Inventory of historical and artistic heritage (CEI-OA project)

Since 1996, Italian dioceses have been working on a massive and pervasive inventorization campaign of their historical and artistic assets. This service is sponsored and coordinated by the National Office for Ecclesiastical Cultural Heritage of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (BCE).

This survey of ecclesiastical assets integrates the one carried out for decades by the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism (MiBACT) for protection and preservation purposes, complying with the standards laid down by the Central Institute for Catalogue and Documentation (ICCD). The diocese inventory has led to a standardization of surveys, their completion and update, and has shown the ecclesiastical specificity of the Church’s heritage. Data bank standardization is ensured by a uniform description method and the use of one single data entry and management tool.

The diocese inventory has been digitalized since the very beginning and correlates items’ descriptive data to related images. The method that was used complies with the standards of the Central Institute for Catalogue and Documentation regarding inventories, but is also enriched by descriptive elements that comply with catalogue standards and by specific information that is peculiar to ecclesiastical cultural heritage. Movable items found in every parish and subsidiary church have been listed and – whenever it was deemed necessary for preservation purposes – this was also done for diocesan museums, episcopal palaces and ecclesiastical seminaries, without any chronological limit, in order to document more recent objects as well. The diocesan inventory has asset management, cultural and management purposes. Actually, records are being kept also for items that were listed during past cataloguing campaigns and were found during on-site inspections.

The dioceses involved in this activity have set up teams of specialized and competent individuals. Diocesan project heads are supported by qualified filing specialists, professional photographers, art historians or university professors who are in charge of scientific aspects and are there to verify content accuracy. For their inventory work, dioceses have received funding from the 8x1000 income tax contribution paid by Italian tax payers to the Catholic Church.

Dioceses give a copy of the completed inventory to parish priests (through a dedicated online consultation service) and, based on specific agreements, to the relevant Superintendent’s Office and the ICCD (through BCE). Benefits coming from an orderly and standard description of assets are not limited to the most obvious aspects related to heritage knowledge, security and protection (the national data bank is accessible on a real-time basis to law enforcement agencies for cultural heritage protection) but also apply to their necessary and efficient management (canon 1283 of the Code of Canon Law).

Specifically to ensure constant monitoring, once local surveys and digitalization projects have been completed, dioceses have the possibility to constantly update and integrate information, for example in case of special events such as bishops’ periodic pastoral visits to parishes, parish priest turnover (new parish priests must verify assets that are passed on to their care once they take over their responsibility in a parish), the creation or elimination of parish entities owning assets, the revision of objects’ cultural attribution. Data updates and integration are supported by an event log system that keeps track of all maintenance being done to the benefit of all system users. Furthermore, catalogue records can be enriched with different materials, such as audio and video clips, etc.

More than half of all Italian dioceses has completed their local surveys and data banks can now be accessed on BeWeB – Online Ecclesiastcal Cultural Heritage (henceforth: BeWeB) which will be gradually updated and integrated as further progress is made with data survey and review work.

Architectural Heritage Census (CEI-A project)

In 2008, the Census of Italian Diocese Churches was started. Italian dioceses had previously created and published a list of churches in their jurisdictions and gradually, through diocese census-taking projects, are establishing a national data bank of Italian houses of worship.

In addition to the obligations laid down in Canon and State law, the inventory of ecclesiastical cultural heritage is urgently needed, since it is the necessary first step for its effective protection and preservation, and also to enhance its significance and symbolic, social and cultural value due to its centuries-old ties to local communities, which sometimes leads to influences and actions that can jeopardize its identity.

Churches’ online digitalization census-taking tool for dioceses is meant to meet such needs from the technical standpoint.

This is why complementary tools have been developed such as the Forum, as well as tools for centralized data bank management at the National Office, e-learning services for workers, in addition to the online publication of census-taking in progress, currently showcased on BeWeB.

The need for immediate effectiveness has led to the choice of limiting census-taking activities to houses of worship, only filling in the minimum fields that are required by Central Institute for Catalogue and Documentation standards that have been validated as official CEI standards.

The information system pursues three main goals.
  1. Identifying overall asset size: mostly by drawing up a quantitative list of items to provide an overall picture (or a list of significant subsets at macroregional, regional, diocesan or parish level or based on asset type, nature or function, ...) to allow for the appropriate planning of any preservation, restoration or enhancement initiative.
  2. Ensuring availability of minimum indispensable data for appropriate heritage protection preservation and restoration: in the census record, a section is dedicated to liturgical adequacy initiatives, nature and status of facilities, preservation status and past restoration projects; sections dedicated to asset ownership and accurate location (also supported by cadastral data, images and georeferencing) complete a group of sound elements on which any lawful action can be based.
  3. Building a sound knowledge base for a thorough dissemination and popularization action, addressed to researchers, scholars and tourists. Furthermore, churches’ architectural heritage is the natural place where artwork created for liturgy and worship has its original and primary location: hence, a connection with the databank of movable artistic assets will be a top priority in the future plans of the National Office for Ecclesiastical Cultural Heritage (except for specific problems regarding asset security and protection), especially to recreate works’ original contexts and the history of devotion and faith.

Digital rearrangement and inventorization of ecclesiastical archives. (CEI-Ar project)

Since 2004, historical archives belonging to dioceses or other ecclesiastical entities who ask to participate in this project, can rely on a service to better manage and organize their holdings. Since rearranging and describing archival holdings is the necessary prerequisite for their appropriate preservation, protection and utilization, theNational Office for Ecclesiastical Cultural Heritage of the Italian Bishops’ Conference is sponsoring and supporting a project for this purpose. In addition to the CEIAr software, participating institutions can rely on several coordination, consultancy, training and specialized assistance services to rearrange and describe their archival holdings; specialized assistance pertains to both technical-IT aspects and contents. In addition to ensuring the broadest possible utilization of materials, BeWeB, will also gradually implement internal archive services. First and foremost, the management of the study room, image management, etc.

The project dedicated to historical archives was developed as part of the agreement between CEI and MiBACT of April 18, 2000 concerning the preservation and consultation of historical archives and libraries belonging to ecclesiastical entities and institution. Recently, this project was revived thanks to the Convention on the dialogue between the National Archive System (SAN) - in which the Central Archive Institute (ICAR) of MiBACT is in charge of management, maintenance and development - and BeWeB, which is managed by CEI’s National Office for Ecclesiastical Cultural Heritage.

CEIAr allows for detailed multilevel descriptions, which are structured according to different record types (groups of fonds, fond, logical aggregation and archival unit), and ensures an adequate representation of inherent links between documents through a tree-shaped information structure. A special feature of this software is that it allows for material descriptions through archival trees in order to compare several archival operations that have been carried out on the papers over time. It is also possible to connect related images to archival descriptions.

CEIAr allows for the identification of index items directly from the documentation and for their standardization for authority record description through individual, family and entity records.

CEIAr complies with international ISAD (G) - International Standard Archival Description (General) standards for archival description and ISAAR (CPF) - International Standard Archival Authority Records (Corporate, Bodies, Persons, Families) standards for authority record creation. In addition to the most common export formats, CEIAr allows for export that is compatible with the Archival Superintendencies’ Unified Information System (SIUSA), and also for XML file generation based on EAD/EAC standards.

Currently, the CEIAr software is provided to member archives through the new online Terminal Server system (CEIAr TS), which allows for the immediate publication on the BeWeB portal of data banks that have been developed over the last few years, integrated with the cultural institution’s info sheet (custodian). When joining the BeWeB portal, archives always keep their data’s full ownership and availability.

Collective catalogue of Italian Ecclesiastical Libraries (CEI-Bib project)

The mediation, protection and enhancement project for library holdings belonging to dioceses and other ecclesiastical institutions was launched in 2006.

The aims that were immediately identified and have motivated the entire project are:
  • Networking, enhancing libraries’ identity.
  • Providing dioceses with digital tools and solutions.
  • Facilitating access to the National Library Service (SBN) for all Ecclesiastical libraries.
  • Creating and managing an authority file system to communicate between different cultural domains.