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Thiel, Bernardo Augusto


Second bishop of San José, Costa Rica; b. Elberfeld, Germany, April 1, 1850; d. San José, Costa Rica, Sept. 9, 1901. He completed his first studies in the Royal Gymnasium of Elberfeld and continued them in the Lycée of Neuss. In Cologne he entered the Vincentians, but that did not prevent his being drafted during the Franco-Prussian war, in which he served as a male nurse in the field hospital. The religious persecution of the Kulturkampf forced him to Paris where he completed his studies for the priesthood. In 1874 he was sent by his superiors to Ecuador where he directed the professors of theology in the Conciliar Seminary. The political upheaval after the death of García Moreno (1876) caused him to leave for Costa Rica, where he also devoted himself to teaching. He was appointed bishop on Feb. 27, 1880, and was consecrated on September 5. The first bishop of Costa Rica, Anselmo Llorente Lafuente, had died on Sept. 22, 1871, and political uncertainty of the time had given rise to the prolonged vacancy of the see. In 1884 political opposition to the Church intensified. Bishop Thiel was expelled along with the Jesuits. Authors like Ricardo Fernández Guardia attributed the situation to the machinations of Freemasonry, although others maintained that the lodge was very weak in Costa Rica.

In a report to the Holy See, Sept. 26, 1884, Thiel explained his expulsion, saying that Pres. Próspero Fernández was his friend, but that certain people had abused his kindness in order to secure the decree. In a letter written to Thiel from Seville on March 23, 1885, the historian León Fernández stated that the president of Guatemala, Justo Rufino Barrios (a staunch Mason), had arranged a revolution in Costa Rica for his own purposes, and that the bishop had been the victim of that revolution.

During his exile Thiel lived in Rome and in Germany, and he later went to Panama where he received an amnesty from the government of Costa Rica (May 9, 1886), and returned to his see of San José. He restored the seminary, placing it in charge of the Vincentian Fathers. On July 31, 1897, he founded the review El Mensajero del Clero. He built the archiepiscopal palace, and once again dedicated himself to historical research and to research on Costa Rican native folklore. As a reparation for the injustices committed against him by previous governments, the Congress of the Republic of Costa Rica gave him the title of "Benemérito de la Patria." A culmination of his studies was the publication in 1882 of his notes on Costa Rican native lexicography: languages and dialects of the Talamancas, Viceitas, Terrabas, Borucas, and Guatusos. In 1896 he began to prepare his Datos cronológicos para la historia eclesiástica de Costa Rica durante el siglo XIX. His other works include Términos de origen costarricense que se encuentran en documentos de los siglos XVII y XVIII; Explicación del catecismo de la doctrina cristiana, based on the work by José Deharbe (Freiburg im Breisgau 1891); and a sacred history, as well as circulars, pastoral letters, and other short treatises.

Bibliography: v. sanabria martÍnez, Bernardo Augusto Thiel: segundo obispo de Costa Rica (San José, Costa Rica 1941). r. fernÁndez guardia, Cartilla histórica de Costa Rica (3d ed. San José 1926).

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