HOLYLAB – A global economic organization in the early modern period: The Custody of the Holy Land through its account books (1600-1800)

The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land (Custodia Terræ Sanctæ, established in the 13th century) is a global organization that, thanks to a complex system of alms gathering, has ensured throughout the centuries the maintenance of the Holy Sepulchre and the friars’ presence in the Holy Land. Despite its importance in Mediterranean History, the Custody has remained understudied, and its rich archive scarcely exploited.
The EU-funded project ‘HOLYLAB – A global economic organization in the early modern period: The Custody of the Holy Land through its account books (1600-1800)’ studies the Custody’s economic organization through its account books between 1600 and 1800.

Inspired by recent studies on Franciscan economic thought and accounting in Mediaeval convents, and deploying concepts drawn taken from organizational studies, HOLYLAB combines an analysis of economic practices on a local, regional and global level, with a study of the organizational structures and the mechanisms that enabled the Custody to function, attain its goals, survive organizational changes and maintain legitimation.
The aim of the project is to study the Custody’s economic organization in the early modern period and, in so doing, to address more general issues concerning the global circulation of people, money, and objects and the organization of early modern institutions.

In order to do so, the project’s analysis will rely on a rich and unstudied corpus of account documents issued by the Custody’s headquarters – the St Saviour convent in Jerusalem – and its commissariats located in several Franciscan provinces. Methodologically, the project combines qualitative and quantitative approaches and bridges micro- and macro-levels of analysis by emphasising the meso-level of the organization. Thanks to the novelty of the subject, the use of unstudied account books, an interdisciplinary approach and an innovative methodology, HOLYLAB will both advance current research on Franciscan economic practices, and open new paths in research on the global circulation of people and objects, religious orders and sociology of organizations. Finally, by making available a large amount of data on the objects that circulated through the Custody’s global network, their costs and means of transportation, the project will have an impact on various research fields such as the histories of transport, consumption and prices.

The project is based at Department of Political Science, Roma Tre University (as host institution) and at the ISIG-FBK, Trento (second beneficiary). The project is headed by Professor Felicita Tramontana as Principal Investigator.

The project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (Grant Agreement ID 101001857).

Date: 2021-2026