The documents preserved in the archives offer an accurate and multi-faceted picture of the Opera's activities over the centuries, ranging from major and minor construction and maintenance work to the restructuring and embellishment of the church and convent, the granting of burial rights, the allocation of spaces for religious confraternities and friars' lodgings, and the major restoration and new layouts of the past 200 years that have turned Santa Croce into the "Pantheon of Italy's glories" and conferred its present aspect on the complex as a whole.
Thus the heritage held in the archives allows us to map out a cultural pathway retracing the development of the aesthetic taste, the art historical sensitivity and the religious and civic participation that have involved and impacted the Franciscan complex. The papers include testimonies and testimonials of the artists, religious, families and people who have lived and worked here or who have been buried or commemorated within the complex.
Today the Opera di Santa Croce manages its archives as cultural assets but also as a testimonial to its work. They are at once a historical source and a memory of the present, which the office of works is constantly expanding and enriching with its institutional activities.
The extensive and often serious damage caused by the frequent floods that have hit Santa Croce over the centuries has also had an impact on its archives. The flood of 1557, in particular, led to the loss of the earliest written texts, the oldest written work now preserved dating back to the first few decades of the 16th century. Thus the vast majority of the work held in the Opera di Santa Croce archive consists of papers relating to its work from the 16th to the later 20th centuries.
The works of crucial importance that it houses include the series of Parties and deliberations and of Justifications and business deals, the series relating to administration and the 19th century Affairs files. In addition to the Books of the Dead, in other words those registers in which the names of people buried in Santa Croce were jotted down on a daily basis, the archive also has two copies of the Sepoltuari or Burial Records from 1439 and 1596, which continue to be immensely valuable in connection with our knowledge of the layout of the church in the years they were drafted and of the date of numerous graves. The collection of drawings and ground plans produced for the numerous projects with which the office of works has concerned itself over the centuries form an integral part of the archive.
The Opera's historical archive also houses part of the collections of documents belonging to religious communities that were sent here following the suppression of convents in the 18th and 19th centuries. They include documents from the convents of Fucecchio and Certomondo and from the monastery of San Girolamo delle Poverine, as well as several series from the archive of the convent of Santa Croce and a miscellaneous collection of items from various convents in the Franciscan Province. All these collections are housed in part in the Opera's archive but chiefly in the Archivio di Stato in Florence.
The earliest part of this archive's collection consists of black-and-white prints dating back chiefly to the photographic campaigns conducted by Florence's historic Brogi and Alinari firms in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of these prints were acquired in the form of copies supplied by photographers under the terms governing their authorisation to photograph works of art and parts of the complex, while others were acquired or commissioned directly by the Opera di Santa Croce for its own documentation. The documentary value of numerous views of the church, cloister and works of art is inestimable and is matched by the excellent technical quality of the video and printed material held.
In recent years the photographic library has been enriched thanks to new photographic campaigns targeted on specific projects such as the project in support of our maintenance and restoration work, conducted for study and research purposes, or designed to enhance and promote Santa Croce's cultural heritage.