Origins and history of the Presidency of the Venerable Ark of St. Anthony

Origins and history of the Presidency of the Venerable Ark of St. Anthony

The institution of the Venerable Ark of St. Anthony can be considered as a necessity in the phenomenon which is Franciscanism. Throughout the entire XIV century the essence of the origins and spirit of Franciscanism endured in its basic form, however it existed in the midst of clashes between pontifical declarations and the spirit of absolute poverty of its origins.

The diversity of ideas, while flowing from the same spirit and striving for the same goal, provoked minor but constant disagreements in large communities.

This goes back to the time of construction of the great Franciscan Basilicas, which were built thanks to the bequests due to popular devotion and interventions by Lords and Communes who ruled the places where Franciscans were present.

The administration of these buildings required the constant assistance and advice from qualified people. In various sites and with the consensus of the Holy See, so-called Apostolic Syndicates were introduced and elected with the task of seeing to the administration of the funds, to ensure that they were used according to the wishes of the donors.

The Friary and the Basilica of St. Anthony found themselves in the same situation, and thus the Venerable Ark of St. Anthony was set up with the aim of resolving those differences of opinion which were taking place in the Basilica's Friary as well.

In 1396 the Minister General, the blessed Enrico d'Asti, made a canonical visit to the Basilica's Friary, in compliance with St. Francis' instructions as laid out in his rule. He became aware of the situation at the Friary. After obtaining the complete agreement of Fr. Marco da Conegliano, Provincial Minister of the Marca Trevigiana, he and the friars of the Friary, turned to the Commune of Padua asking them to nominate four men with the task of administrating, in the name of the friars, all the buildings left to the Friary for the use of devotion to St. Anthony. They would be responsible for the up-keep of the Basilica, already structurally completed in 1310, and for adding any final decorations and architectural additions.

This is how the present-day Presidency of the Venerable Ark originated. From its very beginning it was regulated by appropriate statutes, which have been updated over the centuries since its institution.

The four people in charge were at first called custodians as was common in the Friary, but then it was decided by the Minister General to call them massari. The terms continued to be used simultaneously as time went by. They are now called "Presidents" one of whom is a Head President.

At the same time as these four men were elected, three religious from the Friary were added to supervise that all funds be administered according to the intentions of the donors, which included devotion to St. Anthony, monuments, tombs, altar construction, repairs, restoration and others.

The founding statutes were written by the community and sanctioned by the General of the order and the Provincial at a Chapter of the Basilica's Friary, and approved by the Commune of Padua on the 1 June 1396. The Minister General, Father Zanetto of Udine, Italy on 28 December 1471, made the first update and modification of the statutes, improving the "pro ampliori regime.

The city government on 2 January of the following year confirmed these updates. The same Provincial General Zanetto extended them further still in 1477. In the same year, in 1471, on 30 April, the Doge of Venice Cristoforo Moro confirmed Provincial General Zanetto's statutes in a proclamation addressed to the Podestà of Padua, Francesco Venier.

In 1479 a bull by Sisto IV Cum inter caetera approves and regulates the administration of the Venerable Ark.

In 1655 there was conflict between the Venerable Ark and the Commune of Padua that tried to claim all the rights to St. Anthony's Basilica. The Venerable Ark turned to the Doge asking him to settle the question. He claimed the rights for himself. From that point on, while the Commune of Padua was consulted, it was the Doge who made all decisions, with the exception of the naming of the Presidents.

The Presidency of the Ark had to face many events over the centuries. Aside from taking care of relations with the Minister General of the Franciscan Order with the friars, to whom the institution owes its origins, it had to preserve, according to the forms of medieval collaboration, a close harmony with the Commune, whose intervention, in some circumstances, proved decisive.

There are many documents regarding the work undertaken over the years: in 1424, 1426, 1432, 1447, 1455, 1456, 1467, 1469, 1480, 1485, 1486, then, after that, nearly every year. The reasons for collaboration are extremely varied.

There was a compulsory pause between 1503 al 1517, a period of war of the League of Cambrai between Venice and Maximilian of Austria, after which the Venerable Ark found itself occupied in the reconstruction of the Friary, damaged during the war. The collaboration began again, fast and furious, with the participation of the Minister General of the order and continued throughout the following centuries.

The Venerable Ark was involved in all aspects of the Anthonian complex, from its restoration to new projects, from the liturgy to its contents: reliquaries, vestments, chalices, from the archives to the library, and oversaw all the personnel involved, from friars to laymen.

Anguillara Veneta

The Venerable Ark acquired importance during the period of the Carrarese rule, mostly when it achieved the possession of an estate: Gastaldia di Anguillara. In the war against Venice, the Carrarese family, actually Francis the Old, in order to have money and means, pressured all the religious monasteries of Padua and its domain, to donate silver and gold. He managed to acquire a considerable amount from the Basilica's Friary.

At the end of the war, he had the honesty to substitute the goods; this task was the duty of Francis the Young, the son of the old Francis.
The Basilica's Friary in recompense was given the estate of Gastaldia di Anguillara, the income from which allowed the Venerable Ark to maintain the monument to St. Anthony and the men employed in that task.

Gastaldia di Anguillara was given to the Venerable Ark on 17 June, 1405, through an act signed by the notary Sicco Ricci, also known as Polentone.

We can see an uninterrupted series of projects concerning the Anguillara estate regarding housing, farms, fields, and the control of the Gorzon creek, care and attention that should not be forgotten. The Venerable Ark constantly tried to improve this property and to make it more efficient until it no longer possessed the estate.

The Anguillara estate had to be visited in person by all the Presidents at least once a year. A large amount of archived material can attest to this constant attention. The property relinquished in 1973.

The fire of 1749 and Napoleonic and Savoy suppression.

The Venerable Ark had an important role to play after a fire in the Basilica in 1749. The Commune of Padua and the Republic of Venice collaborated most efficiently.

The period of Napoleonic and Savoy suppression of religious congregations was very important for the Venerable Ark. It was a very painful event for the Basilica's community and for the entire Basilica complex.

Keeping the Basilica and part of the Friary operational was the merit of the Venerable Ark which, not being a religious congregation, was untouched by the subversive law.

The circumstances under which Fr. Bonaventura Perissuti, together with the Venerable Ark, managed to save the Treasury Chapel's reliquaries and the Anthonian library were very surprising. The Venerable Ark paid equal attention to the above-mentioned Savoy suppression a few decades later.

Artistic Merits

The Venerable Ark also concerns itself with the artistic aspects of the Basilica. In full agreement with the Basilica's religious community, it is involved with choosing artists for all important commissions.

Of all the artistic embellishments, and all the artists called upon, not one has been second class. Just think of Donatello, Bellini, Tiepolo, Parodi, Sansovino, Lombardo, Briosco, Andriolo de Santi, right up until the most recent ones, Seitz, Oppi, Feuerstein, Pogliaghi, and the latest Annigoni and Dinetto. Objectively speaking, all of these are great and well-known artists.

Following the Official Agreement between the Italian State and the Holy See, the Venerable Ark kept its duties and now carries them out with greater precision, meeting new demands. It is regulated and administered by a new statute, recently updated.

The present members of the Presidency, nominated on september 2011 are:

two members nominated by the Pontifical Administration: Fr. Enzo Poiana rector of the Basilica, and Piersandro Peraro

and members nominated by the Commune of Padua: Gianni Berno (Head President), Elio Armano, Giorgio Noventa, Leopoldo Saracini, Mario Silva.


Veneranda Arca di sant'Antonio
P.zza del Santo, 11
35123 Padova - Italy
Tel. +39 049 8751242
Fax.: +39 049 660636

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