael Laso de La Vega was elected bishop. Owing to the troubles consequent on the rebellion against Spain, Leo XII nominated Bonaventura Arias in the consistory of 2 Oct., 1826, as auxiliary bishop. When Bishop Laso was transferred to Quito, 15 Dec., 1828, Mgr Arias continued to govern the diocese till Gregory XVI declared him a vicar Apostolic. His successor, José Vicente Unda of Guanara, was nominated in the consistory of 11 July, 1836, and on his death, 27 Jan., 1842, Juan Ilario Boset, of Puerto de Gueya, was elected.
The present occupant of the see is Mgr Antonio Raymondo Silva, born at Caracas, 26 June, 1850, and elected 21 May, 1894. The diocese contains 15 vicariates, 108 parishes, 150 churches and chapels, 100 priests, and a population of about 450,000, all Catholics except about 20,000 pagans, Timotes and Mucuchic Indians, and 300 Protestants and Jews. There are only two religious congregations in the diocese at the present time (1910):
- the Sisters of Saint Rosa of Lima, at Mérida, San Cristóbal, and Rubio, a diocesan order devoted to hospital and orphanage work;
- the Servants of the Holy Family, with houses at La Grita, San Cristóbal, and Táriba. The fine cathedral is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady.
The city of Mérida stands at an elevation of 5500 feet on the right bank of the Rio Chamo in a valley of the Sierra Nevada, which here rises to about 15,000 feet. It is about 60 miles from Lake Maracaibo and 300 from Caracas. The city was founded by Juan Rodríguez Suárez in 1558 under the name of Santiago de los Caballeros. It suffered severely from earthquakes, notably in 1644, 1812, and 1894, notwithstanding which it is a thriving business town with 12,000 inhabitants. The old seminary was changed into a university in 1810, and still flourishes, besides that of Caracas. Boletin de Estadistica de los Estados Unidos de Venezuela (Caracas, 1905), 224-27.
A. A. MacErlean.