Fabrica Ecclesiae
Fabrica ecclesiae or fabrica ecclesiæ is a Roman Catholic Latin term, meaning, etymologically, the construction of a church, but in a broader sense the funds necessary for such construction.

This expression may also be used to designate the repairing and maintenance of churches, the daily expense of worship, and to the amount requisite for covering these expenses. In this particular connexion, the expression is first met with in the letter of Pope Simplicius
Pope Simplicius
Pope Saint Simplicius was Pope from 468 to March 10, 483.He was born in Tivoli, Italy, the son of a citizen named Castinus. Most of what is known of him is derived from the Liber Pontificalis....

 to Gaudentius, Bishop of Aufina
Aufina was an ancient city of the Vestini, mentioned by Pliny , who enumerates the Aufinates Cismontani among the communities of the Vestini; and states that they were united with the Peltuinates, but whether municipally or locally, is not clear...

 (19 November 475); however, even then it was not new, being borrowed from profane usage.


During the first Christian centuries the temporalities
Temporalities are the secular properties and possessions of the Christian Church. It is most often used to describe those properties that were used to support a bishop or other religious person or establishment. Its opposite description would be the spiritualities.In the Middle Ages, the...

 intended to meet the expenses incurred by the religious services carried on throughout a diocese belonged entirely to the cathedral
A cathedral is a Christian church that contains the seat of a bishop...

 church, and constituted a common fund which the bishop used, at his option, in defraying the expenses of religion, supporting his ministers and caring for the poor.

But in the fifth century, particularly in Italy, this common fund was divided into four parts, one of which was set aside for the fabrica ecclesiæ. In Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

 however, in 494, no portion was especially reserved for the fabric, and in Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

 such an allotment seems to have been unknown. In Spain, a third of the ecclesiastical revenues was assigned to the luminare (lights), a term synonymous with fabrica.

The increase of Christianity in the rural districts brought with it a change of discipline, according to which each church obtained a separate patrimony. In fact, benefactors no longer bestowed their gifts on the entire diocese, but on one particular church, frequently in honour of some saint specially venerated there. The common fund itself was divided among the churches of the diocese. Some writers maintain this division was owing to the establishment of ecclesiastical benefices; others claim that it followed the canonical recognition of the private ownership of churches.

After vainly endeavouring to restrict the exercise of public worship to churches whose ownership had been completely renounced by the founders, the canon law
Canon law
Canon law is the body of laws & regulations made or adopted by ecclesiastical authority, for the government of the Christian organization and its members. It is the internal ecclesiastical law governing the Catholic Church , the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, and the Anglican Communion of...

 eventually permitted public worship in churches that remained the private property of an individual, a monastery or even the episcopal mensa, or estate. The owner was however obliged to set apart a special fund for the needs of the church (pro sertis tectis, or for the luminare). Henceforth, when a bishop established a new parish
A parish is a territorial unit historically under the pastoral care and clerical jurisdiction of one parish priest, who might be assisted in his pastoral duties by a curate or curates - also priests but not the parish priest - from a more or less central parish church with its associated organization...

, he was bound to provide for its needs by a specified income to be deducted from the common diocesan estate or fund–of course, if no benefactor had otherwise endowed the parish. Some hold that in consequence of the principles governing feudal society all medieval churches and their revenues became private property, and that the conflict
Investiture Controversy
The Investiture Controversy or Investiture Contest was the most significant conflict between Church and state in medieval Europe. In the 11th and 12th centuries, a series of Popes challenged the authority of European monarchies over control of appointments, or investitures, of church officials such...

 of Pope Gregory VII
Pope Gregory VII
Pope St. Gregory VII , born Hildebrand of Sovana , was Pope from April 22, 1073, until his death. One of the great reforming popes, he is perhaps best known for the part he played in the Investiture Controversy, his dispute with Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor affirming the primacy of the papal...

 and his successors against the Holy Roman Emperor
Holy Roman Emperor
The Holy Roman Emperor is a term used by historians to denote a medieval ruler who, as German King, had also received the title of "Emperor of the Romans" from the Pope...

s concercing lay investitures was in reality an effort to restore its lost possessions to the ecclesiastical domain. The result of so much strife was the transformation of former proprietary rights into the Jus patronatus 'right of patronage'.

While ecclesiastical ownership was going through these phases, the canon law decided who must contribute to the maintenance of a particular church, i.e. its owner, and all recipients of its revenues (Synod of Frankfort, 794); under pain, therefore, of forfeiting his right of patronage, the patron of a church must share the burden of its maintenance; so too the incumbent of the ecclesiastical benefice and those to whom the tithes have been granted (decimatores). Finally, when the resources of the church were insufficient, the faithful themselves were bound to contribute to the expenses of Divine worship. These provisions were sanctioned by the Decretals of Gregory IX (cc. i and iv de ecclesiis ædificandis, III, 48), and by the Council of Trent
Council of Trent
The Council of Trent was the 16th-century Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church. It is considered to be one of the Church's most important councils. It convened in Trent between December 13, 1545, and December 4, 1563 in twenty-five sessions for three periods...

 (Sess. XXI, de ref. c. vii); they represent in this matter the common ecclesiastical law.


The fabrica ecclesiæ means also the persons charged with the administration of church property, usually laymen. Their organization has differed from one country to another, nor have they been uniformly organized in the same country. Churches subject to the right of patronage and those incorporated, even for temporal administration, with monasteries, were more closely affected than other churches by this condition of dependency. In such churches the patron occasionally appointed an officer to administer the temporalities. It is commonly believed that "church fabrics" do not antedate the thirteenth century. In the first ages of the Church the bishop administered church property with the aid of deacon
Deacon is a ministry in the Christian Church that is generally associated with service of some kind, but which varies among theological and denominational traditions...

s and priests, but during the fourth century there appeared in the Orient and in certain countries of the West bursar
A bursar is a senior professional financial administrator in a school or university.Billing of student tuition accounts are the responsibility of the Office of the Bursar. This involves sending bills and making payment plans with the ultimate goal of getting the student accounts paid off...

s (œconomi) who, subject to the direction of the bishop, managed the temporal affairs of churches; in other countries the bishop continued to administer the church property with the assistance of some trustworthy man of his choice.

When each church came to have its own particular patrimony, the bishop was naturally obliged to turn over the administration of such property to the local clergy, reserving nevertheless a right of control. During the long Investitures conflict this right, it may be, was completely annihilated; when peace was restored the clergy were often obliged to appeal to the inhabitants of the parish to defray the expenses of religion. In France and England especially, the assembled parishioners established the portion of expenses that ought to be borne by the community; naturally this assembly was henceforth consulted in regard to the most important acts connected with the administration of the parish temporalities. For that purpose it selected lay delegates who participated in the ordinary administration of the ecclesiastical property set aside for parochial uses. They were called vestrymen, churchwardens, procurators (procuratores), mambours (mamburni), luminiers, gagers, provisores, vitrici, operarii, altirmanni etc.

In the councils of the thirteenth century frequent mention is made of laymen, chosen by their fellow laymen to participate in the administration of temporal affairs; at the same time the rights of the parish priest and of ecclesiastical authority were maintained. A reaction is visible in the councils of the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries which undertake to check the tendency towards an exclusively lay administration of the parochial property.

Eventually the Council of Trent
Council of Trent
The Council of Trent was the 16th-century Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church. It is considered to be one of the Church's most important councils. It convened in Trent between December 13, 1545, and December 4, 1563 in twenty-five sessions for three periods...

(Sess. XXII de ref. c. ix) admitted participation in the administration of ecclesiastical property, but demanded that at all times and in all places the lay administrators render an annual account to the bishop or to his delegate. As no general law has determined either the competency or the composition of fabric committees (conseils de fabrique) there has been in this respect very great variations. In modern times secular power has frequently interfered in the administration of ecclesiastical property set apart for purposes of worship, and in the organization of church fabrics. In most European countries, the State regulates the administration of ecclesiastical property, and the proceedings of church fabrics. (See under Ecclesiastical BUILDINGS an outline of the regulations in force.)
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