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Collection created by Professor G.A.Loud and Katherine Fenton as part of The Social World of the Abbey of Cava, c. 1020-1300 project with the support of the University of Leeds and the Leverhulme Trust. For more information, please contact
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The Cava Charters Database, an Introduction

The abbey of S. Trinità, Cava, founded in the hills north of Salerno c. 1020, developed to become one of the wealthiest and most influential monastic houses in southern Italy, becoming a major patrimonial landowner in the principality of Salerno and also acquiring dependent churches and lands over central and northern Apulia. Many of these acquisitions were made as a result of donations from the new Norman rulers of southern Italy, and from the Norman and French nobles who had conquered the region during the eleventh century. The great period of material gains by the abbey came in the half-century 1080-1130, although the abbey continued to expand its congregation of dependent churches and its lands thereafter, albeit at a progressively slower rate.

The historical importance of the abbey of Cava lies not just in the scale and wealth of its lands and its congregation, but from the preservation of its archives, seemingly more or less intact, through to the present day. It is no exaggeration to say that this is the largest and most important medieval archive surviving in southern Italy. The scale of the medieval archive of the abbey of Cava is, indeed, quite staggering. It contains more than 500 documents which predate the abbey's foundation, most of which relate to older churches which Cava later took over, some 1500 charters from the eleventh century, more than 3500 from the twelfth and 2100 from the thirteenth centuries (thus more than 7,600 documents from before 1300). Most of these are original charters, not later copies, and all written in Latin.1 The great majority of these are unpublished. The abbeys own efforts to publish the Codex Diplomaticus Cavensis have so far resulted in twelve volumes – eight issued during the late nineteenth century, and four more since 1984), but these volumes, publishing its documents in chronological order, have so far only reached the year 1090. The edition and publication of documents from after 1090 has been very sporadic, some of the relevant editions are old and hard to obtain, and hardly up to modern editorial standards, and much even of the most important documentation from the abbey and its benefactors remains unpublished.

The modern organisation of the Cava archive dates from the years 1827-31. The medieval charters are organised in two separate sections. The Armarii Magni contain documents from the most important of the abbey's benefactors: popes, rulers, bishops and important nobles – the most prestigious documents of the abbey. Many of these are pious donations or privileges granting or confirming rights. Each section (classified alphabetically, and arranged chronologically) contains some 40 to 50 charters. Thus, for example, Arm. Mag. D has 51 documents dating between June 1094 and September 1105, and Arm. Mag. L contains 40 documents dating between March 1183 and July 1195. More numerous, however, are the other documents of the abbey classified by Arcae, each designated by a Roman numeral. These are also arranged chronologically, with each Arca containing 120 documents. So, for example, Arca xv contains 120 charters, dated from August 1089 to June 1094. The documents in the Arcae are much more varied than those in the Arm. Mag. Sections. These are the more ‘workaday’ documents of the abbey. There are still many pious donations, although from much less socially-exclusive benefactors than those in the Arm. Mag. But there are also many purchases of property; leases of land to peasant cultivators, often in return for rents in kind, and leases too of urban property, especially in the city of Salerno, usually for monetary rents; records of legal disputes and court cases; as well as miscellaneous transactions among lay people, which related to property later acquired by the abbey. These last such documents were clearly acquired by the abbey along with the property. Prominent among these transactions among the laity that later came into the hands of the monks were marriage contracts. The documents in the Arcae sections are therefore not just of value for the history of the abbey and its dependencies but represent a source of great value for the social history of southern Italy during the Middle Ages.2

The present database is a work in progress. It currently includes only a part of the documents from high-status benefactors in Armarii Magni, comprising Arm. Mag. B-H, some 285 documents, so far, dating between 1070 and 1130. It will, as and when time permits, be expanded to include further documents from this section of the archive after 1130. The contents of each document have been summarised, where it has been published this has been noted, and where relevant comments have been added if there is any question as to the authenticity of a particular document. This last issue is, unfortunately, a considerable problem. The monks of Cava were all too industrious in forging new documents to defend their ownership of its properties, secure advantage in legal disputes, or provide title for rights and privileges that the abbey possessed or claimed. Much of this activity took place in the thirteenth century, largely between c. 1246 and c. 1286, a period in which the property and rights of the abbey came under considerable pressure, both from the rulers of the kingdom of Sicily and from local nobles who were keen either to seize property from the abbey or to reclaim property and rights which they considered to have been improperly acquired by it. The full scale of forgery at the abbey of Cava has still not been revealed, not least since in many cases there are no modern editions of the documents in question – and forgery in the Middle Ages anyway comprised a wide range of activities, from adding new details to otherwise genuine documents which were then recopied as if originals, to the invention of entirely new, and thus completely spurious, documents. Questions about authenticity must therefore be treated with great care, and while some clear and outright forgeries have been indicated here, others are labelled simply ‘suspect’. Even the most outright forgeries are still ‘evidence’, albeit of the concerns of the time when they were manufactured rather than of the time when the forged charter purports to have been issued.

This database is, however, far more than just a catalogue of one part of the abbey's archive, although it can be used as such, for no published catalogue of the Armarii Magni now exists, only a typescript copy in the archive of the early nineteenth-century Latin catalogue.3 This database is intended as a modern research tool, from which details can be retrieved of the individuals mentioned in these charters (including benefactors, witnesses and notaries), the recipients of charters (not all were in the first instance intended for Cava itself), families, other churches and property, places, types of document, and the use of certain technical, legal terms such as feudum and morgengab. So, for example, it is possible to find all the charters on the database either granted by a particular individual, or in which he or she is mentioned; or all the charters therein relating to a particular church within the Cava congregation, or to another church that had dealings with the abbey. Places which have been identified have been keyed into maps, using modern geo-location technology, and there are maps of particular localities, such as the city of Salerno, showing dependent churches belonging to the abbey. Here use has been made, with permission, of the work of Italian historians and archaeologists.

The database does not, however, at the present time contain the full Latin text of any document. This was partly a decision taken on the basis of the time and labour required, but we also sought to avoid any issues of copyright, either where there was a printed edition of the document concerned, or where copyright might be considered to reside with the abbey in the case of an unpublished document – for some of which there are indeed unpublished transcripts in the abbey's archive, done during the 1960s and 1970s by the then archivist, don Simeone Leone. Should permission be forthcoming, we may seek to rectify this omission, at least for a sample of documents. However, this database is intended as a working tool, not as a substitute for a full diplomatic edition.

The database is now publicly available at, but still needs to be considerably expanded and refined. It is currently still in development, and the data already entered requires further cross-checking, and the insertion of additional material. Access to the database is therefore granted, to scholars interested in the history of the abbey of Cava, for private study and evaluation.

The detailed material contained within this database has been compiled by me, Graham A. Loud, Professor of Medieval History at the University of Leeds. The database has been constructed, and the date entered, by Katherine Fenton, my wife and sometime lecturer in Information Studies at the University of Northumbria. The original pilot project which established the feasibility of this study, and the principles on which it was based, was funded by a grant from the Humanities Research Institute of the University of Leeds. And this enterprise would, needless to say, have been impossible without the assistance over many years of those staffing the Badia di S. Trinità di Cava, and in particular its archivist don Leone Morinelli O.S.B.


1 There are also 101 Greek documents in the Cava archive. These were all published in the great collection of Greek documents from all over medieval southern Italy by Francesco Trinchera, Syllabus Graecorum Membranarum (Naples 1865).

2 For a description and brief history of the archive, see Giovanni Vitolo, ‘L'Archivio della badia di S. Trinità di Cava’, in Simeone Leone & Giovanni Vitolo, Minima Cavensia. Studi in margine al IX volume del Codex Diplomaticus Cavensis (Salerno 1983), pp. 191-200; and for a discussion of the process through which the archive developed during the Middle Ages, and of how and why documents came to be there, G.A. Loud, ‘The medieval archives of the abbey of S. Trinità, Cava’, in Peoples, Texts and Artefacts in the Norman World, ed. David Bates and Elisabeth Van Houts (School of Advanced Studies, London 2018), pp. 135-60.

3 There are published catalogues of the Arcae, compiled by Carmine Carleo: Repertorio delle pergamene dell'Archivio Cavense. Periodo normanno: 1077-1194 (Cava 2007); Repertorio delle pergamene dell'Archivio Cavense. Periodo svevo: 1194-1265 (Cava 2010); Repertorio delle pergamene dell'Archivio Cavense. Periodo angioino: 1266-1442 (2 vols., Cava 2013). However, valuable as these are, not least because they contain full indices, the actual description of each document is copied from the 1827-31 catalogue in Latin. There are therefore no listings of modern editions nor assesments of documents, and the actual summaries are quite brief.


Technical notes

  • The charters are encoded in xml using the schema developed by the Charters Encoding Iniative; data about people and places are encoded according to the guideslines laid down by the Text Encoding Initiative. An open source xml database engine called BaseX is used to search and convert the xml to a web application (via its xquery and xslt processors).
  • The names and places lists still need a lot of editing. Where two (or more) names are obviously referring to the same person then they have been given the same identifier. But if they cannot easily be identified as the same person, then they have been identified as separate individuals. Later editing should help to resolve question marks over identity.
  • The major names have been anglicised but the names of less important people have been left in their original form - but not consistently so this still needs some work.
  • The names list - if you click on "notary" or "cleric" you get a list of all notaries, clerics etc.
  • There are two people lists, one produces the results of a "fuzzy" search on a name. So you click on Emma you'll get a couple of Emmas and also Gemma. This helps to spot where people with different ids are in fact the same one person (eg. Affridus and Anfridus) - or where I've given somebody the wrong id altogether.
  • Geo-reference points for places have been entered for places which have been identified. The identification process is slow so this part of the database is taking a while to complete.

  • The glossary list needs to be edited down and translations given. I am also looking at ways of encoding words and phrases relating to economic activity.
  • KJF