HomeUser GuideGlossary


(work in progress)

Bagno - prisons in the cities of the Barbary Coast and in Istanbul where the Christian slaves were held.  

Censures – excommunication and interdict (may be imposed on any member of the Church), or suspension (for clerics).

Chiaus – Turkish messenger or sergeant

Congregatio Exaltatae Crucis - (Fr: Congrégation de l'Exaltation Sainte Croix; Engl: Congregation of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross); later known as a ‘company’ (compagnie, compagnia), rather than ‘congregation’; founded in Paris 1632-35 by Father Hyacinth, Capuchin, as part of a network ‘for the propagation of the faith’ (the name had to be changed in order to avoid confusion with Propaganda Fide). For an overview see Catherine Martin, Les compagnies de la Propagation de la foi (1632-1685): Paris, Grenoble, Aix, Lyon, Montpellier: étude d'un réseau d'associations fondé en France au temps de Louis XIII pour lutter contre l'hérésie, des origines à la Révocation de l'Edit de Nantes (2000).

Congregation of Indulgences and Relics - created in 1669 by Pope Clement IX to settle all matters related to indulgences and relics of saints. The institution had the faculty of correcting abuses concerning these matters, moderate the number of indulgences that were granted, examine new requests for indulgences, and to forward them to the pope for approval. In 1904 it became part of the Congregation of Rites, which later was split between the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and the Congregation for Divine Worship.

Dimissorial letters (litterae dimissoriales) – letters given by an ecclesiastical superior to somebody who is subject of his jurisdiction, with effect in territories outside his jurisdiction. They include testimonial letters certifying a priest's freedom from canonical impediments or his suitability to join a religious order or a mission.

Dubia - a dubium is a question addressed to higher Church authorities, containing a hesitation or uncertainty about whether certain liturgical or sacramental practices (usually in extraordinary situations) can still be considered orthodox and observing the rules of the Church. See: Broggio, Paolo, Charlotte de Castelnau-L’Estoile, and Giovanni Pizzorusso. “Le temps des doutes: les sacrements et l’Église romaine aux dimensions du monde.” MEFRIM 121, no. 1 (2009): 5–22.

Holy Office – The Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, now called The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It decided, among other things, on the faculties that were to be given to missionaries, and the dubia that were sent to Rome.  

Missionary faculties – capacity to perform certain actions issued by the Holy Office; they can be a) “usual” (solite), similar to regular priestly faculties in non-missionary areas; b)extraordinary rights that facilitate the apostolate or give certain spiritual benefices. Examples of extraordinary faculties: absolving specific types of sins (a faculty normally reserved for the pope); consenting to interreligious marriages; celebrating mass several times a day. Faculties were usually limited to a certain geographical area and to a specific number of years.

Missionary patents – a permission to work in a specific missionary area, issued by Propaganda Fide. It granted to the recipient the official status of missionary.

Monte di Pietà an (originally non-profit) financial institution that provided loans; could be found in most Italian cities.

Pieces of eight (pezze da otto, or Spanish dollar) – silver coin used on the Barbary Coast.

Prefect of Propaganda Fide – the cardinal head of the institution. For a list of PF prefects in the period covered by our collection, click here.

Prefect of a mission – head of a group of missionaries (whether secular or religious). He has authority over the missionaries subordinated to him and sends reports about the state of the mission to Rome.

Procurator – someone who represents another person or a group of persons, such as a religious order or a mission of secular priests. Religious orders and other similar groups used to have such representative residents in Rome to act on their behalf in matters of money, appointments, privileges, etc. 

Provicar – an official who exercises the tasks of an apostolic vicar in the absence of the latter or in limited (usually more remote) areas of the latter’s jurisdiction.  

Secretary of Propaganda Fide – the secretary of the institution was in charge of all the daily activities. He was appointed by the pope. He read and summarized incoming letters, complaints and reports, and conveyed the decisions of the cardinals in his responses (probably with the help of a number of assistants). He was best informed about what was going on in the different missions and he was the first to talk during the general meetings of the PF. The PF cardinals frequently asked for his opinion.

Scudo (or Roman scudo) – the currency used in the Papal States. An example of the purchasing power of the scudo: 400 scudi were enough to provide six missionaries of the Scottish mission with all they needed in order to perform their liturgical tasks: ornaments for mass, chalices, patens, chasubles, crosses, missals, altar clothes, etc.    

Vicar apostolic –unlike a regular vicar, who represents the authority of a bishop in a certain diocese, an apostolic vicar represents directly the authority of the pope. He is not active in a diocese, but on the territory of an apostolic vicariate, i.e. in a missionary area.

Vicar general – a priest with ordinary powers who helps the bishop of a certain diocese. In case of a titular bishop, the vicar general is his deputy in the diocese.