The cultural heritage of the Catholic Church in Italy is now online.

The Catholic Church in Italy has recently set up an online database called Beweb listing all the paintings, sculptures and other liturgical treasures of the Church in Italy,  Ermanno Rivetti reported just before Christmas in the online edition of The Art Newspaper. The website contains almost 3.5 million objects belonging to some of the 63,773 churches of 216 dioceses in Italy. It is a landmark project, a collaboration between the individual dioceses, the Italian Episcopal conference as well as the Ministry of Culture and the Italian National Office for Ecclesiastical Heritage. It should be a model for the church in other countries, too.

Ever since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, there has been a recognition of the value for mission of the rich cultural heritage of the church as well its importance to liturgical life. An attempt has been made to create institutions and structures by which to preserve the fabric in each diocese.  The first document of the Council on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, Chapter 7, on Sacred Art, called for the setting up of Diocesan Commissions to care for this heritage.  This particular project in Italy is the most advanced development yet and will eventually include architecture and literary archives.

The project is not finished by any means; the dioceses with the biggest collections, such as the Archdiocese of Florence still have a lot to catalogue. Some inconsistencies have been found and it is only possible to trace particular works to the diocese, while the actual church location is not given for reasons of security. Nevertheless the website should be a rich resource for research into artistic practice in different regions and iconography.

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