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The Swabian parchments

The archive of the Annunziata: a reading of humankind

The need to determine, in the most extensive way possible, what an archive is, engaged, throughout time, a considerable number of researchers who did not omit to take into consideration the "memory corpus" also in relation to society, religion, politics and so on, which neatly link the archive documents to one another.

This makes it possible to consider the archive as something more than a documentary collection, that is a fertile ground for historiographical research.
It is therefore clear how the particular typicality of the archival heritage kept in the Archive of the Santa Casa et Ospedale della Santa Annunziata in Naples makes it possible to examine those writings also through an historical and scientific analysis, aiming to link the "data" to the "subject" the data originates from: Humankind in all its misery and compassion.

Taking into consideration this point of view means being able to differently interpret the coexistence, in the Conservatoria, where the Santa Casa is, of the books of the Holy See and the old parchment books collection, consisting of royal diplomas, Papal and episcopal bulls and notarial instruments. The former movingly illustrate the misery that, throughout seven centuries, characterized abandoned children's life in Naples; the latter are a brittle monument to "pietate et munificentia", which powerful institutions used to grant, probably as a way to redeem themselves.

This coexistence turned into a metaphor of the everlasting struggle troubling humankind: surrendering to evil or attempting to transcend one's own imperfection, in favour of Goodness, in order to placate the misery of one's own conscience. 

The parchment archive

Within the aforementioned collection, the archival series containing accounts and activities related to foundling hospitals are the most famous ones, considering the strong emotional impact generated by the nature of the information they contain. Less known is the archive containing, among other things, parchment documents from the 12th century.

We have no information about the stages of the documentary sedimentation of the archive, probably constituted by the merging of writings related to the history of the Casa Santa and others, accidentally acquired by the charity institution.

Information about the old archive come from a register compiled in the 18th century containing a list of 6061 documents. Since then, all the events leading to the partial destruction of this important documentary archive are a sad example of all the damage that ignorance and neglect can cause to the preservation of everybody's historical and social momentos (for example, in 1821 five hundred and fifty documents were destroyed, all at once, because considered to be in very bad condition!).
Towards the end of the 19th century, Giovan Battista D'Addosio restored the six hundred and sixty-two remaining parchments and made a summary, which could finally be used as an abstract.

A more effective restoration and the carrying out of a functional system of documents preservation was not carried out until around 1960, when the documentary collection returned to being a solid corpus.

Federico' s parchments

The five documents, now published in digital format, date back to 1206-1238 (they are, therefore, not included in the writings directly related to the history of the Santa Casa, founded only at the beginning of the 14th century). They constitute examples of the chancery tradition issued to meet the request of Federico II Hohenstaufen.
These parchments get no mention in the studies about the Swabian king's chancery, like for example the monumental Historia diplomatica Friderici secondi by Jean Louis Alphonse Huillard-Bréholles and Acta imperii inedita by Eduard Winkelmann.

The parchments show the will of a personage who managed to make a profound impression on European history and whose tenacious political activity merged with intense cultural activity. Federico II's love of knowledge managed to turn his Magna Curia into a sort of melting pot for knowledge, a place where different cultures and religions could be together.

These five parchments constitute, therefore, a means to bring back in full vogue Federico Hohenstaufen and his policy fostering European and Mediterranean history. His message is still alive and testified by Naples being a European city boosting the Mediterranean cause.


Area Cultura e Turismo Servizio Beni Culturali - Archivio Storico Municipale
Salita Pontenuovo, 31 - 80139 Napoli
e-mail: archivi.storici.biblioteche@comune.napoli.it
pec: archivi.biblioteche@pec.comune.napoli.it