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Papal Registers


Papal registers (regesta, regestra, registra ) are bound volumes containing copies of official papal letters and documents, today preserved in the vatican archives (with a few exceptions). They represent a fairly continuous series from innocent iii (11981216) onward, but there is evidence that registers were kept as early as the 4th century, and probably earlier. They followed the Roman imperial model of the commentarii, and were the work of the papal notaries, whose office eventually became the chancery by the 11th century. Such records were essential, for the Roman pontiff ruled largely by promulgation and written acts and decrees. However, apart from the reconstructed register of gregory i (590604), based on 9th-century and later materials, a late excerpt of john viii (872882), the first contemporary register of gregory vii (107385), and some partial transcripts of the 12th century, e.g., of the antipope anacletus ii (103038; see pierleoni), none of the early registers have survived. We deduce their existence from various canonical collections, e.g., the dionysiana, quesnelliana, and Britannica, and the testimony of such canonists as Deusdedit (see deusdedit, collection of) and anselm of lucca. The order of registration was generally chronological (by indictions, and from Gregory VII onward by pontifical years). No attempt was made to classify matter until the 13th century, when, e.g., Innocent III ordered a Regestum super negotio Romani imperii. With the growth of papal administration and the problems created by the avignon papacy and the western schism came an increasingly complicated system of registers.

There are several series of papal registers. (1) Vatican Registers are the oldest and the most important. There are 2,042 items, mostly on parchment, opening properly with Innocent III (Reg. Vat. 4) in 1198 and extending to clement viii (15921605). (2) Avignonese Registers were compiled at Avignon between 1316 and 1415, and remained there until the 18th century. There are 349 volumes on paper. The majority were transcribed into the Vatican Registers. They contain Litterae communes and Litterae secretae. (3) Lateran Registers constitute 2,467 volumes, kept in the lateran palace until 1892. They cover the period between 1389 and 1897, but their contents concern only ecclesiastical and administrative matters, i.e., copies of Litterae communes (favor and justice). Many volumes are missing, especially as a result of the Napoleonic Wars.

The opening of the Vatican Archives to the scholarly world in 1881 fulfilled a long-felt need. The archives constitute a major source for European history, especially that of the Middle Ages. Many of the documents are of outstanding importance. Thus Gregory VII Reg. 2.55a is the famous dictatus papae and 3.10a is the deposition of the Emperor henry iv. Finally, there is a continuing discussion among historians as to the method and form of compiling the registers, e.g., whether the corrected draft or the finished letter was the model, and also how far the registers are themselves original or merely transcripts of the original Chancery Registers. The likely solution is that no single system prevailed throughout.

(4) The papal Penitentiary, the central office for dispensations, absolutions, and licences, kept registers of its own. These registers, which were begun in the early 15th and continued until well into the 19th century, are now deposited in the Vatican Archives and have been accessible to scholars since 1983 upon special permission. (5) From 1334 all incoming petitions to the pope were registered in the Registra supplicationum (see Boyle and Diener). (6) From ca. 1470 a new abbreviated form of papal letter came into use, the littera brevis (i.e. shorter letters), which were registered as Brevia (see Gualdo). (7) The Papal Chamber kept several registers concerning the financial affairs of the Holy See, such as the Introitus et Exitus registers or the Annate registers (see Diener and Boyle).

Bibliography: Sources: Registra Vaticana 1136. Iohannes VIII-Benedictus XII (8761342), 136 CD-ROMs (Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Vatican City) [photographic reproduction of the Vatican Registers]. Die Register Innozenz' III., ed. by o. hageneder, a. haidacher et al. for the Österreichisches Kulturinstitut in Rom, 7v. to date (Graz-Cologne-Vienna 1964ff). Registres et lettres des Papes du XIII e et du XIV e siècle, ed. École francêaise de Rome, 80v. (Rome 1883ff); also published on 3 CD-ROMs (Turnhout, Belgium). Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland, 18 v. to date (London 1893ff). Repertorium Germanicum, ed. German Historical Institute in Rome, 9 v. to date (Berlin and Tübingen 1916ff). Repertorium Poenitentiariae Germanicum, ed. l. schmugge et al. for the German Historical Institute in Rome, 4 v. to date (Tübingen 1996ff). Studies: l. boyle, A Survey of the Vatican Archives and of Its Medieval Holdings (Subsidia mediaevalia 1; Toronto 1972). h. diener, Die grossen Registerserien im Vatikanischen Archiv (13781523) (Tübingen 1972). t. frenz, Die Kanzlei der Päpste der Hochrenaissance (14711527) (Bibliothek des Deutschen Historischen Instituts in Rom 63; Tübingen 1986). g. gualdo, Sussidi per la consultazione dell' Archivio Vaticano (Collectanea Archivi Vaticani 17; Vatican City 1989).

[j. gilchrist/

l. schmugge]

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