Pubblicato il n. 208, agosto-novembre 2020, del periodico dell' Associazione Ex Alunni della Badia di Cava


History of the Library

A Brief History of the Abbey of Holy Trinity, Cava

The abbey of the Benedictine fathers of Holy Trinity of Cava dei Tirreni (Salerno) is situated in the picturesque setting of the Metelliana valley, about three kilometres from the town of Cava dei Tirreni and not far from the Amalfi coast.

The abbey was founded in 1011 by St. Alferius, a Salernitan noble of Lombard origin who had been trained at Cluny. Not long afterwards, under St. Peter, the third abbot, it became the centre of a flourishing congregation, the Ordo Cavensis. This congregation grew to comprise about four hundred dependencies: churches, abbeys and priories, in such a way that it extended its influence, both spiritual and temporal, throughout southern Italy. This was also due to the favour of the Princes of Salerno, who made it the object of their benevolence. The splendour of its first three centuries was accompanied by holiness: the first four abbots (Alferius, Leo, Peter and Constable) have been recognised by the Church as saints, and eight more have been beatified (Simeon, Falco, Marinus, Benincasa, Peter II, Balsamon, Leonard, and Leo II).

During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the abbey began to decline, both through an excessive concern for material possessions and because of the devastation and plundering of its property. In 1394 it was promoted to become the seat of a bishopric. It also suffered from a characteristic phenomenon of that period; after the rule of several abbot-bishops, between 1431 and 1497 it was made subject to various cardinals as commendatory-abbots, who alienated its property and reduced the number of monks. However, the last commendatory abbot, Oliviero Carafa, acted wisely when in 1497 he renounced his position and encouraged the abbey to become a member of the Congregation of S. Giustina of Padua, later called that of Montecassino. Thenceforth the abbots concerned themselves with the monastic observance, scholarship and the pastoral governance of the diocese.

During the eighteenth century the church and some parts of the monastery were enlarged and rebuilt, but striking medieval elements still remained. Its archive is an important one, containing around fifteen thousand charters, dating from the eighth century to the nineteenth, while the library houses, among other things, precious manuscripts and incunabula. 

Following the law for the suppression of religious houses (7th July 1866), the abbey was declared a national monument and entrusted to the care of the abbot on a temporary basis. It was re-established as a territorial abbey by the Holy See in 1979; the diocese remains with four parishes, and it looks after the sanctuaries of Mary the Holy Advocate above Maiori, of the Blessed Advocate (l'Avocatella) in S. Cesareo and of St. Vincent Ferrer in Dragonea.

Today the abbey contains numerous artistic and cultural treasures, while the Benedictine fathers, who have lived there without interruption for more than a thousand years, continue their work of spiritual and cultural teaching, which includes liturgical prayer, the observance of the Rule of St. Benedict and the numerous other activities with which the monastic community is entrusted: looking after the archive and the library, welcoming guests and pilgrims, parish work in the abbatial diocese and the training of the clergy.


The Library

The library of the abbey of Cava must date back to the early years of the monastery in the eleventh century, since the need to provide books for the monks is laid down in the Rule of St. Benedict. Not only was the library a place where books were stored but there was also a scriptorium at Cava in which books needed for the education of the monks, both at Cava itself and in its numerous dependent monasteries, were written. Evidence of this includes codex no. 9, Expositio in I Librum Regum [‘Exposition on the First Book of Kings'] (written in the twelfth century), a tract which until recently was ascribed to Gregory the Great, but which is today attributed to the monk Peter of Cava; also codices no. 18 De septem sigillis [‘About the Seven Seals'] (from the thirteenth century), and 19 (also from the thirteenth century), containing a Kalendarium, Evangelia, Apocalypsis, Epistola I Ioannis, and the Regula S. Benedicti.

The growth of the library in the fourteenth century can be seen from notices regarding a Bible and the Speculum Historiale [Mirror of History] of Vincent of Beauvais, as well as from purchases of supplies for writing and for the bindings of books - the latter, however, have not survived. The theory advanced by Leone Mattei Cerasoli remains likely, that the dispersion of the books collected in the early centuries took place during the time of the commendatory abbots (1431-97), either because of the bibliophilia of some of the cardinal commendatories or through the troubled situation of the abbey that rendered keeping so many books unnecessary, given the limited number of monks who remained there.

By contrast, the monks of S. Giustina showed themselves benefactors of the library, and on many of the incunabula there is a note recording the purchase of the volume at Venice, specifically for Cava. So too were Abbot Vittorino Manso (in the first instance by separating the printed books from the manuscripts, and then, to safeguard the integrity of the library, he obtained a bull from Pope Clement VIII in 1595 that forbade books to be taken away from the library on pain of excommunication), and Abbot Filippo De Pace, whose name is found in thousands of volumes. However, the library suffered a serious blow on Christmas night 1796 when a landslide of earth and stone that fell from the village of Corpo di Cava above ‘totally destroyed' it, or so a contemporary chronicle claimed. Many books, and also some manuscripts, were undoubtedly lost in this disaster.

Natural disaster was not a problem for the library of the Benedictine monks in the nineteenth century, but the storms that fell upon it were rather those stemming from secular government. The abbey was affected by the suppression of the religious orders, decreed first in 1807 by the king of Naples, Joseph Bonaparte, and again in 1866 by the Savoyard king of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II. On both occasions the abbot was left in charge; in 1807 as ‘Director of Works', and in 1867 (in consequence of a new law) as ‘Conservator of the National Monument', while some monks remained as ‘custodians'.

This juridical structure has remained unaltered up to the present day. The monks, for their part, have continued to involve themselves in their duties, taking the same care in the preservation and expansion of the library as they did before the Italian state took over its ownership. As in the past, the expansion has privileged, and continues to privilege, the disciplines most suitable for a monastic library: patristics, theology, law and history. Donations to the library have been accepted, taking account of the nature of the collection and availability of suitable space. The most significant donors to leave their collections to the library are the following: Giovanni Abignente (1956), Giovanni Basanelli (1982), and Amelia Santoli (1992).

The library possesses 65 parchment codices, around 450 paper manuscripts, 120 incunabula, and more than 5000 editions from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. In total there are some 80,000 printed works. Among the most famous manuscripts may be noted the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville from the eighth century, the Visigothic Bible of the ninth century, the codex of the Lombard Laws and the De Temporibus of Bede, both from the eleventh century, and the treatise De Septem Sigillis (‘On the Seven Seals') of Benedict of Bari from the twelfth century.


The Archive

Alongside the library is the archive, which has made the abbey famous. Founded in 1011 by St. Alferius, it rose very rapidly to great power through innumerable donations of landed property, churches and monasteries on the part of princes (above all Lombard and Norman), bishops and lords, as well as from private individuals. The exploitation and defence of the various possessions, the legal claims relating to them, and the administrations of lands given out ad laborandum [for cultivation] or by leasehold gave rise to a huge mass of documents, registers, inventories and cadasters. Furthermore the presence of more than 700 documents dating from before the foundation of the abbey of Cava is explicable because churches and monasteries were given to the abbey together with their own archives. Among the most ancient of such monasteries may be noted S. Massimo of Salerno (founded in 865 and transferred to Cava in 1086), S. Maria de Domno of Salerno (founded in 989 and donated to Cava in 1091) and S. Nicola de Gallocanta, between Vietri and Salerno, built in 983 and given to Cava in 1148. What applied to these three monasteries was true also for other real property - even that of modest extent - when it was given to Cava the abbey also acquired the documents that pertained to it.

Various monk archivists - first with the title of vesterarius and later with that of armarius - from the thirteenth century onwards diligently undertook the custody, study and utilisation of these documents, keeping them in order and writing down summaries on the reverse side.

After the commenda period, with the enrolment of Cava into the Congregation of S. Giustina of Padua, archival studies once again flourished, above all with the work of D. Vittorino Manso, D. Alessandro Ridolfi and D. Agostino Venereo, undoubtedly the greatest of Cava's archivists. They read and transcribed all the documents, dividing them up according to the sub-archive and place of provenance, separating the bulls and papal documents from the private charters, writing a summary on the back of each one, with the chronological and archival dates, and transcribing these details in great registers. At the same time D. Agostino recorded in various books in folio all the information that he considered to be interesting, creating reference works that are still irreplacable for all sorts of historical research. One should be clear that at this time the material on paper was still stored alongside that on parchment.

New cupboards were built in 1626, marked with letters for diplomas and with numbers for private documents. With the demolition of the old church in 1760, the archive and the library, which were lodged above it, had to be moved to another location. However, the present rooms, furnished with elegant cupboards and and with a ceiling decorated with beautiful Pompeian pictures, were only built in 1784. The abbot at this time was D. Raffaela Pasca, and the archivist D. Salvatore De Blasi, who was notable for his unpublished archival work and for the Series Principum qui Langobardorum aetate Salerni imperarunt [‘The Succession of the Princes who ruled Salerno in the Age of the Lombards'] (published at Naples in 1785).

There was a significant new development when D. Ignazio Rossi (archivist 1827-31) arranged the documents in chronological order and separated the paper documents form those on parchment.

After the suppression of 1866 the monks remained as custodians of the material taken over by the state, and besides attending to their usual tasks of conservation and study, they dedicated themselves to the publication of the parchment documents in the Codex Diplomaticus Cavensis, in eight volumes (comprising 1388 documents dating from 792 to 1065). Between 1887 and 1890 they compiled an alphabetical index of names and subjects for the 7760 documents on paper. In total, the archive possesses more than 15,000 Latin charters, the oldest of which dates from 792, and 101 Greek charters.

By no means all of the latin charters have always been part of the archive. In 1807 around 1500 charters from the Charterhouse at Padula, along with six codices, were purchased at Salerno (where they were being sold in the street to the the first comer) by the archivist D. Luigi Marincola, who thus saved the collection from dispersal. Around 1820 another 114 charters of the convent of S. Francesco at Eboli and about 500 from the Celestinians of Novi Velia were acquired. Another 150 or so charters were gained through various donations around 1900. 122 documents from the Basilian monastery of S. Maria di Materdomini were deposited in 1924 by the municipal administration of Nocera Superiore; Baron Fernando de Caro gave 76 from Roccagloriosa in 1958, while 49 more from Capaccio were donated by Dr. Vincenzo Rubini in 1975. Another 101 were recovered in that same year of 1975 through taking apart the covers of notarial protocols.

The archival material was thoroughly investigated by D. Agostino Venereo, who drew up three fundamental works: the Dictionarium Archivii Cavensis in three volumes (recopied in six volumes by D. Camillo Massaro), Additiones Archivii Cavensis in three volumes, and the Libri Familiarum in three volumes. The chronological catalogue of the parchment material, redacted in Latin, is contained in eight volumes in folio, one for the bulls and diplomas, while the other seven are for the private documents.

Also preserved in the archive are registers, inventories and census books of great interest. These may be listed as follows: the ‘Register of Abbot Balsamon', from the years 1222-5, on parchment; the Inventarium of Abbot Mainerio, 1341-59, on parchment; the Liber Reddituum et Ecclesiarum Cavae Thomae Abbatis [‘Book of Incomes and Churches of Abbot Tommaso of Cava'],  1261-2, on parchment; the Regestrum D. Thomae Abbatis, 1259-64, on cotton paper; the Registra D. Maynerii (in four volumes), 1341-65, on paper; Inventarium seu quinternus terrarum nostri monasterii S. Benedicti de Salerno antiquitus [‘Inventory or Ancient Survey of the Lands of our Monastery of St. Benedict of Salerno'], thirteenth-fourteenth centuries; Inventario di S. Maria Maddalena di Bari, sixteenth century, Censi del Vestarario, fourteenth century; Liber Censuum Cavae, fourteenth to sixteenth centuries; the Regestra D. Iohannis Cardinalis de Aragonia (five volumes, 1475-85); the Libri Visitationum (29 volumes), which concern the pastoral visitations of the abbots of Cava from 1500 to 1934; fifteen volumes of legal copies in parchment of documents, bulls and privileges compiled in the years 1503-10; 182 volumes of notarial protocols, which run from 1468 to 1801; and 155 administrative registers of the abbey, from 1497-1853.

As for the publication of the charter material, some documents had already been included in the works of Muratori and of Ughelli, but the plan for a full edition by the monks of Cava dates from after the suppression - it was in fact begun in 1869. The Codex Diplomaticus Cavensis, edited by M. Morcaldi, M. Schiani and S. De Stefano, was published as follows: vol. I, Naples 1873; vols. II-VIII, Milan-Pisa-Naples 1875-93; while volumes IX-X, ed. S. Leone and G. Vitolo, were published at the abbey of Cava in 1984 and 1990. In total, 1669 documents have been published, dating from 792 to 1080.

The archive has gained two further sets of documents through donation during the twentieth century: the Mansi collection, given in 1970 by Signorina Eleanora Mansi of Ravello, and the Talamo-Atenolfi-Brancaccio collection, given in 1979 by the Marchese Talamo-Atenolfi-Brancaccio of Castelnuovo Cilento. In 2012 Prince Mario Putaturo Donati Vuscido of Nocera, honorary vice-President of the Supreme Court of Cassation, has deposited his family archive on loan, with the agreement of the Soprintendenza of Naples, but with the clear understanding that he is not loaning this to the state library, but to the Benedictine Abbey of Holy Trinity, Cava, following the example of his Lombard ancestors.


[English translation by G.A. Loud]