Catholic Church. Congregatio Visitationis Apostolicae

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In order to understand the significance of this institution, it is necessary to recall the specific duty that every bishop had to visit his own diocese personally or to send a delegate. The visit was supposed to assure the bishop of the exact observance of ecclesiastical discipline (Council of Terragon, 1234). Nicholas V (1452) realizing that these visits were losing their character and usefulness, required periodic visitations to make them more effective. The need was also emphasized in the reforms of the Council of Trent (sess. 24, cap. 3, de reform., Nov. 11, 1563).

It is stated in the life of Gregory XIII that he wished to visit all the dioceses of Christianity, especially those in Italy. For this purpose the pontiff established (1572) a special commission of cardinals to study the difficulties that might stand in the way. The actual institution of the Congregazione della Sagra Visita Apostolica di Roma e Suo Distretto was, however, due to the zeal of Clement VIII. With the constitution Speculatores domus Israel (June 8, 1592) he established a special congregation of cardinals to implement and maintain this work.

Only in 1624 under the pontificate of Urban VIII (1623-1644) did this office assume the name Congregatio Visitationis Apostolicae with the task of visiting the churches, convents, and other holy places of Rome. The congregation, according to De Luca, was not "really papal for the entire Catholic Church, or for some provinces, but especially for the bishops of Rome" since the cardinal members would carry out by papal delegation the pastoral visitation of the Roman diocese. This duty belonged to the pope, as bishop of Rome, but making the visitations himself would have interfered with his greater obligation of universal governance.

The duties of the congregation were clearly defined by Alexander VII with his brief Quoniam in prosequendo (Jan. 16, 1656) and extended almost immediately with another brief, Cum in pastorali visitatione (Jan. 22, 1656). Then with two successive briefs of the same date he assigned to the congregation two new officials with specific functions as secretary (Rerum quae nobis) and as chancellor (De singulari tua fide). These and three other documents within the same month and another two months later (Alias nos nonnullos, Mar. 13, 1656) were issued rapidly because of the controversies arising in regard to the visitations. Most of these changes were those of personnel.

More important innovations were introduced by Innocent XII in 1693. Besides extending greatly the authority of the congregation, he added to it civil, criminal, and mixed cases, and ordered that no one subject to a visitation could evade it because of exemption or privilege (Quoniam in prosequendo, and Cum in pastorali visitatione, Jan. 16, 1693).

On September 1, 1818, Pius VII decreed that for some questions, such as the reduction of masses, the handling of pious legacies or any eventual modification of them, the authority of the Congregazione della Visita would be merged with that of the Congregazione della Reverenda Fabbrica di S. Pietro (ID VATV025-A).

The Congregatio Visitationis Apostolicae ceased to function in 1908. The Normae Peculiares published on 29 Sep 1908, three months after the publication of the constitution Sapienti consilio and appended to it, appointed a new commission of the same name (ID VATV469-A) to take the place of the congregation with all its rights and functions. The function of this commission included making an annual visitation of the churches of Rome, inquiring into the fulfillment of the endowed masses and other pious foundations, and examining the financial condition of the churches and institutions of the city. The functions of this commission, limited as they are to the city of Rome, are altogether distinct from those of the Consistorial Congregation (ID VATV011-A), which has the function of directing apostolic visitations in other parts of the Catholic world.

Like the documents concerning pastoral visits carried out elsewhere, the documents generated by this congregation offer fascinating views into the ritual and material life of monasteries, oratories, parish churches, and the churches of cardinals, bishops, and religious orders. As sources for the state of parishes and diocese, visits have much in common with the "relations ad limina" and the acts of local synods (see S. Congregatio Concilii). The contents of visits vary widely and depend greatly on how the cardinal or commissioner conducting the visit approached his job. Some were rather dry bureaucrats, who have left us simply lists of the location and condition of doors, windows, and liturgical furnishings inside a church; from him we may also learn what the priest reported as his age, his income, or the number of students studying catechism with him. Others render their point of view in strong autobiographical tones, allowing us to see them as they shake a broken door, or traipse around a neighborhood interrogating residents in an effort to track down the parish priest. While some are mainly concerned with administrative or sacramental affairs, others display a keen concern for the physical setting, describing altarpieces, the condition and subject of frescoes, and details pertaining to all aspects of decoration and architecture. Music, musical instruments, and theatrical activities are important to some. Others emphasize economic matters.

Finally, attitudes may range from the sternly disciplinary to the magnanimous and protective. Many visits combine to some degree various of the above features. The visitor's point of view can be as revealing as the observations conveyed by it.

To see a general agency history for the Curia Romana, enter "FIN ID VATV214-A"

From the description of Agency history record. (University of Michigan). WorldCat record id: 145570653

Place Name Admin Code Country
Rome (Italy)
Rome (Italy)
Justice, Administration of
Visitations, Ecclesiastical

Corporate Body

Active 1722

Active 1934





Ark ID: w61c7vtp

SNAC ID: 13392846