Monumenta Concilii Tridentini

Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga presides over a session of the Council of Trent in Santa Maria Maggiore (Trent). Elia Naurizio, General Congregation of the Council of Trent (1633). Tridentine Diocesan Museum.

The Council of Trent project



The Monumenta Concilii Tridentini project is promoted by the Historical Archives of the Pontifical Gregorian University and started in 2018 for the purpose of describing and understanding the enhancement of the Council of Trent fonds since its establishment (late 16th century) to the present day. The term enhancement, which is typical of communication in the economic field, subsequently applied to the so-called "cultural heritage", has been described by Charles Gide as: "hausse factice dans la valeur marchande d'une denrée provoquée au moyen de manœuvres économiques" [1]. In this sense, enhancement is viewed as the outcome of a fictitious operation intended to give value to a good which, because of its caused shortage, increases its price. The introduction of that term as part of the "cultural heritage" is indicative of the desire to give a new value to a specific item. Even in this case, there should be reference to an operation built around that specific item. If at a given moment you decide to value something, this is because that thing formerly had depreciated. Therefore, the value does not lie in the thing itself, but rather in the observation that takes place on it. The historian might take an interest in this evaluative alternation, as it is an indicator of changes or possible social developments. So, for our the purposes in this context, enhancement shall mean:

The attribution of a value which is the result of a selection based on certain observations that use distinctions. The observation is a distinction that allows you to select and indicate one of the distinct parts as different from each other. Therefore, the attribution mode is always contingent and depends on the observation that takes place on the item. In this sense, the primary focus is not so much on the object as such, but rather on the configurations of distinctions made on it.

Actions that are undertaken to highlight such documentation are manifested in a series of transactions that began in the seventeenth century and suffered a sharp decline since the middle of last century. It is possible to mark, in this period of time, a sequence of actions: the first collection and selection carried out in the seventeenth century, the integration and synthesis operation for the publication of the history of the Council (1656), the collection and binding interventions in the middle of the eighteenth century, using the same material for a new history of the council in the middle of the twentieth century, and eventually an ambitious restoration project, never implemented, in the 90s of last century. At the moment being, we do identify the following stages in the process of enhancement:

  • Check the preservation status of the fonds in view of the development of an emergency plan to restore, strengthen and condition the documentation. This first material observation is functional for later reformulate the research project.
  • Cataloging all the files, action which will involve the review and integration of files already present within MOL (Manus online, APUG fonds). A codicological description will be carried out for each identified unit; this will mean, in the case of miscellaneous volumes, producing as many files as the elements contained as a whole. The detection of the cataloging data is a crucial time to carry out a careful observation of the elements, both external (stitching, binding, ancient signatures etc.) and internal ones (authors, titles, languages etc.), which, when joined together, can provide historical information. We will realize biographical files for the names identified in the process of cataloging and annotating documents by implementing an Authority File.
  • Digitalizing the documentation to be included within GATE, an operation that will be functional to the proposed research lines. The detection of the state of conservation is still preliminary to any photo-reproduction activities. Digitalisation always includes selection, transcription and collaborative text annotation. For the implementation of the latter point, a transdisciplinary work among historians, sociologists, philologists, etc., will be carried out aiming at making an adequate description of the social structure of early modernity.

The composition of the Council of Trent fonds

The history of the Council of Trent seems to be marked by its impossibility. The first intention to write a history of the Council is in the edition of Paolo Manuzio Canones, et decreta sacrosancti oecumenici, et generalis Concilii Tridentini sub Paulo 3., Iulio 3., et Pio 4., pontificibus max. Index dogmatum, & reformationes. Venetiis, 1564:

accipe summam rei, lector optime, quae ad salutem vehementer pertinet: universam vero Tridentini Concilii, trium Pontificum distinctam temporibus, historiam, eodem, cuius ad gloriam haec omnia diriguntur, iuvante Deo, propediem expecta.

This history, announced by Manuzio, propediem ("shortly"), would never see the light. The short time in Manuzio's intention, which is the typical rhythm of the print technology, collides with the amount of documentation produced in almost twenty years of council. This perception of time implied, among the contemporaries, problems for processing the selection criteria regarding the type of documents and the related contents. It is necessary to wait until 1626, the year when Fr. Terenzio Alciati SJ (1570-1651), had access to the original acts of the Council of Trent deposited in the Archives of Castello, Archivum Arcis (Castel Sant'Angelo) to fulfill the will of Pope Urban VIII to write a history of the Council of Trent in response to the edition of Paolo Sarpi of 1619.[2] In the Archives of Castello, he has been helped by Giovanni Battista Confalonieri, who was its prefect at that time, that had reorganized and realized several tables of the Tridentine material. Alciati died without being able to accomplish the desire of Pope Urban VIII. The unfinished and unpublished history by Alciati, Pseudo historia Concilii Tridentini refutata, corresponds to APUG manuscripts 627-631 of the Council of Trent fonds. At Alciati's death, Fr. Pietro Sforza Pallavicino SJ (1607-1667) was commissioned by Alexander VII and continued collecting documents “spediti da varij principi e ne ripescò dagli archivj di Roma”.[3]
One copy of the first printed edition of the Istoria del Concilio di Trento (Roma, nella Stamperia d'Angelo Bernabò dal Verme Erede del Manelfi, 1656-1657) corrected and annotated in several places by the Pallavicino in anticipation of a second edition is kept in the APUG collections with call numbers APUG 585 and APUG 586. Cardinal Pallavicino draws on not only the sources collected over decades by P. Alciati, but also directly on his Latin manuscript. There are numerous examples of places where the Latin source was literally translated into the Italian version[4].

Description of the fonds

Today the fonds consists of 135 manuscripts (8 linear meters of shelving, approximately 33,000 sheets) in book form. The documents collected by Fr. Alciati and subsequently used by Fr. Sforza Pallavicino in which are traceable their distinctive signs (letters and signs affixed on the back to indicate an ordered sequence), traces of use (indexes, ink and pencil marks) and handwritten notations, are 87. A list of the call numbers of the fonds is available on MANUS online.


Most of the documents was rebound at the time of Fr. Pietro Lazzeri SJ, first professor of Church History (1742) and librarian of the Roman College until the suppression of the order in 1773. The cheap covers of these codices are half parchment with shaped cardboard plates and were built during the 18th century to sort and store loose papers, files and volumes that were just sewn. Many of these materials were to appear loose or made of summary seams (e.g. the whipstitch type). Such a various type of material involves challenges, mainly from the material conservation point of view.

In the Registro delle entrate e delle uscite della Biblioteca del Collegio Romano (APUG, Ms. 2805), prepared under the direction of Pietro Lazzeri, the item binding indicates "ancient books", "books damaged by worms", loose papers and miscellaneous "sent to the binder." The realization of these bindings, however, seems to be attributable to an internal manufacture because of the execution technique, a hybrid between archival and library binding, and the poverty of the used materials. Most of such codes are miscellanies with files that have a primary seam of different types, with a second seam on it to compose the volume: a remarkable variety of solutions are adopted for hooking the cardboard covers without necessarily having to sew the whole body of the sheets.

Since this type of binding, which we might call the "cheap" one, we could observe different aspects. On the one hand, this safeguard operation might indicate an interest in the selection of certain materials and not others. In addition, such selection highlights new temporal ruptures through which it will be possible describing the changes within the temporalization of the social system, namely the establishment of a present starting from a certain difference between past and future. The expression "books damaged by worms", under a second order observation which is intended to find out its latency is, in this sense, highly indicative of the construction of the present. This temporalization would indicate an acceleration of time, which involved a change in the "space of experience", according to the categorization of Reinhart Koselleck, and, as a result, of the "horizon of expectation." A horizon full of tension towards a future which brings disruptive innovations, in which past experiences will struggle to be understood through the analogy of the "this is like that."


The sequence of the codices today is uneven and does not allow to trace the original order. For virtually reconstructing this order, it is necessary to detect the distinctive signs (alphabetic and numerical series, crosses and marks) on the backs, thus identifying the ways to insert titles. It should however be considered that within the volumes the same documents have been sorted and sewn following what appears, to a first observation, a thematic/chronological sequence. So, you can find volumes of Instrutioni, Litterae, Trattati, Avvisi etc. where documents of the same type have been arranged in chronological order. The documents within the individual volumes show, in some cases, distinguishing signs and fasciculations and specific numbering (struck out and replaced with a new one, which is consistent with the order of volume) that suggest an order before the current one. This might be explained by considering that many of the materials collected by Alciati had to be loose or with temporary bindings.

Many codices have at the beginning a table of contents. Some of them are handwritten and carried out at the time of P. Alciati or in correspondence with the binding work attributable to P. Lazzeri. Others are typewritten and added by archivists who ordered the archives in its new headquarters at the Gregorian University.


A first goal of the project is the identification and description of handwritten discursive forms in connection with the contemporary printed ones. Following this method of investigation, you can identify, through the analysis of semantics and materiality of the document, its social function, as a form that fulfills a selective function which should be able to guide the expectations of the reader within a given social system. This will involve the need to examine the documentation more than once: as variety of forms that have been conveying the communication of knowledge and, at the same time, following the evolution of the forms themselves. At first glance, the documentation of the Council of Trent includes: istanze, disputazioni, negozi, osservazioni, trattati, consigli, opposizioni, diari and others. For each of these forms, there will be a check of production contexts (with particular attention to the mutual influence of the printed and handwritten media), physical features (size, mise en page, presence of graphic apparatuses) and circulation.

Canones, et Decreta Sacrosanti Oecumenici, et generalis Concilii Tridentini Romae, 1564[5].

Another goal relates to the identification of the method of selection and sorting of the material. The documents, collected over more than thirty years, must have had an internal sorting system aimed at the finding of information considered in turn useful for the composition of the work.[6] From this selection, we could describe an archeology of the information evolution, as ability to gear the approach towards the emergence of new distinctions within the social system. In addition to the selection made on the documents, analyzing the stratification that they have suffered will be needed too. In the analysis of this fund, there will be at least three identifiable selection methods, attributable to Terence Alciati (1570-1651), Pietro Sforza Pallavicino (1607-1667) and Hubert Jedin (1900-1980), who collated and selected a large number of materials for drafting, on a case-by-case basis, the "true" history of the Council of Trent.

Lavori in corso

  • To understand the structure and methods of composition of the work Istoria del Concilio di Trento made by Sforza Pallavicino, as completion of the research and collection of documents carried out by Terenzio Alciati, we decided to start with the full transcription of the first edition index of contents (1656-1657), the Tavola delle cose più notabili (Table of the most noteworthy things), containing names, works and selected topics for a total of 63 folio pages. This paratext, along with others, is of paramount importance as a tool that seeks to orient the reader; from the table, it is possible to infer the expectation of the Repubblica dei lettori (Readers Republic) about the work. This observation is based on the consideration that, in the communication process, reception (understanding or misinterpreting the information) is more relevant that the issue (act of communicating).
  • The study on the procedures for selecting and organizing the material will instead be a review of the catalog entries already present in MANUS online: current data, often meager and approximate, are those listed in the topographic sheets of the typewritten inventory carried out by the APUG during the seventies. At this stage, we will identify the types of texts from the way they appear in the handwritten titles, to perform a preliminary work to research on discursive forms. Furthermore, concerning the correspondence material, we will carry out a layered cataloging in order to return the data of each single letter.


In connection with the research project, we will set up a specific bibliography on the historiography of the Council of Trent. The bibliography is available at this link.


  1. Gide, Ch., Cours d'économie politique, 1919, p. 154
  2. Historia del Concilio Tridentino. Nella quale si scoprono tutti gl'artificii della Corte di Roma, per impedire che né la verità di dogmi si palesasse, né la riforma del Papato, & della Chiesa si trattasse. Di Pietro Soave Polano. In Londra. Appresso Giovan(ni) Billio. Regio Stampatore. MDCXIX. Edizione in Wikisource :
  3. Comment by Francesco Antonio Zaccaria to the 1792 edition of the Istoria del Concilio di Trento by Pietro Sforza Pallavicino, p. LXXVIII.
  4. Scotti M. (a cura di), Storia del Concilio di Trento ed altri scritti di Sforza Pallavicino, 1968, p. 51
  5. There are three print runs of such first edition. The first one contains CCXXXIX sheets and does not present the final index. It also contains many typos. The second one is always numbered in Roman numerals and, at its end, includes a Index dogmatum, et reformationis of 12 unnumbered pages and a more correct text. The third one has the numbering in Arabic numerals and 16 final pages, which, in addition to the index, contain for the first time the papal Bull issued by Pius IV that confirms the Council's decisions. (F. Govi, I classici che hanno fatto l'Italia, Milan, Regnani, 2010).
  6. A chronological order is present only occasionally.