Open the shrine. The South Italian charters preserved at the Biblioteca della Società Napoletana di Storia Patria are now accessible for all on

by Antonella Ambrosio

The parchments preserved at the Castel Nuovo of Naples, a fascinating and complex history

The Library of BSNSP in Castelnuovo (Naples). ©Angelo Odore
The Library of BSNSP in Castelnuovo (Naples). ©Angelo Odore

The fonds of parchments in question is nowadays at the Castel Nuovo, a fortress which is an authentic symbol of the royal dynasties of the Kingdom of Naples. More precisely, the charters are preserved by the Biblioteca della Società Napoletana di Storia Patria (BSNSP) that has its premises in the same fortress. I like to think of this fonds as of a precious shrine because it contains a rich documentation coming from copious private archives as well as from religious institutions in South Italy which ended up for diverse reasons in the library of the Society ( At last, this documentation now comes to light thanks to its digital archive on Monasterium.Net (

The charter fonds is well known among scholars and yet its research potentialities are still partially unexplored. This situation is due to a series of different causes: the documents are housed in the library of a society for historical studies and not in an archive; they are the result of a complex formation process and they come form diverse archives and were object of a series of reorganizations over time. The fonds’ heterogeneity derives from its constitution: its nucleus came into being in 1882 thanks to a donation of parchments and manuscripts from the antiquarian collection of a Neapolitan family, the Fusco. Subsequently this core was incremented by other donations and bequests, but in fact the first donation had a composite character right from the beginning. Salvatore and Giuseppe Maria Fusco created their collection by purchase in a lifetime, guided by manifold interests – frequently purely antiquarian ones – and bought charters of diverse typologies. After their donation to the Society in the end of the 19th century the parchments were reorganised – maybe two times – in categories, as for example documentary typology, geographic provenance, religious institution. This categories did not always correspond to the person or institution which gave origin to the documentation. The result are archival series, many of miscellaneous character, that contain charters of various archives of origin.

Finally the digital archive

Until recently only a complete edition of all the charters could have ensured the full usability of this fonds, a solution of difficult realization due to its requirements of time and energy. Today the digital technologies and especially the collaborative working environment MOM-CA in Monasterium.Net provide efficient and flexible solutions at reduced costs and at the same time of long duration ( The digital archive of the BSNSP is now online on Monasterium.Net and provides access to almost the totality of the parchments. The 2249 charters cover a period from the 10th to the 19th century, more than the half of them were written within the 15th century and regard for the most South Italy; only a small part interests other Italian regions, and only a few ones foreign areas.

The research team has been working since 2008 with passion and enthusiasm

Didactic activities. ©Angelo Odore
Didactic activities. ©Angelo Odore

This digital archive came into being thanks to a collaboration between the Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, the SNSP and ICARus (International Centre for Archival Research). The digitisation of the parchments and their study were carried out in synergy within a range of scientific and educational activities, accomplished with large-scale employment of digital technologies, within a research group originated from the University of Naples and coordinated by the author of these lines. The team consists at the moment of Rosalba Di Meglio, Maria Rosaria Falcone, Francesco Lerra, Vera Schwarz-Ricci, and is backed up in different times and places by Martina Canonico, Adele Di Lorenzo, Michele Innangi, Martina Magliacano, Paola Massa, Elisa Vendemia, Georg Vogeler.

At the beginning the research could be realised thanks to financial support from ICARus and was continued thanks to financing from the project ENArC (European Network on Archival Cooperation) – EU, Culture Programme, 2007-2013 ( At the moment the activities are supported by the project co:op (Community as Opportunity. The Creative Archives’ and Users’ network) – EU, Creative Europe 2014-2020 ( and by some funds of the University of Naples.

Since 2008 this research team is dedicated to the experimentation of digital technologies in research focused on the written sources of the Italian Middle Ages, especially with an approach from palaeography and diplomatics. The team considered the documentation of the BSNSP’s digital archive a laboratory which enabled the experimentation of efficient and leading-edge solutions to problems of conservation, valorisation and usability, the Achilles’ heel of Italian and Western European documentation. During this experimentation an interest for new research methods in virtual environments awakened which allows for participation of researchers from different backgrounds, geographical, institutional and formative ones.

Closely related to the research activities are the educational activities and the internships launched within the Bachelor and Master courses of the Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici (2010-2015) and within the (postgraduate) Master course in Library and Archival Sciences of the University of Naples (2009-2011). The group also realised formation activities and stages with scholarships for new graduates.

It is a pleasure to thank those persons who supported these activities: without them the digital archive would not exist. First of all the presidents of the SNSP, Giuseppe Galasso and Renata De Lorenzo, the whole Society and the staff of the Library. We are also very obliged and grateful to Thomas Aigner (ICARus), Giovanni Vitolo (Università di Napoli) and Georg Vogeler (University of Graz/ICARus) who offered all the time generous advice and competent and affectionate support.

A key point: the accessibility of the whole documentation

To meet this basic requirement we decided to implement a digital archive with a precise function: it should provide effective keys to access and be open to further enrichment thanks to its position in a online collaborative research environment.

  1. The digital reproductions allow for a quick and effective approach to the original charters at a distance
A critical edition of a medieval document in MOMCA. ©Angelo Odore
A critical edition of a medieval document in MOMCA. ©Angelo Odore

The first and most important resource of this digital archive are digital reproductions in high resolution of both the recto and the verso of all the 2249 charters. They are provided without charge with the objective to promote a wide circulation both of knowledge and of common cultural heritage. By means of some tools available in MOM-CA the reproductions can be elaborated, for example with the Image Annotation Tool (developed by André Streicher). The images can be used for scientific and didactic purposes, but an authorisation by the Society is required for publication.

  1. Additional minimal data deriving from paper publications is available to search on Monasterium.Net

The photos, however precious and useful, need accompanying meta data. For this reason MOM-CA enables its users to enter additional data which will then be encoded in XML by the software. In this way it is possible to enrich the images with useful data, also data up to now only available in traditional publications. This data can be queried with the integrated search engine of the portal ( In our case, the additional data consists of the date of the charter, the archival signature and bibliographical references to 19th century regests.

The sources of this data are:

  • The inventory of the fonds published by Stefano Palmieri, already at its second corrected edition (2010). This inventory is the source of the initial data, basis for the structure of our digital archive: date and archival signature of each charter.
  • The regests of the oldest charters (10th to 13th centuries) were published in the periodical «Archivio storico per le province napoletane» from 1883 to 1893. From this publication stems the bibliographical reference for each charter connected with its digital reproduction (available soon).

By using the inventory of Palmieri and the 19th century regests we intended to offer the immediately available data, but also to draw the attention to the essential bibliographical references in paper. This perspective guarantees a harmonious use of digital technologies following tradition and creating continuity.

  1. The collections allow for a virtual reconstruction of the original archives

For a full usability of this fonds of charters – coming from diverse archives and then getting mixed up – it is extremely important to identify for each charter the archive of provenance. These original archives will be represented by a number of “collections” in MOM-CA, in other words, digital virtual archives ( These collections contain charters aggregated artificially by historical, palaeographical, diplomatic and other criteria. Of course, this aggregation does not exist in the real world, in the premises of the archive, but only in the digital archive. For the Library of the Society we are currently conducting researches which will soon lead to a series of new collections reflecting the archives of provenance of the documentation. These new collections will be rendered public once the researches are completed. The user will then be able to consult not only the fonds of the BSNSP (which reproduces the organization of the documentation in the library), but also the original archives by means of the collections created ad hoc.

How to create a collection

. The cloister of the monastery of SS. Pietro e Sebastiano in Naples. ©Angelo Odore
. The cloister of the monastery of SS. Pietro e Sebastiano in Naples. ©Angelo Odore

The creation of these collections requires preliminary scientific analysis: an examination of the whole documentation preserved at the library of the Society using a historical, diplomatic, palaeographic and archival scientific approach with the goal to identify the archives of provenance, nowadays dismembered. Thanks to this method it was possibile to determine a certain number of original archives, connected to religious institutions and families of South Italy. These archives, once online, will be also open to further aggregation of parchments preserved in other archives in Naples and in South Italy.

At the moment there are two examples for a collection set up with this method in Monasterium.Net:

  1. Georeferencing the places of emission of the charters will finally give visibility to the areas of charter production

Another important key to access the documentation is the identification of the areas of charter production by analysing the places of emission. This will be a useful instrument for a multitude of research questions. The inventory of Palmieri already provides more than 50% of the place dates and researches are in progress to complete the identification of charters with place date. All this data will then be displayable on a map thanks to the new Geo Tool which will soon be available on Monasterium.Net. The tool is developed by Bernhard Strecker for the Center for eHumanities of Cologne.

The future: the dream of crowdsourcing research

It will not be sufficient to publish charters and the relative metadata online but we also need to encourage with innovative methods the participation in the study of the charters of a major number of scholars. The software MOM-CA is perfect for this goal and I would like to stress that also the South-Italian documentation with its diverse charter typologies and areas of production could be of larger European interest. In this way it would be very desirable to share this research objectives with a larger public of users creating a crowdsourcing for research. It sounds like a very ambitious aim but in fact it is already feasible. For considerable time Horst Enzensberger, scholar and enthusiast of South Italian charters, has generously been contributing data for the parchments of BSNSP on Monasterium.Net.

Which other data could be useful?

The published and the unpublished

Which charters have already been published? To be able to find this information in MOM-CA would be extremely useful, especially because charters used to be published in various and minor publications, difficult to lay hands on. Moreover, it is necessary to update and revise this data frequently, in line with the development of research.

The mark-up of some key features of the charters

Other long-term aims of this project are the identification and the encoding of the emitting authorities and/or the notaries, the toponyms and the persons in MOM-CA.

The digital edition of the charters

A part of the UNINA research group. ©Angelo Odore
A part of the UNINA research group. ©Angelo Odore

In 2018 MOM-CA will be able to create digital editions with ISBN-number thanks to a complex experimentation under way for some time: the digital edition of the charters of the first half of the 13th century, originating from the archive of the abbey S. Maria della Grotta, situated in Vitulano near Benevent in South Italy, coordinated by the author of this lines ( This edition came into being thanks to the efforts of some researchers, PhD’s and graduates, also of other universities, namely the University of Graz (Austria) and the University La Sapienza in Rome. These are Maria Rosaria Falcone, Paola Massa, Vera Schwarz-Ricci, Elisa Vendemia and Georg Vogeler. Hans Clausen of the University of Graz is responsible for the development of the online publication tool.

So if you feel you would like to contribute to our digital archive please do not hesitate to contact us at

We will be glad to receive any addition, data, bibliographic references, transcriptions, mark-up because we all have to open a precious shrine together!

(Translation to English from italian: Vera Schwarz-Ricci)



AMBROSIO A., Le pergamene di S. Maria della Grotta di Vitulano (BN) – Secc. XI-XII. Salerno: Laveglia & Carlone, pp. V-XXII.

CAPASSO B., Acquisto di manoscritti e pergamene, in «Archivio storico per le province napoletane», 7 (1882), pp. 802-804.

CAPASSO B.-BEVERE R.-DE BLASIIS G.-PARISIO N., Elenco delle pergamene già appartenenti alla famiglia Fusco ed ora acquisite dalla Società Napoletana di Storia Patria, in «Archivio storico per le province napoletane», 8 (1883), pp. 153 – 161, 332 – 338, 775 – 787; 12 (1887), pp. 156 – 164, 436 – 448, 705 – 709, 823 – 835; 13 (1888), 161 – 172; 14 (1889), pp. 144 – 158, 353- 373, 758 – 772; 15 (1890), pp. 654 – 661; 16 (1891), pp. 665 – 671; 18 (1893), pp. 538 – 555.

Le pergamene della Società Napoletana di Storia Patria. Parte prima. Il fondo pergamenaceo del monastero di S. Maria della Grotta ed osservazioni sulle minuscole pregotiche dell’Italia meridionale, I, a cura di J. MAZZOLENI, Napoli 1966, pp. 21 – 38.

PALMIERI S., Le pergamene della Società napoletana di storia patria. Inventario, Napoli 2010.

For further information on our past and current activities have a look at SNSP project


Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
Elisabeth Steiger (2016, 28. Dezember). Open the shrine. The South Italian charters preserved at the Biblioteca della Società Napoletana di Storia Patria are now accessible for all on European Archival Blog. Abgerufen am 24. Mai 2024, von

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