The Veneranda Arca di S. Antonio
When Saint Anthony died on June 13, 1231, his veneration and the pilgrimages to his grave developed in a powerful manner. The church had already been built at the beginning of the fourteenth century, but maintenance, changes in furnishing arrangements and embellishments, and the construction of graves and monuments inside the building and in the cloisters continued for centuries.
The massive flow of money collided with the Franciscan rule of poverty. Moreover, since the beginning, there was very a strong bond between the local community and the Saint’s complex. These two factors encouraged the city authorities to join in the management and the administration of the goods that had been accumulating in the church. The construction of the Basilica itself was supported, at least partly, by the community, thus becaming an authentic expression of the city of Padua.
Until the end of the fourteenth century, the City Statutes specified the tasks of a committee, composed of laymen, that had to manage and pay for the various interventions of both the church and the convent. The institutional organization of this committee, the Veneranda Arca di Sant’Antonio, is regulated by its own statutes and dates back to 1396. Since then, and without interruption, some citizens of Padua (first four, today five), renowned for their honesty and experience and assisted by two monks (today by the Rector of the Basilica and one lay member appointed by the Holy See), have the responsibility to manage all the properties kept in the Sacristy and the Library, the real estate, and all the donations made to the Arca.
In the fifteenth century, Padua fell under Venetian domination. The massari (the title of President replaced that of massaro during the sixteenth century) were chosen mostly among the leading groups of the city, being the scholars, noble families, and members of the mercantile and financial bourgeoisie.
The Podestà (always a Venetian) always appointed the massari of the Arca, but the City Council of Padua could make decisions about the Arca although, with the increase of the power of the Serenissima, especially in certain matters, the influence of the religious component of the Arca increased to the detriment of the laymen.
The growth in wealth also resulted in an increased need for organization, and every President of the Arca was entrusted, as it is today, with a specific field of expertise.
The fall of the Republic of Venice (1797) and the advent of the revolutionary regimes did not affect the Veneranda Arca, which was correctly considered a secular institution by the Napoleonic legislation.
Not only did the body survive and continue to fulfill its functions, but it therefore assumed responsibility in the management of the administrative government of the basilica, which was first handled by the Franciscan Order. With such secular acknowledgement, the Arca was able to save precious treasures, including all the relics of the basilica and the Antonian Library, from confiscation.
The institutional debate on the role of the Arca during the nineteenth and twentieth century has been characterized by repeated discussions aimed at exactly defining the legal physiognomy of the body and its powers, and was influenced by the relationship between Church and State.
In 2000, a special committee of the Council of State decreed that all the agencies, to which the Arca is assimilated, should be considered as private entities of public importance.