Monumenta Concilii Tridentini

Il cardinale Ercole Gonzaga presiede una seduta del Concilio di Trento in Santa Maria Maggiore (Trento). Elia Naurizio, Congregazione generale del concilio di Trento (1633). Museo diocesano Tridentino.

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.


Un primo obiettivo del progetto è l'individuazione e descrizione delle forme discorsive manoscritte in relazione con quelle coeve a stampa. Seguendo questo metodo di indagine è possibile individuare attraverso l’analisi della semantica e della materialità del documento la sua funzione sociale, in quanto forma che adempie una funzione selettiva capace di guidare le aspettative del lettore all’interno di un determinato sistema sociale. Questo implicherà la necessità di gettare un doppio sguardo sulla documentazione: in quanto varietà di forme che hanno veicolato la comunicazione dei saperi e nel contempo seguire l'evoluzione delle stesse forme. Da un primo sguardo sulla documentazione del Concilio di Trento individuiamo: istanze, disputazioni, negozi, osservazioni, trattati, consigli, opposizioni, diari, e altre. Per ognuna di queste forme andranno verificati contesti di produzione (con particolare attenzione all'influenza reciproca dei media manoscritto e stampato), caratteristiche materiali (formato, mise en page, presenza di apparati grafici) e circolazione.

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

Un altro obiettivo riguarda l'individuazione del metodo di selezione e di ordinamento del materiale. La documentazione, raccolta nel corso di oltre trent'anni, deve avere avuto un ordinamento interno finalizzato al ritrovamento delle informazioni considerate di volta in volta utili per la composizione dell’opera.[6] Da questa selezione potrà descriversi un'archeologia dell'evoluzione dell’informazione, in quanto capacità di orientarsi dinanzi all’emergenza di nuove distinzioni all’interno del sistema sociale.
Oltre alla selezione operata sui documenti sarà necessario analizzare la stratificazione che questi hanno subito. Nell'analisi di questo fondo saranno identificabili almeno tre metodi di selezione attribuibili a Terenzio Alciati (1570-1651), Pietro Sforza Pallavicino (1607-1667) e Hubert Jedin (1900-1980) che collazionarono e selezionarono un gran numero di materiali per redigere, volta per volta, la “vera” storia del Concilio di Trento.

Lavori in corso

  • Per comprendere la struttura e le modalità di composizione dell’opera Istoria del Concilio di Trento realizzata da Sforza Pallavicino a compimento del lavoro di ricerca e raccolta dei documenti di Terenzio Alciati, si è scelto di iniziare con la trascrizione integrale dell’indice della prima edizione dell'opera (1656-1657), la Tavola delle cose più notabili, contenente nomi, opere, temi selezionati per un totale di ben 63 pagine in folio. Questo paratesto, insieme ad altri, è di capitale importanza in quanto strumento che pretende di orientare il lettore; dall'indice è inoltre possibile inferire l’aspettativa della repubblica dei lettori riguardo l'opera. Quest’osservazione si fonda sulla considerazione che nel processo di comunicazione è più rilevante la ricezione (comprendere o fraintendere l'informazione) che l’emissione (atto del comunicare).
  • Lo studio relativo alle modalità di selezione e organizzazione del materiale passerà invece da una revisione delle schede catalografiche presenti in MANUS on line: i dati attualmente presenti, spesso scarni e approssimativi, sono quelli riportati nelle schede topografiche dell’inventario dattiloscritto realizzato in APUG nel corso degli anni Settanta. In questa fase saranno individuate le tipologie testuali a partire da come si presentano nei titoli dei manoscritti, lavoro preliminare alla ricerca sulle forme discorsive. Inoltre per il materiale epistolare sarà realizzata una catalogazione a livelli per restituire i dati di ogni singola lettera.


Contestualmente al progetto di ricerca sarà allestita una bibliografia specifica relativa alla storiografia sul Concilio di Trento.

La bibliografia è disponibile a questo 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. Commento di Francesco Antonio Zaccaria all'edizione del 1792 alla Istoria del Concilio di Trento di 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. Esistono tre tirature di questa prima edizione. La prima reca CCXXXIX carte e non presenta l’indice finale. Inoltre contiene molti refusi. La seconda è sempre numerata in cifre romane, ma presenta in fine un Index dogmatum, et reformationis di 12 pagine non numerate ed un testo più corretto. La terza tiratura ha la numerazione delle pagine in numeri arabi e (16) pagine finali, che, oltre all’indice, contengono per la prima volta la Bolla di Pio IV di conferma delle decisioni conciliari. (F. Govi, I classici che hanno fatto l'Italia, Milano, Regnani, 2010).
  6. Solo occasionalmente è presente un ordine cronologico.