Action Alert!
Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

The Inventory and Catalogue of the Cultural Heritage of the Church

by Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church

Descriptive Title

Cultural Heritage of the Church


This document intends to offer to Particular Churches a general orientation for inventory procedures of their art-historical patrimony which should be progressively integrated within a cataloguing system, on the basis of their specific ecclesial needs, political situation, economic resources and personnel available, etc.

Larger Work

L'Osservatore Romano


Special Insert

Publisher & Date

The Vatican, March 22, 2000


Your Eminence (Excellency),

After dealing with libraries and archives,1 in this document the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church wishes to turn its attention to the inventory-catalogue of the cultural patrimony belonging to Church bodies and institutions as a means to protect and enhance the huge art historical patrimony of the Church. This patrimony is made up of works of architecture, painting, sculpture, as well as fittings, liturgical furnishings, vestments and musical instruments, etc.2 It can be considered the historic and creative side of the Christian community. Worship, catechesis, charity, culture have moulded the environment in which the community of believers learn and live out their faith. The translation of faith into images enriches the relationship between creation and the supernatural by recalling biblical narratives and representing different expressions of popular piety.

Christian communities recognize themselves through the various manifestations of art, and sacred art in particular, thus creating a strong tie between the Particular Churches in their common pastoral action. In addition, they have collected in archives, libraries, museums, a great quantity of artifacts, documents and texts produced throughout the centuries in order to respond to different pastoral and cultural needs.

These liberal arts "are directed toward expressing in some way the infinite beauty of God in works made by human hands. Their dedication to the increase of God's praise and of his glory is more complete, the more exclusively they are devoted to turning men's minds devoutly towards God".3

If libraries can be considered places of meditation, and archives places of memory, the art-historical patrimony of the Church is to be considered the concrete testimony of the artistic creativity and craftsmanship expressed by the Christian community in order to bestow the splendour of beauty upon the places of worship, piety, religious life, study and memory. One can thus say that monuments and objects of every type and style accompany the historical events of the Church. Through their interrelationship, they become suitable instruments to promote the evangelization of contemporary man.

The contribution of the art-historical patrimony of the Church for the cultural patrimony of mankind is huge in terms of both quantity and variety of masterpieces, as well as in terms of their quality and beauty. One cannot forget the illustrious personalities who have donated their artistic genius at the service of the Church. Each artistic vocation, in fact, can give witness to the Christian message in every population. All works of art of Christian inspiration are expressions of the universal and local spirituality. They can result from a religious, individual or communal research, sometimes reaching forms of total spiritual harmony between creative developments and subsequent enjoyment.

The uninterrupted cultural and ecclesial function, which characterizes this patrimony, assures the best guarantee for its conservation. It would be sufficient to think how difficult and expensive it would be for the community to maintain structures, which have lost their original specific purpose and how complex the choices would be to identify new ones. In addition to the "vital protection" of cultural heritage, it is also important to look after its "contextual conservation" because enhancement must be intended in its entirety especially in regards to sacred buildings where most of the art-historical patrimony of the Church is kept. In addition, one cannot underestimate the need to maintain unaltered as much as possible the tie between the buildings and the works of art contained therein in order to guarantee a complete and global fruition.

The major requisite for the protection of this huge patrimony is a cognitive effort. It represents the preliminary step to all types of follow-up activities, which involve both Church and State authorities, according to their proper field of competence.

The cognitive journey can involve different paths, nevertheless it finds in the activity of inventory and subsequent cataloguing a valid support widely recognized in terms of its fundamental premises. To identify the individual components and reconstruct the relationship between artifacts and their different contexts is one of the guiding principles behind the methodologies of a modern activity of documentation.

This Circular is addressed to diocesan Bishops in order to invite them to become spokesmen of the urgency to care for the art-historical patrimony by beginning first of all with the inventory and hopefully ending up with a subsequent catalogue of this material. But this document is also meant to make Superiors of the Institutions of Religious Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, which have given origin to a cultural patrimony of great value throughout the centuries more aware of this same need.

Generally speaking, this document wants to illustrate the essential guidelines of inventory procedures from which one can proceed to develop a cataloguing activity. This entails a complex operation in continuous evolution one, which is urgent and necessary. It must be conducted with scientific rigour in order to avoid precarious solutions and loss of resources.

After a short description of the persistent interest shown by the Church for its cultural patrimony already during the first centuries of Christianity as the starting premise, and after having clarified the notion, subject, method and aims of inventory-cataloguing procedures, the document intends to underline first the urgency of inventory and second some aspects connected to the subsequent cataloguing activity. The attention is then focused on the institutions and agents responsible and operating in this field.

The document unites the procedures of inventory and cataloguing into one whole concept. This is done for theoretical and practical reasons in order to stress the necessary continuity between the two procedures, while taking into consideration their legitimate differences, their different stages of development and above all the different situations faced by individual Particular Churches. The document, thus, presents a process, which from the necessary and urgent inventory procedure should hopefully lead to the important cataloguing one.

This aim stems from the provision of the Canon Law Code which underlines the obligation of making "a clear and accurate inventory ... of all immovable goods, of those movable goods which are precious or of high cultural value, and of all other goods, with a description and an estimate of their value . . .".4 The document then proceeds to demonstrate the usefulness of a more complete description of the art-historical patrimony of the Church in terms of its individual components and context. The provision of the Code not only recommends an administrative procedure aimed at protection, but also urges, both in the context of the same norm and in its general intent, an inventory 'accuratum ac distinctum' in order to favour the ecclesial appreciation of the cultural good in conformity with the action of the Church which is oriented towards salus animarum. The description of the object leads thus to its detailed inventory and likewise stimulates a development leading to the catalogue.

This document intends to offer to Particular Churches a general orientation for inventory procedures of their art-historical patrimony which should be progressively integrated within a cataloguing system, on the basis of their specific ecclesial needs, political situation, economic resources and personnel available, etc.

1. Inventory And Cataloguing: An Historical Background

Already from earliest times, the Church understood the importance of the cultural heritage for the fulfillment of her mission. In fact, she bestowed to everything which "throughout the centuries belonged to her in some way" the dignity of art "as a reflection of its own spiritual beauty".5 In addition, she not only was a patron of art and culture, but she also dedicated herself to the protection and enhancement of the cultural heritage, as we can see from a brief historical analysis.

Catacomb paintings, the splendour of Churches, and the preciousness of sacred furnishings give witness to the importance given by the Church to works of art. The Liber Pontificalis 6 and the Inventories preserved in the Vatican Secret Archive 7 record the great care shown by the Popes for the decoration of Churches and how art works were soon considered to be a patrimony to be looked after with great attention.

An important initial step in terms of Papal teaching was taken already in antiquity by Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) regarding the recognition of the value of a work of sacred art. He supported the use of images because of their usefulness in recording the memory of Christian history and in arousing that sentiment of compunction leading the faithful towards adoration. But above all they represented the instrument with which the narratives in Scripture could be taught to the illiterate.8 The II Council of Nicene (787)9 concluded the iconoclastic debate, which burdened for many decades the Church of the East and had numerous repercussions in the West, and dictated the criteria for Christian iconography.

It is well known how Monastic (especially the Benedictines) and Mendicant Orders nurtured specific attention towards artistic works throughout the Middle Ages, to the point of characterizing their style and formulating norms which sometimes became part of the rule of their own congregation.

In addition, historians consider the institutional prayer of the ostiarii (dated perhaps to the middle of the third century) a first sacred effort on the part of the Church for the protection of this patrimony: "See to it that your negligence will not cause the degradation of any thing which is in the Church. Act in such a way to render count to God of those things which are put under custody with these keys (which are given to you)".10

A number of Pontifical norms appeared soon after, especially concerning the alienation and the donation of cultural properties. These prescribed serious punishments, including excommunication, to all those who conducted these acts without proper authorization.11

Not only the Pontiffs, but also the Ecumenical Councils dealt with this issue of protection of cultural patrimony, especially the IV Council held in Constantinople (869-70)12 and the II Council of Lyon (1274).13

However, it was the Council of Trent, in particular, which, while expressing its view against iconoclasticism by means of a decree, also added a new and very important element. It called upon Bishops to instruct to the faithful the significance and usefulness of sacred images for the purpose of conducting a truly Christian life. It also prescribed the obligation of submitting any "unusual" image to the judgment of the competent Bishop.14

On 28 November 1534, Pope Paul III nominated for the first time a Commissioner for the conservation of ancient cultural goods.15 Some centuries later, on 1 October 1802, a chirografo of Pope Pius VII included among the goods worth conserving not only those of antiquity but also all those which dated to other historical periods.16 Based on these instructions, the Camerlengo Cardinal Pacca issued a decree on 7 April 1820 regarding the inventory of all cultural goods in Rome and in the Pontifical State. It recommended that: "Any Superior, Administrator or Rector, or individual who directs public buildings and places, ecclesiastical or secular alike, including Churches, Oratories, Convents, where collections of Statues and Paintings are preserved, Museums of Sacred and secular Antiquities, and even one or more precious artistic Objects of Rome and of the State, without person of exception, even if privileged or very privileged, should present a very exact and distinct Note of the objects mentioned above in double copy, with a description of each piece".17 Thus this Edict, which served as the basis and inspiring model for the laws on the "liberal arts" drawn up in the XIX and XX centuries in many European nations, recommended for the first time the drafting of an inventory.

Even if the above mentioned instructions refer particularly to the Pontifical State, they nevertheless testify the Church's interest in protecting cultural goods and increasing awareness raising in regards to their inventory in order to assign to them adequate juridical protection.

In terms of universal Church legislation, besides the dispositions already mentioned by the ecumenical Councils, we should recall that Pius X already back in 1907 required Bishops of Italy to establish a diocesan Commissionariat to evaluate the cultural patrimony, look after its conservation, and examine the projects of restoration and new constructions.18

The concern of the Church that what is to be destined for places of worship must be of undeniable artistic value becomes clear in the instructions on Sacred Music issued on 22 November 1903 by Pius X.19 Vigilance in regards to the sacral suitability of works destined to decorate Churches was stressed later on in the Encyclical Mediator Dei of Pius XII (1947).20

Consequently, even the Code of Canon Law of 1917, and more precisely Canon 1522, urged administrators of ecclesiastical goods to draw up an accurate and specific inventory of immovables, movables or any other precious objects along with their description and estimate of their value. Two copies of the inventory were to be made, of which one was to be kept in the administrative archive, the other in the archive of the Curia. Any changes made to the patrimony were to be noted in both copies.21 Of considerable importance for the conservation and enhancement of the sacred cultural and artistic patrimony are the Circular Letters issued by Card. Gasparri. Secretary of State, on 15 April 1923 n. 16605 and 1 September 1924 n. 34215.22 The latter, addressed to the Bishops of Italy, announced the establishment of a "special Central Commission for Sacred Art throughout Italy" as part of the Secretariat of State of His Holiness in Rome. The Commission was assigned the purpose of promoting everywhere an attentive and industrious sense of Christian Art as well as its correct conservation, and an increase of the artistic patrimony of the Church through her activity of direction, inspection and promotion in collaboration with the diocesan (inter-diocesan or regional) Commissions.

Other norms and instructions were dictated for the same purpose in the Circular Letters of the Secretariat of State of 3 October 1923 n. 2235223 and 1 December 1925 n. 4915824 which refer to the Pontifical dispositions on the topic of Sacred Art, One should also mention the Circular Letters issued by the Sacred Congregation of the Council and dated respectively 10 August 1928; 20 June 1929,25 and 24 May 1939.26

In the Circular Letter of II April 1971, the Congregation for the Clergy recommended the inventory of sacred buildings and those objects of artistic and historical value contained therein.27

Canon 1283, n. 2-3 of the current Code of Canon Law of 1983, while recalling the norm of the Code of 1917, includes among the goods to be listed in the inventory also all those movables that fall under the category of cultural goods.28

In conclusion, one can say that the Church was one of the first public institutions to have regulated through specific laws the creation, conservation, and the enhancement of the artistic patrimony placed at the service of her own mission.

2. Inventory And Catalogue: General Perspectives

The work of inventory and cataloguing requires first of all a precise definition of their terms of reference according to an ecclesiastical approach. It is thus necessary to underline the notion, subject, method and objectives behind this endeavour.

2.1. The Notion

First one should clearly distinguish between the two notions of inventory and catalogue. The two operations usually involve different aims and methodologies, even if they are connected and complementary in so much as they are part of one major cognitive operation and field of general interest.

The act of inventorying is a basic cognitive activity. One may define it as a simple one of "recording" for the simple system of listing involved. The act of cataloguing, instead, takes into consideration the more complex dimension and intrinsic aims of the cultural good. It offers a deeper degree of knowledge of the object considered in its context, significance and value.

Thus, the act of cataloguing should be considered the mature outcome of that cognitive process which includes inventorying as an indispensable preliminary phase. Since it involves a continuous process, this Circular Letter uses the double term inventory and catalogue to underline its subject, method, and objectives. Given the nature sui generis of the art-historical patrimony of the Church, not only the inventory but also the cataloguing activity is to be considered indispensable. This type of patrimony, in fact, has a natural, cultural, social and religious importance and thus it cannot be adequately known, protected, enhanced by means of a simple listing procedure. The different situations faced by the individual Particular Churches do not permit univocal solutions or a short-term processing of data.

2.2. The Subject

The subject of inventory and catalogue is the cultural good of religious significance in so much as it is a work of art, that is a work produced by man, which is visible, measurable, and perishable. This type of work is also characterized by a conspicuous religious value, and thus it assumes the value proper to a Church cultural good.

This definition does not include "environmental goods", that is works not produced by man, and the immense category of those "non-material cultural goods", such as language, customs, myths, and models of behaviour.

Typologically speaking, material goods which are subject to inventory-cataloguing divide themselves between "immovables" (such as buildings for and connected to worship, monasteries and convents, Bishops' and pastors' residences, charitable and school complexes, etc.) and "movables' (paintings, sculptures, liturgical furnishings, vestments, musical instruments, etc.). Other goods, which deserve attention because of their anthropological, cultural, environmental value, (such as archives and books) are subject to a different method of investigation and evaluation.

The formal procedure of inventory-catalogue entails an ordered and systematic gathering of information. Already the initial phase of searching for data through a rigorous process of recording and identification of cultural goods, and the drafting of a general inventory (that is a nominal listing) involves an accurate process of evaluation and selection. In fact, the entire procedure of inventory-cataloguing is not merely a simple listing operation, but a pondered selection of information based on a particular ideological and epistemological reference scheme. Thus, already during this initial operation of organizing the data researched, one should develop the intention of taking into consideration the art-historical value, the ecclesial purpose, the entire context, the juridical status, the actual conditions of such goods in order to harmonize the work of evaluation with the sensus ecclesiae.

2.3. The Method

The work method applied for inventory-cataloguing can be substantially connected to that used in the field of art-history. It can be subdivided into three phases: a) the euristic phase or the identification of the cultural good leading finally to the drafting of a general inventory; b) the analytical phase or the description of the individual work which leads to the drafting of the entry including its various aspects; c) the synthetical phase or the ordering of the index, which leads hopefully to the drafting of the so-called catalogue.

Each of these phases present specific and delicate problematic issues which can be overcome by rigorous procedure and practice as well as good common sense. It is however essential that the entire process be carried out mindful of the initial aims: the immediate one of the actual drafting of the inventory and catalogue (the material aim) and the final one of conservation and enhancement (formal aim).

An inventory-cataloguing system can be planned in reference to specific management needs. Thus not all the items foreseen for a complete record have to appear, for example, in those used by police forces, for tourist use, as general reference, for didactic purposes, or immediate consultation, etc. Nevertheless, one should work out an integration of data between the various systems in order to prevent the repetition of the inventory-cataloguing procedure applied that would result in a useless waste of resources and time, unsatisfactory results, and a difficult circulation and interaction of information.

The inventory-cataloguing procedure can be carried out either on paper or with computerized means, depending on the different needs and situations. Since computerization is becoming more popular, usually computer means are preferable but the role of the paper record should not be underestimated. The development of the inventory-cataloguing procedure by computer should not imply the elimination or the destruction of paper records, unless it is foreseen explicitly by the Code of Canon Law.29

2.4. The Objectives

The objectives guiding inventory-cataloguing procedures are many and extremely important. Fundamentally speaking, they can be summarized in three major ones: knowledge, protection, and enhancement of the art-historical patrimony according to cultural and ecclesial criteria.

2.4.1. Knowledge

The fundamental objective of the inventory-cataloguing procedure is the gaining of knowledge of the art-historical patrimony through the individual objects, its global unity, the complex relationship between the various objects comprising it, its inseparable relationship to the local history and territory. Only under these terms do the works assume their real significance and value. Abiding to its purpose of offering adequate information on the work as a cultural good, the inventory-cataloguing activity entails a process of progressive contextual knowledge of the object. The final phase entails research on both the cultural good and its context following an inter-disciplinary logic, as well as its physical, juridical-administrative conditions and its security. This is in order to record the various changes undergone by the cultural good and so it can serve as a useful reference for all requests of interventions.

The follow-up activity develops an articulated group of facts that must be organized according to a precise methodology. This system allows the fulfilment of complex and interrelated objectives of fundamental importance for every type of approach to the art-historical patrimony. One should also associate to the inventory-cataloguing procedure a propulsive function leading to a greater knowledge of the territory and its cultural goods. This can be reached through the identification of the geomorphologic, economical-structural and historical-cultural factors determining its identity.

In this regard, some Nations have developed already by now a deep awareness and adequate juridical instruments intended to satisfy the needs mentioned above while others have only just begun this process.

2.4.2. Safeguard

Safeguard implies juridical protection and material conservation. It becomes a concrete reality not only through juridical and administrative accomplishments oriented towards simply recording works, but also through the equally precious drafting of inventories. Its efficiency is measured primarily on the predisposition of what is useful in regards to the drafting of the catalogue as a cognitive instrument aimed at the programming and planning of multiple forms of intervention. This way one can favour restoration, conservation, protection, prevention, (against thefts and damages), in addition to the global management of the goods present in a specific territory.

In the ecclesiastical context every initiative of safeguarding cannot leave aside the cultural, catechetical, charitable, cultural value inherent to the art-historical patrimony. In the mens of the Church content is a first priority because this patrimony serves a precise function in her pastoral mission. It should appear as such in the inventories and catalogues. In carrying out a constant activity of protection, the Church creates and consolidates a relationship between the faithful and the art-historical expressions of the Church from one generation to another. The latter delineate how and in what way the community belongs to its territory, its ecclesial lifestyle and religious traditions. Awareness of this relationship acts as an efficient antidote against the deterioration and the damage of monuments and the objects contained therein.

In relation to the drafting of the inventory-catalogue, safeguarding must mean, from the Church's point of view, awareness of the use of the cultural good in order to defend its religious nature. From a technical point of view, it brings about a preventive knowledge of the peculiarities of the cultural good and its historical context in order to determine the subsequent control needed and stimulate proper action. From an administrative point of view, it requires a clear identification of the property, an updated cadastral survey, the regulation of usage, and organized management. From the point of view of security, it foresees a congruent indexing procedure that may adequately address the needs of those responsible and the police force eventually assigned to this field.

2.4.3. Enhancement

Enhancement is the final result of every phase of the inventory-cataloguing process and it determines the success of its aims, methods and contents. Enhancement is a very articulated and complex activity. Through the inventory-cataloguing process and its subsequent achievements, one can develop a conscience of respect and enjoyment of cultural goods for their ecclesial, cultural, social, historical, and artistic significance. The inventory-catalogue must thus bring people in contact with the cultural goods of the Church in urban and rural areas as well as in museum complexes. This means carrying out a particularly important role so that the significance and the value of cultural goods can increase through a systematic analysis, one that is able to reintegrate and tie together the vital relationship between the individual work of art and its original context.

In a Church environment enhancement can mean making forms emerge which are tied to specific cultural and religious identities coexisting within the various Particular Churches. Greater knowledge and more precise identification of the different settings produced by the various Church communities (places of worship, monasteries and convents; pilgrimage routes and welcoming stations; works of charity expressed by confraternities and other associations; cultural institutions; libraries; archives and museums; transformations of the territory by the work of religious institutions; etc.) allows us to focus on the important work of that process of inculturation and assimilation which was launched since the beginning of Christianity.30

Computerized technology can facilitate both the identification of the cultural good within its contextual complexity as well as the access to its pertinent information. Through its use one can contact a large amount of individuals in order to adequately inform them about these goods but also about what has been destroyed by natural catastrophes and strife. This is a way to make consciences more aware, to promote action strategies, and thus to enhance the cultural goods themselves. We should not forget that initiatives of enhancement often offer valuable employment opportunities and ways to organize forms of voluntary work in which Church institutions may also become equally involved.

3. Inventory: A First Level Of Knowledge

Inventory can be considered the first step in the knowledge, safeguard and enhancement of the art-historical patrimony of a Church community. Such an operation if on the one hand serves as an obstacle to its dispersion because it offers a concrete reference by which its memory is conserved, on the other it allows one to record subsequent developments, transformations, losses and acquisitions. Inventory favours an encounter between the Church community and its own cultural patrimony. It urges one to better know, conserve, use, and enhance this patrimony. The protection, conservation, maintenance, enhancement, development of the art-historical patrimony are all aspects intimately connected with the inventory procedure since they presuppose it.

3.1. The Value Of The Art-Historical Patrimony

In order to fulfill her pastoral mission, the Church is committed to maintain the original function of her art-historical patrimony, which is strictly connected to the proclamation of the faith and at the service of the integral promotion of man. The specific quality of the religious cultural good becomes thus underlined, prior to the uses it will assume later. The art treasure handed down by the Church should be conserved because it "is like the exterior vest and the material footprint of the supernatural life of the Church".31

Due to its pastoral value, the art-historical patrimony is directed towards the animation of the people of God. It helps the education of the faith and the development of a sense of belonging within the faithful to their own community. In many cases it is the expression of the desires, the genius, the sacrifices and above all the piety of the individuals of all social conditions who recognize themselves in the faith. The artistic treasure of Christian inspiration gives dignity to the territory and represents a spiritual inheritance for future generations. It is recognized as a primary means of inculturation of the faith in the contemporary world because of the way in which beauty opens up to the deep dimensions of the spirit and the way in which art of Christian inspiration teaches both believers and non-believers. Above all, in the context of the celebration of the divine mysteries, the cultural patrimony contributes in opening up the minds of men towards God and in making the signs and symbols of the spiritual realities shine in terms of dignity, beauty, and decorum.32

In regards to its social significance, the art-historical patrimony serves as a peculiar instrument of aggregation. It is a source of civilization because it promotes the process of transformation of the environment at a human scale, it maintains the memory of the past within each generation, and offers the possibility of transmitting its own works to posterity. Through it contemporary society recognizes the concrete and unmistakable image of its own social and historical identity. The dissolution of cultural unity in many societies of the modern world, caused by ideological and ethnic divisions, can be efficiently balanced off with the rediscovery of one's own past, common roots, historical background, and cultural memory of which the art-historical patrimony is its best expression. Thus, inventory favours the perception of the social significance of the cultural good while stimulating the urgency of its "global" safeguard and usage.

3.2. The Contextualization Of The Art-Historical Patrimony

Since the cultural goods of the Church are above all important as a whole and not only for their individual and material being, attention to the ecclesial context is of utmost importance. The cultural goods of the Church, in all their expression, give specific witness of the Tradition, or the action with which the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, brings the Gospel to "people". They qualify themselves as goods because they aim at human promotion and evangelization.

The pastoral action of the Church is told through these goods, which bestow upon the life of the Church a specific continuity and perspective. They are culturally and spiritually significant for the Christian community that has produced them and for those who come in contact with them. Consequently, one cannot consider them in an isolated fashion or detached from their context but they must be subordinated to the mission of the Church. For this reason the inventory activity must identify the context in order to underline the relationship and the spiritual affiliation of which they are visible signs.

The fundamental importance of the context of ecclesiastical cultural goods implies the necessity to conserve them as much as possible in their original places. However, the primary need to safeguard and to look out for their security may allow the move of these works from their original location. In this case, the progressive widespread of ecclesiastical museums throughout a given territory, while being an appreciated development under many respects, must nevertheless be attentively evaluated keeping in mind the need to maintain as much as possible the original tie between the cultural good, the place where it belongs and the community of faithful. In fact, this vital relationship can hardly be substituted with the simple storage in museums of those Christian artifacts present in a determined territory. To this end the "territorial museum",33 the conservation of the material in disuse within the original environment, the establishment of regional centres for data processing, all represent solutions which fulfill the many and sometimes discrepant needs of contextualization and conservation.

The necessary contextual recognition facilitates the reconstruction of the historical and social environment, the recomposition of the cultural and religious stratifications, knowledge of the materials and techniques of execution. This process of recognition merges everything that can aid towards an accurate and dynamic understanding of historical and artistic works. With this purpose, the widespread use of computerized systems of inventory, if on the one hand facilitate the knowledge of the cultural good, on the other could, in fact, diminish the characteristic approach of the usage in loco. The need to allow access to these goods as expression of the culture of the territory can be met through an enhancement of the work in loco, the organization of exhibits, the development of computerized reproductions.

3.3. Recognizing The Objects

The preceding observations focus on the importance of the inventory procedure as an instrument to safeguard the work in terms of its individuality, Church environment, territorial context and its spiritual vitality. Recognition through inventory requires thus an accurate plan of action that should involve an understanding between Church and civil authorities, since in many cases the huge art-historical patrimony of the Church is also considered part of the precious patrimony of the individual nations. Such agreements must be directed towards the rational use of resources available, the integration of systems of inventory, the juridical protection of data and regulations regarding their access.

The common guidelines which result can improve the management of the art-historical patrimony and adequately channel the efforts of Church and civil institutions assigned institutionally to these tasks. When developing such guidelines one should keep in mind social and pastoral needs. In fact, while respecting the cultural and religious purposes, one can programme various activities for the safeguard and full enjoyment of art-historical goods in the light of their different functions.

In those specific situations where State organizations are not able to sponsor programmes in order to spread knowledge of the cultural patrimony, the Church can dutifully promote them as part of her century-long tradition. She can thus become a reference-point for the development of initiatives, which, beginning with the inventory, can then proceed to document the connections between material and religious culture as a living expression of the spirituality characterizing the various populations.

Should a collaboration between Church and civil authorities be reached concerning the application of territorial inventories, it would facilitate the integrated circulation of information concerning the art-historical patrimony of the Church. The information gathered in an univocal manner and organized in archives, above all if televised, can in fact constitute a useful multipurpose data bank which could be consulted either in one central headquarter or in various locations which are duly connected and managed.

The spread of information on a global level represents a challenge for our time. In the current context of globalization, technology is able to provide instruments capable of facing this challenge with success. It is however important to arrive at a definition of protocols (on various regional, national, international levels) which can commit both Church and civil institutions to cooperate, programme, and develop common projects in full recognition of their different aims and capacities.34 Globalization cannot reduce itself to a mere economic factor which risks to further isolate those who are poor. It must give birth to a new civilization where one can more easily have access to the information in a controlled manned in order to make use of the historical memory of our entire humanity.

3.4. The Risk Of Dispersion

As we mentioned in point one, in the course of her two millennia history the Church has concerned Herself not only with the promotion and the creation of a patrimony assigned to her mission, but also its safeguard by issuing primarily regulations which could prevent illicit behaviours and undue alienations. In this respect, the administrators pro tempore of these cultural goods, in other words the custodians and not the owners of a patrimony which is destined for the community of faithful, were made responsible from the very beginning for the drafting and updating of inventories. This was done according to the universal norms of the Church and to the regulations established by the Particular Churches or the individual Church institutions.

Nevertheless, the risk of continuous dispersion represents a burden for the cultural patrimony of the Church, both in countries of older origin as well as in countries of more recent evangelization. In the case of the former, alienations and transfers of art-historical works often occur due to the renovations of various institutions and the frequent changes concerning usage. In the other case, not always do we find suitable conditions for an efficient safeguarding activity due to the precarious conditions of many situations and the frequent lack of resources. In order to combat the risk of dispersion, an "accurate and detailed" inventory is of fundamental importance because while it allows an analytical recognition of the art-historical patrimony it also promotes the acquisition of a "culture of memory".

The cultural patrimony of the Church faces, particularly in our era, a number of dangers: the disintegration of traditional urban and rural communities, atmospheric pollution and environmental disorder, unauthorized and sometimes fraudulent alienations, the pressures of the antiquarian market and systematic theft, war conflicts and recurrent expropriations, easier trafficking due to the opening of internal frontiers between countries, limited means and personnel available to grant the necessary protection, and disintegrated juridical systems.

In this situation the inventory activity becomes a valid deterrent, a sign of civilization and an instrument of protection. It guards against illicit behaviours by providing official documentation which can gain value in the private and public sector for civil and Church institutions, as well as in a local, national and international milieu. The inventory but above all the catalogue, are extremely important instruments to assure the recovery of stolen, dispersed, or illicitly transferred works of art by the police force. In fact, without these documents and a photographic record, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to demonstrate the provenance of the works in question and consequently assure their return to their legitimate owners.

In a Church environment, the inventory activity becomes the task of the individual Particular Churches on the basis of the guidelines issued by the Episcopal Conferences, and the directives established by the Holy See.

In addition, the inventory activity stimulates the whole community to respect cultural goods (both of the past and present), and educates it to nourish a sense of belonging. In this sense, even mass communication means and institutions of education can promote a new approach towards the cultural patrimony for both those responsible and the collective community.

3.5. Organizing The Inventory

The inventory activity can be carried out using either paper material or computerized means, which however should not exclude each other. Since computerization is molding our current cultural systems, it is appropriate to make use of this modern technology whenever possible in order to come up with a more adaptable, useful and more easily integrated recording method.

One of the most important areas of concern, which must guide the management of the inventory activity, is the regulation of access to the information since not all data concerning the art-historical patrimony must be made available to everyone for obvious reasons of security. Thus one should distinguish between a complete inventory (on paper or on computer) and a partial one destined for computerized networks. In addition, even network data must be consulted in a diversified and gradual way through the use of distinct codes of access.

In organizing the inventory one should apply the methodologies in use on a national and international level. In the working process one can proceed from an elementary structure that allows the preparation of a basic register, to a more elaborate one, which can gather and articulate the data. It is thus necessary that the inventory work be arranged in such a way as to allow further developments and additions.

The inventory should be conserved in a suitable and secure place. Central or peripheral units may be set up on the basis of different general and local needs. For the processing of the index one should make use of adequately trained personnel whenever possible. Those responsible should understand the aims of the inventory, the procedures organized for this purpose, the regulations regarding access. Individual operators must be able to develop the index (paper or computerized) by gathering data and inserting it in the index scheme. Thus, in regards to the organization of the inventory set up by a Particular Church, one can seek the professional advice of outside consultants in order to obtain knowledge of those essential guidelines available for those who must actually carry out the work.

4. Cataloguing: A Deeper Level Of Knowledge

The cataloguing activity, which can be conducted by using paper, computerized or mixed means, represents the continuation and development of the inventory. In this regard, one should establish uniform and rigorous criteria and methodologies when preparing the entries in order to ensure an organic order.

The layout of the catalogue entry is of utmost importance. It must be thought out as a flexible structure and a suitable one to gather data according to different levels of competence, thus allowing further research after the first analysis of the cultural good obtained by the inventory. To this initial register one should thus be able to add on other information. A photographic record is indispensable and a contextual paper reference is recommended.

4.1. Catalogue Forms In Use

The paper catalogue inherited from the past has not lost its importance and in some cases continues to be the only form possible to gather data, especially in situations where economic means are limited. Nevertheless, a catalogue exclusively noted on paper has numerous limits because of the excessive spaces necessary to store the material and the difficult circulation of the information gathered on the goods catalogued. It is thus recommended to promote the use of a computerized form besides the traditional paper one. Since computerization allows for fast consultation, it makes initiatives of protection and the recovery of cultural goods more efficient. The computerized method becomes particularly significant for the art-historical patrimony of the Church still in current use because it is exposed to thefts or damages, and for that in disuse because it is often deposited in places of difficult access.

In reference to the cultural goods of the Church, a computerized catalogue must comply to some specific criteria. It should allow the possibility of adapting it to different local contexts and, at the same time, of integrating it with wider interconnected programmes; as well as the consultation of Church data even beyond the restrictions imposed by non-ecclesiastical institutions. Moreover it should facilitate the reconstruction of the original context and the religious requalification of the goods dispersed; guide the gathering of data towards the enhancement of the cultural good in respect to its religious content; promote the use of the art work in loco in order to avoid the temptation of using only virtual approaches.

On a technical point of view, computerization should be programmed according to the dimensions and the typology of a specific cataloguing system. A catalogue of small dimensions requires limited investments in terms of the acquisition of machinery, the personnel involved, and the type of training activity that results to be less complex. A catalogue of greater dimensions and importance, on the contrary, requires larger investments in terms of the machinery employed and the training of personnel.

The characteristics of each catalogue should determine a suitable selection of hardware and software, the degree of personnel training, the number of experts to involve in the work and the methodology adopted. In addition, since the current computerized systems are connected to a network system, one should develop a wide planning strategy with the aid of competent civil and Church institutions, in order to reach a common and more efficient organization, interaction, and use of the material gathered.

In regards to financial resources, one should remember that in many cases public funding can assume the form of sunk contributions for cultural, environmental, tourist projects. In addition, some national and international organizations are developing computerized programmes of cataloguing for materials located in areas very distant from each other as part of their cultural policies. It is thus useful that Particular Churches and Episcopal Conferences promote agreements with such institutions in order to participate in those projects which are intended to favour the integration of data and which provide economic assistance. After carefully evaluating the usefulness and the convenience of the projects, one can also apply for funding to a number of private entities.

In every type of agreement one should always avoid any unnecessary commercialization, and carefully discern the layout of the entries, legalize the ownership of the data gathered, regulate the use of information.

In order to facilitate and widen the scope of consultation of the catalogue one can also establish connections via Internet. In this case, one should proceed to discern and control carefully the input of the information as well as access policies. The Internet system does not involve a very expensive investment and it offers a new financial perspective. The growing reliability and widespread use of the instrument renders it accessible to all those who hold a basic computer knowledge. Thanks to Internet the fruition of the catalogue can extend to a larger circle of scholars and students thus knocking down religious and ideological barriers. In order to ensure a limited distribution of the information it is recommended that systems of Intranet network be used. Since the computerized universe is in continuous and rapid growth, competent Church authorities should, whenever possible, study ways in which to employ investments in this sector. Computerized procedures, in fact, represent the new frontiers of communication and thus should be considered a particularly suitable vehicle to conserve and transmit to future generations what Christianity has created in the field of cultural patrimony.

4.2. The Criteria For Cataloguing

In terms of cataloguing procedures, the analytical phase resulting from the processing of the catalogue entry, is to be considered of the utmost importance. It represents the central and qualifying moment of the entire operation. Once compiled, the entry represents the 'synthetic diagnosis" of a critical investigation on the cultural good's identity and it must be conceived as a module destined to gather all the morphological, historical-critical, technical, administrative and juridical information concerning the items catalogued within an organic synthesis.

In selecting the entry one should apply the systems in use on a national and international level, with the final aim of favouring the circulation and integration of data. In many developing countries, where efficient cataloguing methods have not been developed, one can guide the work according to the most common systems used on an international level, by selecting those already tested and those most compatible with other systems. Thanks to the work conducted by international organizations, common standard criteria and compatible systems of cataloguing have been devised.35

Consequently, in regards to the definition of the model of the entry according to the different types of cultural goods investigated, methodologies have been developed which permit a uniform and systematic organization of the specific information gathered, keeping in mind the need to reconstruct the tie between the works and the territory where they belong. The information contained in the entry must be necessarily divided into elementary units or fields in order to allow for an analytical recording and eventually for computerized processing.

In devising the entry, it is important to apply a uniform division of fields and use of terminology. The principle fields can be defined as follows: object, material, measures, location (provenance), characteristics, state of conservation. The analytical-synthetic entry obtained must progressively respond to the following requirements, in order to identify clearly the object and its proper context:

a) assign a "code" (numerical or alphabetical initial) which can lead in an univocal manner to the cultural object in question;

b) adopt a common and stable terminology through the use of glossaries;36

c) identify the cultural object (object, material, measures, state of conservation);

d) identify the juridical and topographical condition of the cultural object (diocese, parish, province, municipality, owner or user, location, provenance, notices);

e) include a visual description of the cultural object (photograph, drawing, section, plans);

f) allow the possibility for further additions (period, artist, art-historical and iconographic description, critical evaluation, other detailed descriptions, epigraphical transcriptions, specific bibliography, "case chart" of restorations, record of maintenance activity, news on exhibits and conventions, data on the cataloguer);

g) organize the layout of the entry in such a way as to facilitate for the user the reading and management of data;

h) place the entries in a secure place and in an environment suitable for their conservation and consultation;

i) place the catalogue in an analytical card-index (paper or computerized) in order to facilitate research;

j) protect in a juridical sense the use and ownership of the information gathered.

4.3. Documenting Through Cartography

Cartography uses historical and contemporary data that together allow a better knowledge of the dynamic contexts inherent to cultural goods. A correct identification of the good in its territorial context becomes particularly important in situations where the stratification and the multiplication of cultures have given origin to a good quantity of works of art-historical significance.

Research in this area must be conducted especially in regards to urban historical centres and Church complexes of ancient foundation in order to illustrate the various phases of development of the territory, while respecting the context and the use of the cultural good. A cartographic document recording the situation of ecclesiastical goods in their various historical phases as well as the current one may very well integrate the catalogue entry.

The need for a more in-depth reading of the historical evolution of those urban and rural environments where the religious cultural good had an important role, requires a commitment in terms of knowledge, conservation, and enhancement of the historical cartography usually kept in Church archives (in curiae, chapters, monasteries, convents, confraternities and elsewhere). Historical cartography reflects the image of the environment created by the different communities throughout time. It represents an essential document in order to trace and define the phases of continuous changes of the territory in relation to the different needs, including spiritual ones, which have induced the action of man to modify the urban and environmental context.

Contemporary cartography is significant in order to record the good in its present status and location, to underline its historical development, to gather aspects of historical cartography. This approach allows for a contextual and comparative analysis to take place. The full contextualization of cultural goods and a comparison of data thus represents a fundamental prerequisite for learning both the religious use, the social-cultural significance of the art-historical patrimony of the Church.

Even for this type of information it becomes important to identify the methodologies and standards, which guarantee the correct management and acquisition of cultural goods. It is wise to make use of cartography systems available at a national and international level.

4.4. Photographic Records

The photographic record must be considered an integral part of the catalogue. Every entry should be accompanied by a good quality photograph of the cultural object catalogued. In addition, it would also be wise to set up a photographic archive where the work is recorded in detail in terms of its physical condition, any restorations, particular where in which the object was included. A careful and complete care of the photographic record is an indispensable premise for the identification of the cultural good, the historical-critical investigation, the recovery in case of theft or illicit alienation.

Even the recovery and the conservation of photographic material produced in the course of our century, represents a noteworthy commitment. This material is extremely significant because it is often the only record of the changes that have occurred. Thus, particular attention should be focused on its adequate protection, and eventually on improving the modern framework of those photographic documents acquired in previous periods.

Today the multimedia world offers various possibilities also in the field of photography. Current systems can be used also for a didactic and popular purpose in order to favour information procedures and the formation of public opinion. For this reason one should not underestimate the role of these technological resources in transferring the catalogue onto video.

Undoubtedly not in all situations where the Church operates can such measures become operative. Nevertheless, the knowledge of the possibilities available and the limits of new technologies can avoid errors, omissions and useless intermediate solutions.

4.5. Compiling The Entry

The use of a uniform language and entry form is fundamental to a correct compilation of the catalogue entry. The universe of cultural goods to catalogue is vast, differentiated and in continuous development. Thus, it is extremely important to look after the application of systems for data retrieval, the definition of means to control terminologies, the uniformity of the entry lay-out, the compatibility of computerized systems, etc. Indeed in our present day context of "globalization" one needs to guarantee more and more the adequacy and the homogeneity of the information gathered from different areas in order to allow and regulate its use.

It is therefore recommended that each Particular Church, through the coordination of its Episcopal Conference, set up a catalogue keeping in mind the criteria of uniformity mentioned above. In regards to the entry itself, one should refer to the models made available on a national and international level. In regards to the terminology one should use the vocabulary indicated in specialized glossaries and dictionaries for this type of work. Homogeneity in the layout of the entry and in the use of terms is essential, also considering the fact that this catalogue work is often carried out by different individuals through time.

For these reasons, the organization of the work must find a methodological and operative point of reference in the guidelines issued by competent Church and civil institutions. It is also necessary that these institutions be capable of interacting, while respecting their own legitimate autonomies, in order to function as entities sponsoring collaboration and homologation in regards to procedures as well as cataloguing methods.

4.6. The Layout Of The Catalogue

Catalogue entries should be ordered in a suitable container, which can serve as the collector of the process of gathering and placement of the information. Every catalogue must develop a practical system aimed at establishing a methodology for the placement, integration, management and consultation of the entries.

Archives on mixed supports (prevalently of paper material) have had traditionally a topographical order aimed at guaranteeing the availability of the document in a specific territorial environment and thus allowing an immediate check of eventual losses. To this topographical system is sometimes added a subject or author index in order to provide other references for research. In this case, besides catalogue entries and additional pamphlets, a system of cross-reference has been devised. The introduction of computerized means has surpassed this system. The information gathered, in fact, can be found and consulted through the many ways of access defined previously and organized in systems of research.

Current needs associated to the arrangement and consultation of the catalogues, and especially in the case of centralized ones containing a great quantity of documentation, lead towards the application of automation management methods to accompany traditional methodologies. A computerized management of the catalogue offers many advantages in terms of data completion, saving of resources, facilitating consultation, obtaining statistics on the management of the information and on the objects catalogued, making control and programming easier on a central and peripheral level.

In arranging the catalogue one does not always reach computerized solutions of a high professional quality even if these lead to cataloguing operations of a wider scope. The setting up of a computerized catalogue that may be linked up to others implies the adoption of compatible programmes and urges an inter-institutional agreement. It is necessary, however, to underline that the computerized catalogue does not exclude the presence and the validity of pre-existing catalogues especially those on paper.

4.7. The Management Of The Catalogue

Given the complexity of the factors involved, particular care must be applied to the management of the catalogue in every Particular Church. This effort should be carried out without wasting economic resources and personnel. Consequently it must discern suitable methodologies on a short, medium and long-term basis.

Management must be carried out using instruments of preventive analysis that can identify emergencies and operative priorities. This way one can reach the different goals tied to those problematic issues as material security, proper maintenance, pastoral use. Whatever may be the management procedure adopted it must aim at the protection of the good in respect to its context and Church use.

Management must foresee an arrangement of the catalogue in terms of its general order and use. In a specific Church context, the catalogue should not be considered as a closed and definite "archive", but as an evolving "record" open to additions, changes, corrections, verifications, updates. Only this way can the catalogue of cultural objects maintain and carry out its function as an active instrument for knowledge, management, protection and enhancement of the art-historical patrimony.

5. Inventory and Cataloguing: Institutions and Agents Involved

The layout of the inventory and the catalogue must attentively take into consideration the organization of the institutions offering training to the agents operating in this field. In this sense, inter-institutional relationships, awareness raising among Church authorities, the education of the Christian community, all assume particular significance.

5.1. The institutions

Caring for the catalogue should become a serious commitment of every Particular Church. To this end, each are called to involve organizations and promote collaboration in order to set up a congruent operative system. Competent Church authorities, in particular, are invited whenever possible and in respect of the different situations encountered, to promote and draw up agreements with public and private entities in order to plan the management of this activity, define the methodologies, train the cataloguers, find the necessary resources. Even if the Particular Churches can automatically arrange the catalogue for the cultural objects under Church ownership themselves, it is recommended that they work towards an active involvement of all institutions (Church, State, private) interested in obtaining an exact knowledge of the art-historical-cultural patrimony of a specific territory. The planning of the inventory-catalogue may thus obtain excellent results.

The inventory-catalogue of the art-historical-cultural patrimony involves procedures of productive inter-institutional collaboration as a common shared effort of Church and civil organizations. The reciprocal availability of data and images is to be considered the premise for a good turnout of the initiative. The possibility of integrating them into one system pre-supposes adhering to the methodological guidelines established by those organizations charged with the task of reaching these objectives in the different ecclesiastical, national and international contexts.

If and when collaboration between Church and civil institutions seems to be impossible, the Church, as it has been stated earlier, is nevertheless called to proceed with the inventory, and hopefully with the catalogue, of its cultural objects according to its own specific legislation.

5.2. The agents

The inventory-catalogue must be carried out by individuals (both clergy and lay people) who are adequately trained. This training should focus on the processing of the inventory-cataloguing record and the actual management of the completed inventory catalogue.

The role of the cataloguer assumes particular importance. There are many disciplines connected with the research of the different categories of religious cultural objects (archeological finds, architectural complexes, works of art, sacred and liturgical furnishings, sacred vestments, etc).

In order to develop his own professional ability, the cataloguer must acquire primarily the technology needed to organize the entries. He must be an expert of "material culture" so he can identify in the various works the cultural imprint that produced them. It is also useful that the cataloguer gain adequate knowledge of other general disciplines (art history, Church history, civil history, theology, liturgy, Canon law). Since he can not pretend to become fully competent in all these sciences, the cataloguer must be able to seek the collaboration of professionals in these fields (archeology, architecture, paleography, silversmith and goldsmith, gemology, textile science, bibliography, etc.) as the occasion arises. In addition, he should be able to consult technicians as photographers, cartographers, draftsmen, surveyors to correlate the entry, if needed, onto a visual framework of the cultural object or its context. He should also be assisted by juridical and administrative consultants who may offer suggestions regarding the protection of the legitimate autonomy of Church entities (owners or users of the cultural objects) and advice on the correct management and use of the data gathered. The necessity of applying the use of computerized means and methodologies as support means to the inventory-cataloguing activity requires adequate training also in the use of these instruments both in terms of data retrieval and control.

The noteworthy complexity of method and management involved in this line of work makes it necessary to place expert personnel along side those operators who are less prepared (who in many cases already donate their time and services to Church institutions). In this respect, the contribution of volunteers as a resource to aid the activity of expert personnel is not only useful but also often necessary.

The training of cataloguers offers the best guarantee that the activity is conducted in a rigorous manner to ensure the continuity of work and to allow further scientific development. Their training should be accurately organized in such a way as to include specific courses with a curriculum study able to offer the adequate knowledge required. Photographers should also have enough professional ability and experience in this specific inventors-cataloguing activity. Finally, it is recommended that the cataloguers keep up-to-date in regards to the most systematic and articulated approaches applied for cultural objects.

Those institutions active in this area of the inventory-cataloguing of cultural objects should offer training to professional cataloguers as well as volunteers. Beside the institutions working directly in this field, it is recommended that civil universities and ecclesiastical academic centres organize special courses for the formation and training of the various operators.37


Caring for the art-historical patrimony of the Church is an indication of civilization involving the Church first hand. She has always declared herself expert in humanity38, she has favoured in all epochs the development of the liberal arts and has promoted the care of what has been created in order to carry out her evangelizing mission. In fact, "when the Church calls upon art to assist mission, it is not only for aesthetic reasons, but to obey the very 'logic' of Revelation and Incarnation".39

In this context the inventory-cataloguing activity becomes an instrument to safeguard and enhance the cultural patrimony of the Church. The scientific approach and the subsequent use of the results obtained from the research are to be considered complementary stages of this inventory-cataloguing activity. From a logical arrangement of the material gathered, we thus move to the critical interpretation of the data, the contextualization of the cultural objects, the maintenance of their religious and cultural use.

The concept that considered the activity of gathering information just a mere census of the patrimony aimed primarily at juridical protection, has now been surpassed. Current creeds require instead a type of knowledge that can guarantee scientific reliability, continuous updating, and above all a cultural and ecclesial enhancement of the data gathered.

Thus, the inventory-cataloguing procedure must be intended as a comprehensive activity aimed at organizing the knowledge available, and fulfilling the objectives of protection, management, enhancement of the cultural objects according to methodologies which do not preclude computerized solutions and connections with other systems. The idea of an archive as a simple deposit of papers which can damage rapidly and are difficult to consult, is substituted by the concept of a dynamic archive organized in carefully defined fields and related to numerous other archives spread throughout the ecclesial, national and international territory.

The Church in this field of inventory-cataloguing is called to renew her effort to protect her own patrimony, to regulate the access of this data, to give spiritual value to what has been gathered. Since the religious cultural patrimony also involves other owners, the effort of inventory-cataloguing can not reduce itself to only an ecclesiastical responsibility but it must involve both civil and private authorities, if conditions permit.

Through an efficient approach towards inventory-cataloguing, the Church takes part in the culture of "globalization", gives an ecclesial significance to the documentation of her ownership, and demonstrates her universality by making accessible the record of the huge patrimony which she has created and continues to create in every place where she is present with her work of evangelization. This is so that with a computerized inventory-cataloguing the wish of John Paul II may materialize: "From archeological sites to the most modern expressions of Christian art, contemporary man must be able to reread the Church's history, and thus be helped to recognize the mysterious fascination of God's saving plan". 40

This work which requires the commitment of all Particular Churches, those of old as well as recent evangelization, is certainly obstructed by the problem of the resources available, especially in developing countries where the fundamental problem of the Christian community is to overcome poverty. Nevertheless, in order to increase progress it is also important to create a conscience of one's own civilization. In fact "the Church, teacher of life, cannot fail to carry out the ministry of helping contemporary man to re-experience religious wonder at the fascination of beauty and wisdom stemming from all that history has bestowed on us". 41

For this reason knowledge of the art-historical patrimony, even if minimal, becomes an important factor of progress. In this case it will be up to Pastors to encourage national and international solidarity, and it will be the concern of the Churches of more prosperous countries to favour initiatives of protection to minority cultures and peoples who find themselves in great economic difficulty.

With my best and prayerful wishes for Your pastoral ministry which intimately connects evangelization with human promotion, I gladly take this opportunity to forward my sentiments of deep veneration and esteem along with my respectful regards, as I have the honour to be

Sincerely Yours in Jesus Christ,

Francesco Marchisano President

Carlo Chenis, S.D.B. Secretary

Vatican City, 8 December 1999


1. See Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Patrimony of the Church, Circular Letter Church Libraries of 10 April 1994, Prot. n. 179/91/35; also Circular Letter The pastoral function of Church Archives of 2 February 1997, Prot. n. 274/92/118.

2. In the address to members of the First Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Patrimony of the Church held on 12 October 1995, John Paul II stated that the concept of "cultural patrimony" means "above all the artistic patrimony of painting, sculpture, architecture, mosaic, music placed at the service of the Church's mission. To these one should also add library goods contained in Church libraries and historical documents kept in the archives of Church communities. At last, this area also includes literary, theatrical, cinema works produced by the means of mass communication" ( L'Osservatore Romano, 13 October 1995, p. 5). See also CIC, can. 1189.

3. Ecumenical II Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium Constitution, n. 122: "Quae . . . Deo eiusdemque laudi et gloriae provehendae eo magis addicuntur, quo nihil aliud eis propositum est, quam ut operibus suis ad hominum mentes pie in Deum convertendas maxime conferant" (Sacrosanctum Oecumenicum Concilium Vaticanum II, Constitutiones, Decreta, Declarationes, cura et studio Secretariae Generalis Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani II, Vatican City 1993, p. 56).

4. CIC can. 1283: "Antequam administratores suum munus ineant (...) 2° accuratum ac distinctum inventarium, ab ipsis subscribendum, rerum immobilium, rerum mobilium sive pretiosarum sive utcumque ad bona culturalia pertinentium aliarumve cum descriptione atque aestimatione earundem redigatur, redactumque recognoscatur; 3° huius inventarii alterum exemplar conservetur in tabulario administrationis, alterum in archivo curiae; et in utroque quaelibet immutatio adnotetur, quam patrimonium subire contingat". See also Codex Canonum Ecclesiarium Orientalium (CCEO) can. 252-261.

5. See Circular of the Secretary of State of His Holiness to the Most Reverend Bishops of Italy, 1 September 1924, n. 34215, in: Protection and conservation of the historic and artistic patrimony of the Church in Italy, by Mons. Giovanni Fallani, Rome, 1974, p. 192.

6. For example in regards to Pope St. Leo the Great (440-461) we read: "Hic renovavit post cladem Wandalicam omnia ministeria sacrata argentea per omnes titulos conflata, hydrias VI argenteas: duas basilice Constantiniane, duas basilice beati Petri, duas basilice beati Pauli . . . quae omnia vasa renovavit sacrata . . . Et basilicam beati Pauli apostoli renovavit . . . Hic quoque constituit super sepulchra apostolorum custodes qui dicuntur cubicularii, ex clero romano" (Liber Pontificalis, by Prerovsky U. (= Studi Gratiana, 22), vol. II, Rome 1978, p. 108-110.

7. See Vatican Secret Archive, Armadi I-LXXX; Fondi Segreteria dei Brevi; Congregation of the Council; Congregation of the indulgences and Holy Relics; Brevia et Decreta.

8. "Aliud est enim picturam adorare, aliud per picturae historiam quid sit adorandum addiscere. Nam quod legentibus scriptura, hoc idiotis praestat pictura cernentibus, quia in ipsa etiam ignorantes vident quid sequi debeant, in ipsa legunt qui litteras nesciunt . . . Ac deinde subjungendum quia picturas imaginum, quae ad aedificationem impeirti populi fuerant factae, ut nescientes litteras, ipsam historiam intendentes, quid actum sit discerent . . ." (Gregory the Great, Epistolae, in Patrologia Latina (PL) 77, 1128 C; 1129 BC.).

9. See Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta, by de Alberigo G. et alia, Bologna 1973, p. 133-137.

10. A. Egger, Kirchliche Kunst-und Denkmalpflege, Brixen, 1932, p. 7: "Providete . . . ne per negligentiam vestram illarum rerum, quae intra ecclesiam sunt, aliquid pereat. Sic agite, quasi Deo reddituri rationem pro iis rebus, quae his clavibus recluduntur".

11. On 31 October 447 Pope Leo I prohibits Bishops and all priests, with the risk of excommunication and even laicization, to give as a gift, change or sell all precious goods of Churches without a serious reason and the consent of all the clergy: "Sine exceptione decernimus, ne quis episcopus de ecclesiae suae rebus audeat quidquam vel donare vel commutare vel vendere. Nisi forte ita aliquid horum faciat, ut meliora prospiciat, et cum totius cleri tractatu, atque consensu, id eligat, quod non sit dubium Ecclesiae profuturum. Nam presbyteri vel diaconi, aut cuiuscumque ordinis clerici, qui conniventiam in Ecclesiae damna miscuerint, sciant se et ordine et communione privandos, quia plenum iustitiae est, ut non solum episcopi, sed etiam totius cleri studio, ecclesiasticae utilitatis incrementa serventur, et eorum munera illibata permaneant, quae pro animarum suarum salute, fideles de propria substantia ecclesiis contulerunt" (see Magnum Bullarium Romanum, Graz 1964, vol. I, p. 145). On 8 August 535, Pope Agapitus I underlines the following rule: "Revocant nos veneranda Patrum manifestissima constituta, quibus prohibemus, praedia iure Ecclesiae, cui nos omnipotens Dominus praeesse constituit, quolibet titulo ad aliena iura transferre" (ibid, p. 145).

12. Canon 15 of the IV Council of Constantinople admits as a reason for the alienation of the Church's cultural goods only the one to redeem prisoners: "Apostolicos et paternos canones renovans sancta haec universalis synodus, definivit neminem prorsus episcopum vendere vel utcumque alienare cimelia et vasa sacrata, excepta causa olim ab antiquis canonibus ordinata, videlicet quae accipiuntur in redemptionem captivorum" p. 177).

13. The constitution 22 of the Council of Lyon requires a special permission of the Apostolic See to alienate sacred goods, while declaring as invalid the alienation without permission and threatening to disobedient priests the suspension from ministry and to lay people the excommunication: "Hoc consultissimo prohibemus edicto, universos et singulos praelatos ecclesias sibi commissas, bona immobilia seu iura ipsarum, laicis submittere, subicere seu supponere, absque Capituli sui consensu et Sedis Apostolicae licentia speciali. Contractus autem omnes, etiam iuramenti, poenae vel alterius cuiuslibet firmitatis adiectione vallatos, quos de talibus alienationibus, sine hiusmodi licentia et consensu contigerit celebrari, et quicquid ex eis secutum fuerit, decernimus adeo viribus omnino carere, ut nec ius aliquod tribuant nec praescribendi etiam causam parent. Et nihilominus praelatos, qui secus egerint, ipso facto ab officio et adininistratione, clericos etiam qui scientes, contra inhibitionem praedictam aliquid esse praesumptum, id superiori denuntiare neglexerint, a perceptione beneficiorum, quae in ecclesia sic gravata obtinent, triennio statuimus esse suspensos" (Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta, 1973, p. 325s.).

14. "Statuit sancta synodus nemini licere . . . ullam insolitam ponere vel ponendam curare imaginesm nisi ab episcopo approbata fuerit" . . . (Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta, 1973, p. 775s).

15. The commissioner was called Latino Giavanale Mannetto (see Card. Celso Costantini, La legislazione ecclesiastica sull'arte, in Fede et Arte, 5 (1957), p. 374).

16. See A. Emiliani, Leggi, Bandi e provvedimenti per la tutela dei beni artistici e culturali negli antichi stati italiani 1571-1860, Bologna, 1978, p. 110-126; F. Mariotti. La legislazione delle Belle Arti, Roma. 1892, p. 226-233.

17. See D. Menozzi, La Chiesa e le imagini. I testi fondamentali sulle arti figurative dalle origini ai nostri giorni, Cinisello Balsamo 1995, p. 248; A. Emiliani, Leggi, bandi e provvedimenti p. 130-145; F. Mariotti, La legislazione, Roma, 1892, p. 235-241.

18. See Circular Letter of His Eminence Card. Merry del Val on the institution of diocesan commissions for monuments kept by the clergy, of 10 December 1907, n. 27114, in: Fallani, Tutela e conservazione del patrimonio, p. 182-184. On the Church legislation on sacred art see the extensive anthology by Constantini, La legislazione ecclesiastica, p. 359-447.

19. See Motu Proprio Tra le sollecitudini, 22 November 1903, in: Pii X Pontificis Maximi Acta, vol. I. Romae Typographia Vaticana 1905, p. 75; Constantini, La legislazione ecclesiastica, p. 382s.

20. See Acta Apostolicae Sedis (AAS) 39 (1947) 590s.

21. "Antequam administratores . . . suum munus ineant . . . 2° Fiat accuratum ac distinctum inventarium, ab omnibus subscribendum, rerum immobilium, rerum mobilium pretiosarum aliarumve cum descriptione atque aestimatione earund; vel factum antea inventarium acceptetur, adnotatis rebus quae interim amissae vel acquisitae fuerint; 3° Hius inventarii alterum exemplar conservetur in tabulario administrationis, alterum in archivo Curiae; et in utroque quaelibet immutatio adnotetur, quam patrimonium subire contingat" (CIC, 1917, can. 1522).

22. See Fallani, Tutela e conservazione del patrimonio, pp. 184-194.

23. See the Circular Latter addressed to Italian Bishops Circa l'impianto dell'illuminazione elettrica nelle Chiese, in Vatican Secret Archives, Archive Collection of the Secretariat of State, rubr. 52, 1923.

24. See Costantini, La legislazione ecclesiastica, p. 425s.

25. See AAS 21, 1929 pp. 384-399.

26. See AAS 31, 1939 pp. 266-268.

27. See AAS 63 (1971) 315-317.

28. CIC, can. 1283: "Antequam administratores suum munus ineant . . . 2° accuratum ac distinctum inventarium, ab ipsis subscribendum, rerum immobilium, rerum mobilium sive pretiosarum sive utcumque ad bona culturalia pertinentium aliarumve cum descriptione atque aestimatione earundem redigatur, redactum que recognoscatur; 3° huius inventarii alterum exemplar conservetur in tabulario administrationis, alterum in archivo curiae; et in utroque quaelibet immutatio adnotetur, quam patrimonium subire contingat". See also CCEO can. 252-261.

29. See CIC can. 489, §2 referring to those documents which are particularly delicate concerning criminal cases in the area of customs and traditions.

30. This operation is stimulated also by what has been stated by John Paul II in the Apostolic Latter Tertio millennio adveniente (10 November 1994) concerning the aims of the Great Jubilee Year 2000, in: AAS 87 (1995), 5-41.

31. Circular Letter of the Secretariat of State of His Holiness to the Most Reverend Bishops of Italy of 1 September 1924, n. 34215, in: Fallani, Tutela e conservazione, p. 192.

32. See Ecumenical II Vatican Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, n 122, in: Sacrosanctum Oecumenicum Concilium Vaticanum II, Constitutiones, Decreta, Declarationes, p. 56.

33. By the term, "territorial museum" one means to indicate the coordinated whole of the goods in a certain territory in a way in which the individual monuments and objects become part of one museum circuit.

34. For this see some of the Documents issued by international organizations in Europe active in the field of conservation and promotion of the cultural patrimony, as for example the Council of Europe, which have been adopted by numerous nations: the European Convention on the Protection of the Architectural Patrimony (Granada, Spain 1985); the European Convention on the Protection of the Archeological Patrimony (Valletta, Malta, 1992).

35. The principal documents issued by international organizations for this specific area are the following: ICOM, Documentation Committee CIDOC, Working Standard for Archeological Heritage of 1992; ICOM, Documentation Committee CIDOC, Working Standard for Museum Objects of 1995; Council of Europe, Recommendation N.R.(95)3 Relative a la Coordination des Methodes et des Systemes de Documentation en Matiere de Monuments Historiques et d'Edifices du Patrimoine Architectural adopted by the Council of Ministers on 11 January 1995; Council of Europe, Doc.CCPAT(98)23 Core Data Standard for Archeological Monuments and Sites. The latter two documents have been drafted following the discussions and recommendations made during two important meetings organized by the Council of Europe on inventory methods in Europe: Colloquium held in London in 1989, and the Colloquium held in Nantes in 1992.

36. As for example, the Thesaurus Multilingue del Corredo Ecclesiastico in CD-Rom cared by the Reseau Canadian d'Information (RCIP)-Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN) by the Ministry of Culture and Communications: Sous-direction des etudes de la documentation et de l'inventaire (France), by the Central Institute for the catalogue and documentation (Italy) and by The Getty Information Institute (USA).

37. We can cite as examples the following initiatives in the field of training offered by Pontifical Institutions: Vatican School of Palaeography and Archival Science (Vatican Secret Archives, Vatican City); Vatican School of Library Science (Vatican Apostolic Library, Vatican City); Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology (Rome, Italy); Advanced Studies Course for the Cultural Patrimony of the Church (Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, Italy); by Catholic Universities: School of Specialization in Art History (Catholic Sacred Heart University, Milan, Italy), Institut des Arts Sacres (Faculte de Theologie et des Sciences Religieuses, Institut Catholique de Paris, France), Curse de Mestrado em Patrimonologia Sacra (Universidade Catolica Portuguesa, Lisbona, Portugal), Curso de diplomado en Bienes Culturales de la Iglesia (Universidad Ibero-americana, Ciudad del Mexico, Mexico), Training courses for the conservation and promotion of the ecclesiastical cultural patrimony (Paul VI Institute for the Arts, Washington, USA), New Jersey Catholic Historical Records Commission (Seton Hall University, New Jersey, USA); by other academic institutions: Master de Restauracion y Rehabilitacion del Patrimonio (Universidad de Alcala, Madrid, Spain), Catedra de Arte Sacro (Universidad de Monterrey, Mexico).

38. Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum progressio, n 13: Christi Ecclesia, iam rerum humanarum peritissimia, in: AAS LIX, 1967, p. 263.

39. John Paul II, Address L'importanza del patrimonio artistico nell'espressione della fede e nel dialogo con l'umanita of 12 October 1995, in: L'Osservatore Romano, 20 October 1995, p. 5.

40. John Paul II, Message I beni culturali possono aiutare l'anima nella ricerca delle cose divine e costituire pagine interessanti di catechesi e di ascesi, 25 September 1997, in: L'Osservatore Romano, 28 September 1997, p. 7.

41. Ibid.

© L'Osservatore Romano

This item 2886 digitally provided courtesy of