Rabbit Hole: The Council of Trent

Where does this go?

Studying our family history reminds me how little I actually know about European history and even (ahem) the Catholic Church. Yes, I was an altar boy, I attended catechism, and I always took home good report cards from school but I find the exploration of family records is frequently interrupted so I can research some topic I’ve stumbled upon. Recently I read a comment about parish registers and the Council of Trent and I thought (again), shouldn’t I know more about this? And so I’ve taken dives into dozens of rabbit holes to answer what is often a simple question. Here we go.

Rabbit Hole – noun – one in which the pursuit of something (such as an answer or solution) leads to other questions, problems, or pursuits

Merriam Webster online Dictionary

Today’s topic involves constant stumbling into the term “Cinco Libros” or “Quinque Libri” in latin. They’re church records.

Quinque Libri

Below is an example photo I took while researching in Cariñena. Inside the cover of one of the parish registers is the following:

Title page of a parish register in Cariñena

Cinco libros – ok, I get it: “five books” of the parish. And here’s another with “quinque libri” in latin:

The binding label of one volume

So off I went, looking for the origin of “cinco libros.” Fortunately, I didn’t have to go too far to fill in the gaps in my understanding. Quickly my searches led me to facts about the Council of Trent which my friend Inma recently mentioned in her blog about The Matriculas (parish census records that I will write about in the future).

Cinco libros de la iglesia in the records index

The Council of Trent

The Council of Trent. What was that? I was familiar with the term but I had no idea what it was and why it mattered to me. Encyclopaedia Britannica has a detailed article explaining it, but I’ll save you a trip down that rabbit hole.

Throughout the history of the Roman Catholic Church, there have been periodic conferences of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts who convene to discuss and settle matters of Church doctrine and practice. The Council of Trent was the 19th ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church and it was held in Trent, Italy from 1545 to 1563. There were many problems for the Church to address, for example the Protestants were contesting several practices and the Church was facing another fracture. One lesser-known but significant decision made at Trent in 1563 was a directive that formally required each pastor maintain records of baptism. Subsequent decrees reinforced this edict, notably that of Pope Paul V in 1614, which made multiple parish registers obligatory. Priests were required to have five distinct parish registers:

  1. baptisms
  2. confirmations
  3. marriages
  4. deaths
  5. a census or general account of the state of souls in the parish

Interestingly, it appears this record-keeping was also important to ensure that the relationship between a bride and groom could be accurately established in order to prevent close relatives from marrying each other. The Church considers the registers the necessary “proof” that should be used to declare a marriage legitimate.

Council of Trent

So much of the history of our Velez family comes directly from the Cinco Libros in the parishes of Havana and Cariñena. Without these records, we’d have no idea where we came from. Through them I learned that:

  • Grandpa Sully’s father, Silvio, was baptised in Havana
  • Silvio’s grandfather was the famous Cuban poet, Ramon Velez Herrera
  • Ramon’s grandfather was Roque Velez who was born in Cariñena, Spain

…which led me to this in the Cinco Libros in Cariñena:

Baptism record for Roque Velez

This was the first record I located when I first visited Cariñena and it was exactly where it should have been, recorded on 17 August 1757, one day after his birth. Records for Roque’s father, Miguel, continued to help build the path back to Jusepe “Madrid” (as he was called) where my hunt continues today.

The Council of Trent dealt with many serious issue for the Church, but the relatively obscure decision to require improved record keeping in parish registers in “cinco libros” has benefited our family and other families interested in researching their genealogy around the world.

And so there you go, we emerge from this rabbit hole but others are waiting. Do you feel a little smarter now?