The necessity of archives was recognized very early in history, and we find them in use among the most ancient peoples. Assyria, Babylon, Israel, Phoenicia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome appreciated the value of preserving important documents and usually reserved a part of the temple for the archives. The sacredness of the holy place was expected to be an additional guarantee against violation.
Ecclesiastical archives are as old as the organization of the earliest churches, for these produced records that required preservation and storage.
History. As early as 367 B.C. Roman law saw the need of an archivist. The norms of Roman law undoubtedly served as guides in the development of administrative procedures of the early Christian Church.
The Liber pontificalis claims that Pope St. Clement (c. 88–97) divided the Church at Rome into seven regions, and assigned to these regions notaries who were to compile accurate and diligent accounts of the history of the martyrs. Most likely the procedure followed by these notaries was patterned after that of the civil government except that the Liber pontificalis adds that these accounts were kept "in ecclesias," that is, in the church itself or one of its buildings. Pope St. Fabian (236–250) is said to have appointed seven subdeacons who were to supervise the notaries and transcribe the acta in full from the notae or shorthand methods of the notaries.
In the Middle Ages episcopal sees, collegiate and cathedral chapters, and monasteries continued to be important archival centers, preserving not only records of their own land holdings, contracts, etc., but also important documents that civil officials might want to deposit there.
At the beginning of the modern era the Council of trent promulgated brief regulations on the preservation of important documents. Subsequently Popes sixtus v (who planned a central Roman Archives and the Notarial Archives for the States of the Church), clement viii, and paul v initiated important archival reforms. Pope benedict xiii issued his constitution on Italian ecclesiastical archives Maxima vigilantia, dated June 14, 1727 [Bullarium Romanum 12 (Rome 1736) 221–225, entitled: "A constitution on archives to be erected in Italy for the preservation of legal papers and documents pertaining to cathedral churches both collegiate and noncollegiate, to seminaries, monasteries of both men and of women, guilds, confraternities, hospitals and to all other pious institutions legally instituted.
To further and coordinate archival activities in the Church, the Associazione Archivistica Ecclesiastica was founded in Rome in 1956. Membership is open to all ecclesiastical archivists. Since 1958 it has published Archiva Ecclesiae, with important articles on church archives in all countries.
Common and Secret Archives. The rules for the erection, contents, custody, and use of both common and secret archives is contained in Codex Iuris Canonicis (CIC) cc. 486–491 and Codex Canonum Ecclesiarium Orientalium (CCEO) cc. 256–261. It is impossible to give an exhaustive list of all the documents that should be kept in the archives but the law gives an indication of what type of material ought to be preserved there: e.g., records of ordinations (CIC c.1053; CCEO c. 774), and authentic documents regarding church property ownership and rights (CIC c. 1284 §2, 9°; CCEO c. 1028 §2, 8°).
The obligation of some practical and orderly arrangement of the archives is indicated by CIC c. 486 and CCEO c. 256. A chronological filing may be preferable for certain types of documents whereas an alphabetical system might be more practical for other types. The diocesan chancellor is the legal custodian of the archives (CIC c. 482 §1; CCEO c. 252 §1) and therefore he or she, together with the bishop, should determine their arrangement.
Custody of the archives is a serious matter, and an inventory of archive documents is required as a safeguard (CIC c. 486 §3; CCEO c. 256 §2). The law requires also that permission be obtained to enter the archives (CIC c. 487 §1; CCEO c. 257 §1) and to borrow or remove any document (CIC c. 488; CCEO c. 258).
The secret archives are governed by similar norms. The 1917 Code of Canon Law made universal laws regarding secret archives for the first time, although such archives were in existence in many areas prior to the 1917 Code. The types of documents contained in this special archive are cited in various canons, e.g., notations of marriages secretly celebrated (CIC c. 1133), and documents of criminal cases in matters of morals (CIC c. 489 §2; CCEO c. 259 §2). The custody of these secret archives is particularly important if the see is vacant (cf. CIC c. 490 §2; CCEO c. 260 §2).
Ecclesiastical Archives in the United States. Church archives formally developed in the United States after the publication of the 1917 Code of Canon Law. Prior to 1918 many documents disappeared or were dispersed, out of carelessness, ignorance, lack of adequate facilities, or an unwillingness to preserve them for posterity. However, some dioceses, like those of Baltimore and St. Louis, succeeded in preserving archival materials intact. On Nov. 22, 1974 the NCCB Committee for the Bicentennial issued "A Document on Ecclesiastical Archives," stressing their importance:
At the same time we regret that our Church's singular role in the development of our country has not been presented as fully as it deserves to be. Although books, monographs, articles, and essays on the subject of American Catholicism abound and many of them are of high scholarly and literary quality, church historians have still not penetrated to the heart of the peculiarly American experience in all too many cases, because they have not had access to the pertinent documents of bishops, dioceses, religious orders, and institutions. The difficulty is not so much that such papers are not extant, although it is true, unfortunately, that in certain known cases large holdings of important documents have been destroyed because they were mistakenly judged to be "outdated" or "useless" or "trash." The problem is rather that in many places the papers which do exist in abundance have not yet been organized for preservation and research. Consequently, on the one hand, they are not easily accessible to church historians and, on the other, they are in danger of being lost, dispersed, or damaged through lack of proper care, fire or flood, or inadvertent disposal.
The documents urged that all bishops appoint a diocesan archivist. Access to ecclesiastical papers and records was encouraged:
Finally, we express our sincere hope that the residential bishops may be disposed to grant access to the diocesan archives without undue limitations when properly accredited ecclesiastical historians request it. The past products of such research support, we believe, the contention that serious historians, even graduate students and doctoral candidates, have, with very rare exceptions, used such permission with honesty, fairness, responsibility, respect for the documents, and true Christian charity. Catholic historians have characteristically evinced a distinct pride in the persons and institutions of their Church of past generations, and, in our judgment, no bishop need fear that by opening his archives to scholarly examination, he will expose the Church's past to deliberate attempts at embarrassment.
Notable Depositories in the United States. To check the frequent loss of church papers the University of Notre Dame, through its Archives, has been active in collecting personal papers of bishops, priests and Catholic laypersons, as well as transcripts of American missionary letters sent to Europe. The collections include copies of letters from the United States to the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith in Rome from 1622 to 1865. The American Catholic Historical Society Archives, housed on the campus of St. Charles Seminary in Philadelphia, are a mine of early Catholic Americana, including newspapers and serials. Georgetown University contains early Catholic Americana, notably the papers of John Gilmary Shea, the first scholarly historian of the Catholic Church in the United States. Between 1872 and 1927, Bishops Gibbons, Keane, and O'Connor, exercised leadership on a national level, and thus their papers take on added significance. Many are now preserved at the Richmond Diocesan Archives. The Archives of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe has published a listing of its holdings that encompasses Franciscan missionary activities and the career of Archbishop John Lamy (made famous by Willa Cather in Death Comes for the Archbishop ). The Archives of the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., has noteworthy collections on labor relations and labor unions. In addition, it has assembled copies of the papers of John Carroll (1735–1815), the first bishop of Baltimore, and other materials on the early American Church. Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has an archival center for Catholic journalism in the United States.
A unique collection of approximately 30,000 bound manuscripts or codices representing the holdings of fifty monastic libraries in Europe is now available on microfilm at St. John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota. A major portion of the manuscript holdings of the Vatican Library on microfilm is now on deposit at St. Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri.
Valuable collections have been assembled through the interests of religious communities and orders, like that on Franciscan history now available at the Academy of American Franciscan History, Berkeley, California; the collection of Dominicana at the Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C.; and the Jesuit collections at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., St. Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri, and at Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington.
Though there is no current standard guide to Catholic church archives nor an inventory of unpublished material on the history of the American Catholic Church, those interested in doing further research on specific topics will want to consult The National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections, a continuing series published by the Library of Congress since 1959. Here appear many entries on collections of Catholic church archives, plus valuable annual indexes and a cumulative index for reports from 1959 to 1963. Occasional articles on Catholic church records and depositories appear in the American Archivist, a journal sponsored by the Society of American Archivists.
Specific Subject Collections. The following is a compilation of the main depositories of church history materials and sources primarily located in the United States. Abbey of St. Martin, 1077–1780 : Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif.; Alaska Missions : Gonzaga University, Spokane, Wash.; American Catholicism before 1842 : Catholic University Archives, Washington, D.C.; Benedictines: St. John's University Archives, Collegeville, Minn. and St. Vincent's Archabbey Archives, Latrobe, Pa.; Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions Archives : Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisc.; California Church History and Missions, 1770–1955 : University of San Francisco Archives, San Francisco, Calif.; Catholic Charities : Catholic University Archives, Washington, D.C.; Catholic Newspapers : American Catholic Historical Society, Philadelphia, Pa.; Catholic Order of Foresters, St. Paul, 1894–1928 : Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minn.; Church in Michigan : Detroit Public Library, Detroit, Mich.; Church in the Mississippi Valley and in the West : St. Louis University Archives, St. Louis, Mo.; Church in Missouri and the Dakotas : Conception Abbey Archives, Conception, Mo.; Church in Texas : Texas Catholic Historical Society, Austin, Texas; Church in the United States : American Catholic Historical Society, Philadelphia, Pa.; Church in Western Pennsylvania : Duquesne University Archives, Pittsburgh, Pa.; Church in Wisconsin, 1695–1944 : State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisc.
Dominicans : Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C.; Dublin, Ireland Mission Society : University of Notre Dame Archives, South Bend, Ind.; Franciscans : Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, Calif.; St. Bonaventure University Archives, St. Bonaventure, N.Y.; John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, Providence, R.I.; Academy of American Franciscan History, Berkeley, Calif.; and Santa Fe Archdiocesan Archives, Santa Fe, N.M.; Gambell Missionaries, 1898–1906 : Alaska Historical Society, Anchorage, Alaska; German Settlements : St. Vincent's Archabbey Archives, Latrobe, Pa.; German Jesuits in America, 1611–1760 : Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Irish and Home Rule : American Irish Historical Society, New York, N.Y.; Jesuits in Alaska : Gonzaga University Archives, Spokane, Wash.
Jesuits in California, 1768 : Oscott College, Birmingham, England; Jesuit Missions among Kickapoo and Potawami Indians : St. Louis University Archives, St. Louis, Mo.; Jesuits in North America, 1612–1685 : State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisc.; Jesuit Missions in the Northwest, 1843–1947 : Gonzaga University Archives, Spokane, Wash. and University of Alaska Museum, Fairbanks, Alaska; Jesuits in Oregon : Gonzaga University Archives, Spokane, Wash.; Jesuit Papers, Copies from Germany, Mexico, Rome, and Spain, "Jesuit Americana" : St. Louis University Archives, St. Louis, Mo.; Latin-American Church : Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, Calif.; Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe, N.M.; and Academy of American Franciscan History, Berkeley, Calif.; Lyons (France) Mission Society : University of Notre Dame Archives, South Bend, Ind.; Missions in Missouri and the Dakotas, 1873–1923 : Conception Abbey Archives, Conception, Mo. Munich (Germany) Mission Society : University of Notre Dame Archives, South Bend, Ind.
Oregon Missions : Oregon Historical Society, Portland, Oreg. Paris (France) Mission Society : University of Notre Dame Archives, Notre Dame, Ind.; Phillipines : Newberry Library, Chicago, Ill.; University of Michigan Library, Ann Arbor, Mich.; Duke University Library, Durham, N.C; and Princeton University Library, Princeton, N.J.; Representatives of the American Hierarchy in Rome, 1832–1903 : Catholic University Archives, Washington, D.C.; Society for the Propagation of the Faith, 1822–1900 : University of Notre Dame Archives, South Bend, Ind.; Spaniards in Florida and West Indies, 1783–1795 : Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif.; Spanish-American War Papers : St. Joseph Central House, Emmitsburg, Md.; Spanish Missions, 1776–1955 : Bowers Museum, Santa Ana, Calif.; Sulpicians in the United States : St. Mary's Seminary Archives, Roland Park, Md.; Texas and Southwest Missions : University of Notre Dame Archives, South Bend, Ind.; Vienna (Austria) Mission Society : University of Notre Dame Archives, Notre Dame, Ind.
See Also: vatican archives.
Bibliography: r. naz, Dictionnaire de droit canonique, 7 v. (Paris 1935–65) 1:1026–36. e. loevinson, "La costituzione di papa Benedetto XIII sugli archivi ecclesiastici: Un papa archivista," Gli archivi Italiani 3 (1916) 159–206. g. battelli, "Il censimento degli archivi ecclesiastici d'Italia e la loro tutela durante la guerra," Rivista di storia della Chiesa iri Italia (Rome 1947–) 1:113–116; "Gli archivi ecclesiastici d'Italia danneggiati dalla guerra," ibid. 306–308. a. cicognani, Canon Law (2d ed. rev. Westminster, Md. 1947) 141. h. j. wolff, Roman Law (Norman, Okla. 1951) 34. a. toso, Ad codicem iuris canonici commentaria minora (Rome 1925) 2.3.1:22. w. f. louis, Diocesan Archives (Catholic University of America Canon Law Studies, 137; Washington 1941). j. e. prince, The Diocesan Chancellor (Catholic University of America Canon Law Studies, 167; Washington 1942). c. a. kekumano, The Secret Archives of the Diocesan Curia (Catholic University of America Canon Law Studies, 350; Washington 1954). h. hoffmann, "De codificatione iuris archivistici per jus novissimum Codicis Iuris Canonici," Periodica 49 (1960) 204–236. h. l. hoffmann, De archivis ecclesiasticis, imprimis dioecesanis secundum iuris canonici codicem (Rome 1962). j. grisar, "Notare und Notariats-archive im Kirchenstaat des 16. Jahrhunderts," Studi e Testi 234 (1964) 251–300.
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"Archives, Ecclesiastical." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 26, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/archives-ecclesiastical
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