By Emeline Rotolo
The archives of religious congregations: an archival hydra
The archives of Catholic orders and congregations are hierarchically organized and this may translate into fragmentation in the conservation of holdings. First, the general archives contain the holdings of the general administration of the archives produced by the general council and the general superiors or mother superiors: correspondence, reports, publications. It also includes the archives and publications of the founder, as well as the following general superiors or mother superiors, characterized by extensive correspondence and often highly specialized work in different fields of research such as archaeology, linguistics, ethnology, etc. The mother house ensures the conservation of these holdings with the support of one or more members of the congregations and orders, sometimes aided by trained lay people. Then come the holdings of the provinces, roughly equivalent to a country, and influenced by the provincial administration and life. After that, there are the current archives of each community: minor congregations sometimes store theirs on site. Three important institutions which, since their establishment in Jerusalem in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, are strongly linked to religious and diplomatic matters, namely St Anne’s Church and seminary, the Notre-Dame de France hotel and the church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, guided Vincent Lemire’s initial investigations in September 2015 in the archives of the mother houses of the White Fathers and the Assumptionists in Rome. The second mission (1–5 February 2016) brought additional knowledge on Roman archival collections held by these two congregations of French origin, which established themselves in the late 19th century in Jerusalem. To provide a comprehensive mapping of the archives produced by the White Fathers and the Assumptionists in Jerusalem, further work should be considered in the provincial archives stored on site, in St Anne’s for the White Fathers and St Peter’s in Gallicantu for the Assumptionists.
An archive history: why?
In the second half of the 20th century, religious orders and congregations devoted some effort to the conservation, classification and creation of finding aids for their archives, thus providing better access to researchers. The available information on the White Fathers and the Assumptionists reveal different approaches and research tools. However, even if a standardization effort was made in the drafting of finding aids, a shortcoming is immediately apparent: the lack or even the absence of any contextual description. Even a brief description of the archive, including the producer’s identification elements, would allow for a definition of the content of the documents and the choices of classifications taken, according to the “respect des fonds” principle. These types of essential information also permit the documentation of the history of the conservation effort, taking into account transfers, natural disasters or the loss of archives due to eliminations – all events that influence the fonds. These elements, considering the territory and the period (Jerusalem, 1840–1940), present a particular interest: the major European religious institutions in Jerusalem were requisitioned, occupied and sometimes raged during the World War I (1914-1917). Details are provided by some archives, as in the correspondence of Fr Van der Vliet, a White Father of Dutch nationality who remained in St Anne’s during the hostilities. In a French transcription of the diary he kept during those times, he records (4 December 1914) the transfer of archives, which had been hastily hidden in a damp place, under an arch, behind a lapsed wall, in the St Anne’s seminar, to a safer place. Again, a letter from Fr Leopold Dressaire to Fr Athanase Vanhove, both of them Assumptionists, reports on the state of Notre-Dame de France upon his arrival (11 December 1917) after the capture of Jerusalem: “Your papers, personal belongings, objects and papers of Fr Germer, religious objects remained (most of these files were mixed with the books and the community and clothes and they could only be recognized by interested parties; another part disappeared). Everything that was at your use (lingerie, books, notes, correspondence, benefactors addresses, etc.) is preserved.” This description shows the archives were kept in terrible conditions and suggests reclassification work took place. Information that would be useful to gather in order to document the history of each holding and make clear the process that led to the final classification status is therefore missing.
The White Fathers: fonds classified and analyzed according to the organization of the institution
Despite a certain timidity to place their archives in the historical perspective of their institutions, the implementation of useful research tools has been acknowledged by both these congregations. First of all, the White Fathers, thanks to their valuable online inventory, partly respond to the previous remarks with a brief presentation of their holdings in the introduction. They list the main documentary typologies held in Rome: correspondence, reports, documents, publications from their founder, Cardinal Lavigerie, the general administration of the order, its provinces and its members. This general state of the holdings, in the form of a detailed digital inventory, provides an overview of all the Roman records dealing with Jerusalem institutions, from their founding until recent times. The most recent depositions, such as MEL file 297 “Jerusalem: Correspondence,” with the annotation “These files were received from Jerusalem in June 1991,” as well as the most recent entries marked “2015 adding,” demonstrate the activity of the archivists. This detailed digital inventory is based on a classification system respecting the logic of the production and structure of the fonds. It thus offers a structured analysis at different levels of description from the general to the particular, such as the archives of the General Fathers (GEN series), which are classified and numbered – with alphanumeric call numbers – in chronological order. Other relevant series include typologies such as personal folders (D.PERS), original diaries (D.OR) or copied (D.Cop), registers (REG.), photo library (PHOT.), maps, atlas, statistics (CART.); some limitations, however, exist for the VARIA or MEL. series. It is also noteworthy that three databases complete this detailed digital inventory with chronicles and annual reports, general councils meetings and the conclusions of general chapters.
From the Assumptionist card index to the archives of the Jerusalem community: an unclassified fonds or the result of a lack of internal organization?
The Assumptionists, meanwhile, have one more archaic but equally valuable research tool: a card index with thematic entries by “people”, “themes” and especially “places,” extending up to the late 1970s. Vincent Lemire has fully photographed the 158 index cards for “Jerusalem,” the distribution of which is as follows: 99 index card titled “Jerusalem: ND de France”, 26 “Jerusalem: St Peter’s in Gallicantu” and 19 “Jerusalem: pilgrimage to.” This card index provides an analysis of the documents considered most important at the time of the redaction of this research instrument. Essentially it is not an inventory and it contrasts with the general vision of the holdings. Unlike the digital detailed inventory of the White Fathers, it does not reveal a hierarchical classification from the upper (the general council) to lower (the provinces) levels. For research on Jerusalem, all the related index cards must therefore be consulted. The accuracy of “ND de France”, “St Peter’s in Gallicantu” and “pilgrimage” can eventually restrict the consultation. If these terms reflect the major tasks of the community (education, pilgrimages), it is hard to recognize the responsibilities of key actors normally responsible for classifying documents. When the first index cards are examined, analysis are only about an individual archive item or a small number of documents in favor of typologies than actions. Thus the letters of General Superior Vincent de Paul Bailly are scattered in seven articles when it should have been easy to classify them in a series of general councilarchives, a subseries for those of Father Vincent de Paul Bailly and articles in chronological sections to classify the correspondence due to its function. This fragmentation reveals, on the one hand, the gaps in the classification of holdings that should have followed the logic of the archive producers and, on the other, the obsolete nature of this research instrument, which doesn’t respect the archival logic of information’s non redundancy. Other limits are noteworthy, such as the presence of an alphabetical call number for boxes, imitating a classification scheme, which is an irrelevant marker. Initially, we thought that all the correspondence from Jerusalem had been classified in parts NS to NW, 1883–1956, but that the 1918 correspondence had been forgotten. It was immediately classified in the following box, NX, with, among others, a record on the construction of Notre-Dame de France, some records related to World War I and accounting documents. It’s the same for the ephemeris representing a distinctive typology deserving to be listed in series. Yet the records are divided in different box numbers: UT 2 for May 1891–December 1892, entitled “ND de France chronicles” and mentioning “Following A 114–117,” which seems to correspond rather to registers 114–116 E (August 1891–September 1898) but the ephemeris from May 1908 to December 1914 uses another letter, B 187. The choice of a card index, although coherent with those times, conceals these limits and the lack of a rigorous classification of the archives concerning Jerusalem. From the points raised so far, it is unlikely that a classification that follows the activities of the Province of Jerusalem was achieved. The current state reflects this system of nonmeaningful box numbers, where the fonds are fragmented and sometimes internally inconsistent (hence the choice of a card index). Finally, we must emphasize that attached files have been extracted from the correspondence. Therefore, it’s impossible to find the right documents they were attached to, despite the card index. This action makes sense for certain types of items in order to constitute some series, like quarterly balances. However, other attachments require the relevant correspondence to be intelligible. Yet, they were separated letters; even worse, several sheets were divided into different articles. This sheet containing four pages concerning surveys of archaeological objects, annexed to a letter dated 31 July 1914, as the record indicates with red ink at the top, is now listed PJ 202. However, during our investigation, we accidentally discovered a second sheet, number 5, in box PK. These examples make it very difficult to conduct a comprehensive study of the entire collection from the card index, whose classification rationale is also questionable. Numbered pieces rarely represent coherent records. The disorder of the Rome-based Assumptionist archives concerning Jerusalem may be due to a gap in the classification of the fonds – as mentioned before – or simply reflect the disorganization of the community and of the establishment they come from. In this case, it is likely that the fonds suffered from these three evils. We still lack answers about the history of the fond, including the conditions of the transfer of fonds from Jerusalem to Rome but also the possibility of a reclassification (some records present old call numbers). The lack of organization in the Notre-Dame France community seems evident in the correspondence, especially after World War I, when the community faced financial difficulties and demanded Rome provide it with a bursar to assist the superior.
“Cleaning” the Assumptionist card index: a delivery attempt to conduct exhaustive flat?
Despite all these issues, the card index remains essential since it is the only key to access the fond. Moreover, it has several advantages: a conversion of this card index to an spreadsheet, highlighting, when possible, the origin of the document or record, would probably improve the overview of the Assumptionist archives concerning Jerusalem. We propose to transcribe the card index using the best descriptive standards, because, following the existing analysis, many fields may remain empty. This conversion could clarify the grouping that had to be made during the classification. To proceed, a standardization of terms must be conducted. From these groups, a summary could be recreated in xml format for online consultation in a structured inventory. This proposal would also avoid losing information about agents, authors and producers of the documents. The card index “people” presents some gaps: Fr Moitraux, the author of a war diary, has no record, although he appears in the index card “place” as the author of the aforementioned document. The purpose would be to create a methodical finding aid containing all the additional Assumptionists fonds collected in Rome, Paris and Jerusalem. Surveys are to be carried out in Paris, while the Assumptionist Fathers in Jerusalem have requested the contribution and collaboration of Open Jerusalem.
Despite all these archival considerations, our mission mainly focused on the theme of World War I in both the two archives and discovered fragments useful to the perspective of a global history of Jerusalem at that time. However, other paths emerged to retrace daily life in Jerusalem. The Augustinian Fathers of the Assumption, the main organizers of Catholic pilgrimages to Jerusalem, imposed their building on the landscape of the city. Religious and administrative records – including the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nantes – and recently unveiled photographic fonds – may raise interesting issues about Notre Dame de France, especially its construction. Beyond this, the establishment at Notre Dame de France of a museum, and a library with a seminary, could be linked with education activities conducted in other seminaries, such as St. Anne’s, by various orders or congregations in Jerusalem. And, finally, given the irony of French diplomatic support for congregations that had been expelled from the national territory, could we not consider the study across multiple inventories – typology pleasing to the archivist – historically redundant for these institutions?