Parish Archives

Parish archives of the Diocese of Como

General overview

The Diocese of Como currently includes 341 parishes, distributed over the territory of four different civil administrative provinces (Como, Sondrio, Varese, Lecco). Only a part of these have a historic archive: in fact, we need to exclude from the count the ecclesiastical bodies that were created after 1929, the date currently set, by diocesan order, as the chronological limit for the consultability of the archive documents, as well as some parishes whose archives were recently transferred to the new headquarters of the parish following pastoral unification.

The parish archives preserve documents that are of fundamental importance for knowledge, not just in terms of religious history, but, more in general, for families, and the social, economic and cultural organization of local communities, starting right from the medieval period ( 13th-14th centuries), especially thanks to the preserved parchment funds. Moreover, for the 16th to 19th centuries, the parish archives are the only ones equipped with marriage, birth and death records. Annexed to the parish archive there are sometimes even sizeable and significant ancient library funds, often from religious houses that were suppressed or from the funds of parish priests and private individuals.

The types of materials preserved in the parish archives are, therefore, even at a first glance, basically distinguished from those of the parish (administration, worship, sacramental records, relations with ecclesiastical and civil authorities, etc.) and those produced by the vestry board and by lay confraternities. Whereas the parish documentation began to be produced starting from the creation of the parish following the Council of Trent (1545-1563), the activities of the lay confraternities may have begun previously and remained thereafter independent from the parish institute, just as the vestry board, created with the Napoleonic reforms to administer the properties of the local ecclesiastical communities under the control of the state, remained autonomous. These two institutions of a decidedly lay nature, which were mostly in competition with the parish entrusted to the responsibility of the clergy, were by and large over time -although in different ways depending on the specific local situations - concentrated in a single parish body: the confraternities transforming themselves into simple parish associations without an administration or self management, with the vestry boards being suppressed in the mid 20th century.
A characteristic element of the parish documentation are the series of registers for sacraments; these were also created after the Council of Trent for the systematic annotation of the "movement of spirits", through baptism, marriage and death, and for the periodic description of the "state of spirits", distinguished by families, houses and neighbourhoods, within the parish territory. Although these records began as a result of clearly pastoral affairs, they established a local births, marriages and deaths register that precedes the one introduced after the French Revolution by three centuries. In addition to observing the normally regular and continuing presence of these registers in almost all of the parish archives – since this type of documentation was more immediately useful and was frequently subject to control -, we can also identify a certain number of cases that "anticipate" the same Council of Trent decrees in this regard.

Census of the parish archives

A census of the historic parish archives was carried out restricted to those parishes located in the Province of Como and Sondrio.
  1. Province of Sondrio
    In the Province of Sondrio - the only one that completely belongs to the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Diocese of Como - there are a total of 146 historic parish archives that are the concern of the Diocese of Como. The data of the census, done in 1994-1995 within the scope of the initiatives financed with the "Valtellina Law", are available both on cd rom and in hard copy, and are distributed by the Provincial Administration of Sondrio.
  2. Province of Como
    In the Province of Como - where extensive territories are included in the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Milan - there are a total of 148 historic parish archives. The data of the census, carried out in 2002 on the initiative of the Provincial Administration of Como with the contribution of the Lombardy Region and by agreement with the Diocese of Milan and the Diocese of Como, is available on CD rom and distributed by the Provincial Administration of Como.

Initiatives for the reorganization and utilization of the parish archives
  1. In the Province of Sondrio
    A series of reorganization interventions were carried out, primarily during the years following the census, by the initiative of the individual parishes and the initiative of the diocese.
    In particular, we should mention the systematic reorganization initiative of the parish archives located in the territory of the Valtellina Mountain Community, corresponding essentially to the archive of the three ancient pievi churches of Sondrio, Berbenno and Tresivio, undertaken through an agreement at first between the Diocese of Como and the Mountain Community of Valtellina di Sondrio, and then between the Fondazione – Centro Studi "Nicolò Rusca" and the same Mountain Community.
    With projects launched through different initiatives, which nevertheless were also followed by the diocesan archive, a unique confraternal Assunta di Morbegno archive has been made available, and a summary has already been done fort he largest parchment fund of the entire diocese, the capitular archive of Chiavenna, with more than 1000 parchments, dating back to the 11th century. Another initiative in progress is entrusting the parish archive of some parishes and/or areas to persons who are competent and willing, in agreement with the parish priests and under the supervision of the diocesan archive both for their reorganization and especially for their management and consultation.
    Following an initial experimental phase carried out in the parish of val Gerola, it has been possible to extend the initiative to some places in the Media and Alta Valtellina (Ponte, Poggiridenti, Montagna; Grosio and Ravoledo, Mazzo and Vervio).
  2. In the Province of Como
    Within the scope of some projects managed by the Fondazione "Nicolò Rusca" during the period of 2001-2002, it has been possible to launch the first database of the baptism certificates of the three parishes included in the ancient circle of the city walls of Como: Santa Maria Maggiore (Cattedrale), San Fedele, and San Donnino, regarding the period between 1830 and 1866. It includes data regarding, the baptized babies, the parents, the godparents, the midwives, the priests, the churches, etc. The database can be consulted on this website.
  3. In the Province of Varese
    The 33 parishes of the Diocese of Como located in the Province of Varese are currently included in the two ancient pievi of Cuvio and Marchirolo, corresponding today to the "Valli varesine" pastoral zone.
    In this regard – by the initiative of the Mountain Community of Valcuvia, in concert with the Mountain Community of Valganna and Valmarchirolo – a project was arranged to identify the parish books, take a census of them, and purchase them in digital format. The chronological span involved was the period between the setting up of the parish registers (post-Council of Trent period) and the coming into force of the civil state registers (1 January 1866).

The inventories produced during the initiatives mentioned above are available in copy for consultation at the Diocesan Archive.