Research Chair for Religious History of Canada
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Description of archives and documents selected

Propaganda Archives

The “Propaganda Fide” Congregation, long known in English simply as the Propaganda, was created in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV. It was charged with coordinating the missionary activities of the Catholic Church and with centralizing incoming information from the regions and countries where such activities occurred. From its inception, North America found itself under its jurisdiction and it so remained until 1908, when the United States, Canada and Newfoundland ceased to be considered mission territories except in the case of certain regions where evangelization of First Nations continued. It goes without saying that the Propaganda archives are important for what relates to Canada and Newfoundland for the period in question. If the documents are somewhat scarce for the years 1675-1760, that is for the period from the creation of the diocese of Quebec to the Conquest, they are very abundant both before and after these dates. The inventories prepared by Luca Codignola take 2 441 documents into account for the years 1622-1799 and 1 946 more for the period 1800-1830. These numbers will continue to increase, witness the inventories for the pontificates of Gregory XVI (18311846), Pius IX (1846-1878), and Leo XIII (1878-1903). It should be noted that since 1967 the Congregation of the Propaganda has changed its name and it is known henceforth as the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Housed initially in the Vatican, then in the Chancellery palace, the Congregation archives were housed from 1649 in a palace newly constructed on the Spanish Square for the said Congregation. Transported to France in 1810 on the orders of Napoleon Bonaparte, the archives returned in 1814 but only after suffering a certain number of losses during the return journey. Since 2002, these archives are located in a new building specifically designed for them on the Janiculine Hill near the Urbaniana University affiliated with the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. They still constitute at present, quantitatively speaking, the most important source of information existing in Rome on the activities of the Catholic Church in Canada for the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

Vatican Secret Archives (ASV)

The Archivo Segreto Vaticano (Vatican Secret Archives) as presently constituted date from the beginning of the 17th century, subsequnt to a decision by Pope Paul V (1605-1621) to create a central archival repository for the ancient mediaeval documents, especially those of the 15th and 16th centuries. In the 17th and 18th centuries this was augmented with documents originating from Avignon, where the popes resided from 1308 to 1377, with the papers of Adrian VI that had been preserved in Liege and with the archives of the Château Saint-Ange where documents of particular political and administrative importance largely from the 16th century had been preserved. Like the Propaganda archives, these archives sustained significant losses during their transfer to France on Napoleon’s orders and during their return to Rome. After the Restoration they acquired various ancient and new collections of diverse provenance. In 1881 Leo XIII (1878-1903) decided to open all this
documentation to researchers.

This collection, already quite extensive, has not ceased to grow thanks to the continued
arrival of series of documents originating with different Roman congregations and
dicasteries, organizations of all kinds related in one way or another to the Holy See,
including families and individuals electing to confide their papers to this great and
prestigious archival centre. Until a few years ago, researchers had access only to documents
dated before 1922. This limitation has now been extended to 1939, i.e. to the end of the
reign of Pius XI and soon the archives will be opened to the pontificate of Pius XII (1939-
1958). Needless to say, the Vatican Secret Archives are important for all periods of the
history of the Catholic Church in Canada, particularely so for the 19th and 20th centuries.
Among the numerous series of documents found in these archives worthy of special
attention are those of the Consistorial Congregation charged with the nomination of
bishops, those of the Secretary of State in the latter case and especially for the recent period,
and those of the Apostolic Delegation in Canada. On the other hand, the older series of the
Congregation of Rites concerning causes of beatification and canonization of persons born
in Canada or having laboured here since the 17th century ought not to be ignored.

Archives besides the Vatican Secret Archives and the Archives of the Propaganda

1) Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith inherited most of the functions of the Congregation of the Inquisition created by Pope Paul III in 1542, reformed by Sixtus V in
1588. In 1908 Pius X made official the title Congregation of the Holy Office that had long
been used. Nine years later, Benedict XV abolished the Congregation of the Index that had
existed since 1571 and transferred its responsibilities to the Holy Office. Finally, in 1967
Paul VI gave the former Congregation of the Inquisition its current appelation. The Archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith contain two collections of interest to Canadian researchers: those of the Holy Office (1542-1907) and those of the former Congregation of the Index (1571-1917).

The jurisdiction of the Holy Office extended on the one hand to the checking of heresy
and on the other hand to matters touching morality. Its activity since its inception was akin
to that of a tribunal. For all problems submitted to it, it usually instituted proceedings that
generated more or less abundant documentation that was collected eventually into dossiers
that upon completion were deposited in the archives of the Congregation. These sustained
heavy losses during their transfer to Paris in Napoleon’s day so that several of these records
disappeared or else are preserved elsewhere.

The role of the Congregation of the Index was restricted to the registration of the
publication of books, the compilation of lists of proscribed books, the correction of
passages deemed unorthodox in existing or projected books, and finally the granting of
authorization to read condemned works. Unlike most other Vatican archives those of the
Congregation of the Index sustained few losses.

2) Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs
This Congregation was founded in 1814 with a view to assisting the Secretary of State to
deal with “public” matters that presented particular challenges. It was directly subordinate
to the Pope and to the Cardinal Secretary of State. It was the latter who decided which
records should be assigned to the said Congregation. Several cases concerning Canada
ended up at this Congregation although the matters in question depended on the chief of
staff of the Congregation of the Propaganda. In 1908 the officials of the Congregation of
Extraordinary Ecclesiastical affairs were integrated with the personnel of the Secretary of
State. However, in 1967, under the rubric Council for Public Affairs of the Church, the
Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs once again became a distinct body
from the Secretary of State. Another reversal followed in 1988 with its reintegration into
the Secretary of State. In what concerns Canada one finds documents of great interest for
the periods corresponding to the pontificates of Leo XIII, Pius X and Benedict XV. The
documents accessible for consultation are found at the Secret Vatican Archives.

3) Archives of the Vicariate of Rome
These are the archives of the diocese of Rome. They have little interest for what concerns
Canada apart from some important documentation regarding relics that leave Rome for
Canada and which often require authentication. Now this was a privilege enjoyed by the
vice-director (vice gerens) of the Roman diocese. An abundant correspondence from this
official with diverse Canadian ecclesiastical and religious authorities seeking relics and
specifically authentic ones is located in the said archives.

4) Archives of the State of Rome (Archivio di Stato di Roma)
Created in 1871, these archives were destined to collect the administrative documents of
the former Papal States as well as those of the notaries, the university, the religious
corporations and confraternities of Rome for the period prior to 1870. Other collections
were added subsequently coming from old Roman families or from persons connected with
the Risorgimento. Documents relative to Canada are found in the series Archivio Paesi
stranieri as well as in the series Miscellanea rapporti politici and in Archivio Segreto della
Direzione Generale di Polizia. In the Library of the Archives, we find the journal (Diario)
of Alessandro Gavazzi, former Barnabite who became an Evangelical and Garibaldian that
travelled to Canada and the United States in the 19th century.

5) Library of the Vaudois Faculty of Theology
At first glance this library does not appear to be of interest for Canada but it possesses a
collection of manuscripts relative to the Evangelical Churches, among them the papers of
Alessandro Gavazzi dealing with various subjects concerning Canadian religious and
political history.

6) Vatican Library (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticano)
This famous library established in 1475 by Pope Sixtus IV has been enriched over time by
the acquisition of further manuscripts and publications. The manuscript section alone
contains more than thirty collections amounting to some 60 000 archival items. One finds
in addition to works of literary, artistic, scientific, political and philosophical interest an
abundant historical documentation in the ordinary sense of the word. Relative to Canada,
the collections of greatest interest for the 16th to 18th centuries are the following:
Barberiniani Latini, Urbinati Latini, Ottoboniani Latini, Reginense Latino, Borgiani Latini
and Vaticani Latini. For the more recent period, that is to say the 19th and 20th centuries,
less rich in documents concerning Canada, one can nevertheless profitably consult once
again the Vaticani Latini collections.

The section on published works contains numerous books about Canada, most of
them gifts of their authors or of lay and ecclesiastical Canadians wishing to make known
their views or wishing to provide the Holy See with information about the religious and
political situation in the country.