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Source Authorship

End and margin notes

A significant number of letters, petitions, and other types of documents submitted to the Roman Curia for approval, confirmation, or consideration, and especially those held in the SOCG collection of the Propaganda Fide archives (APF), contain a series of notations evidently made by the secretary or other clerks at the time of their receipt or shortly thereafter. There are three main categories of such notations: A) summaries of documents received, in Italian (the date of receipt is sometimes indicated); B) short summaries of decisions made in response to documents received, in Latin (the date of decision is often specified); and C) margin notes summarizing the main ideas of the original text, in Italian or Latin (only present on lengthier documents, such as mission reports). The first two categories of notes are typically located on the verso page of the last folio of the original document and they are often written in different hands and/or ink than the main text. Margin notes, if present, are usually written in the same hand as one or both of the summaries placed at the back of the document. The amount of detail provided varies significantly from one document to another.

The exact authorship of the types of notes described above is unknown. Nevertheless, their content and appearance leave little doubt that their authors were both different from and contemporaneous with the authors of the original texts (in other words, the end and margin notes in question were not made by modern archivists). This database takes each document as a whole. A conscious choice was made not to separate added notes (when present) from the original documents, mainly because the information contained in the former only has meaning in conjunction with the latter. For the purposes of this database, the authorship of the original text--if known--is assigned to the document as a whole, even when added notations render it composite. The document summaries provided in this database are based on both the original texts and the added notes, as indicated.

NB: The summaries of decisions written on the back of original documents (category B above) are typically short. In the case of APF, the registers containing detailed meeting minutes and summaries of decisions taken by the cardinals of the Propaganda Fide are located in the Acta collection, whereas the original documents on which these decisions were based are held in the SOCG collection. The Acta files are arranged in chronological order. The SOCG files were initially filed according to (rather imprecise) geographic criteria, but from 1668 onwards they were arranged chronologically as well.

Authorship of petitions

A large number of petitions submitted to the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (PF) exhibit a “creator” name in this database, even though they are described as “unsigned and undated.” Those petitions were possibly penned by clerks of the PF at the request of agents of the Congregation of the Mission present in Rome at that time (either as results of oral requests or as copies of originals that were not kept in the files of the PF, for one reason or another). They were not submitted in the agents' name, but on behalf of other CM members, such as the superior general of the CM (in the case of general requests concerning the CM as a whole), or other CM members (in the case of petitions concerning individual or local matters). This supposition is based on the observation that (almost) all documents of this type--including those unrelated to the CM, but filed in PF registers around the same time--are written in the same two or three hands and have similar structures and formats. The “creator” name displayed in this database is the name of the person on behalf of whom the petition was filed; that name never appears under the main text of the petition, like a signature, but it is always displayed on the verso page of the last folio, together with the addressee (which was usually the PF as a whole).

Authorship of PF letters

A copy of every letter sent by Propaganda Fide in response to incoming letters, petitions, and other types of documents (after a decision on the issue had been taken in a PF meeting) is preserved in the Propaganda Fide archives (APF). The copies are located in the Lettere collection and were initially divided by language (Latin and Italian) and later according to geographical criteria. These copies do not mention a specific author. From 1669 onwards, a clear distinction was made between the letters written by the secretary and those written more generally on behalf of the PF: in our database, we have ascribed as “creator” the former documents are ascribed to the secretary that was in place at the time.