Well before the birth of the Vatican Chapter, the care of Saint Peter’s Basilica was entrusted to the monks of four nearby monasteries (Santi Giovanni e Paolo, San Stefano Maggiore, San Martino, Santo Stefano Minore). The documents preserved by the monks of San Martino and Santo Stefano Maggiore constitute the original nucleus of the documentary heritage of the Chapter of Saint Peter, dating back to the ninth century.
In the course of its almost thousand-year history, the Chapter of Saint Peter has continued to produce, collect and preserve a large amount of documentation. In addition to numerous pontifical and imperial privileges, the Archive has preserved patrimonial and administrative papers useful for reconstructing the institutional events of the Chapter, as well as recording all the liturgical activity carried out in Saint Peter’s Basilica.
For centuries the Chapter Archive was housed inside the Basilica, although it underwent several relocations. At the end of the eighteenth century finally found a place in the new Palazzo della Canonica, built for the canons at the behest of Pope Pius VI. At the time, the Archive was not yet open to scholars: eventual requests were fulfilled by temporarily transferring the documents to the Vatican Apostolic Library. In 1940, in order to facilitate public consultation of the documents and to ensure their better preservation, the canons of Saint Peter’s had a large part of the documents of predominant historical interest transferred from their Archive to the Vatican Library, while the papers of predominant juridical-administrative interest were kept with them. In the collection deposited in the Vatican Apostolic Library, consisting of 100 cabinets (of which a part can be consulted freely at https://digi.vatlib.it/mss/Arch.Cap.S.Pietro), entire series and even individual archival units were brought together at different times, in direct dialogue with the documents that remained in the Archive's original location.
Among the many documents still preserved in the Chapter Archive, gathered in 33 wooden cabinets dating from 1782 (4 metres high, corresponding to 1450 linear metres, for a total of 11,091 archival units), the collection of the diaries of the Basilica from 1602 to 1935, which recount in detail the activities carried out in Saint Peter’s over the last four centuries, is of particular importance, along with the Status Animarum series of the parish of Saint Peter’s from 1547 to 1926; and the series of the Branch Churches of the Vatican Basilica from 1393 to 1958 (the last year of the pontificate of Pius XII that can be consulted). The paper collections have recently been supplemented by the digitization of part of the documentation now in the Vatican Library (around 600 DVDs).
In addition to the Chapter's collection, the Archive also preserves that of the Venerable Julian Chapel, consisting of 4091 amanuensis and printed musical scores from the end of the eighteenth century to 1979.
Access to the Archive is subject to authorization by the Cardinal Archpriest of the Chapter of Saint Peter and the canon responsible for the Chapter Archives. The request may be presented by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org, accompanying the consultation request with a brief curriculum vitae, the subject of study, and contact details.
Once permission has been granted, scholars agree on the days of attendance with the staff of the Archive, who can be contacted via: