Georg von Hertling (1843-1919)

In 1888, the RIGG was founded with its seat at the German priests' college in the Vatican. It was the first foreign institute of the Görres Society (later followed by those in Jerusalem, Madrid and Lisbon). At that time, at the suggestion of the President Georg von Hertling, the Board of the Görres Society decided at the General Assembly in Eichstätt to establish the Roman Institute (initially "Roman Station"). The task was to be the scientific evaluation of Roman archives, after Pope Leo XIII had triggered a wave of international institutes founded in Rome by opening the Vatican archives (1881).

The board of the Görres Society appointed a commission, which immediately appointed the Luxembourg priest Johann Peter Kirsch as its first secretary (director). He arrived in Rome on 6 December 1888. This was the beginning of the Institute.

Campo Santo Teutonico

Anton de Waal
Anton de Waal (1837-1917)

Even before the founding of the Institute, the Görres Society had established connections to Rome, where the Lower Rhine priest Anton de Waal had founded a scientific priests' college at the Campo Santo Teutonico in 1876, with which the Görres Society began a cooperation that is still fruitful today. It was of great importance for the priests’ college and the new Institute that de Waal was personally very interested in the still young scientific branch of Christian archaeology and, during his long period of office († 1917), in close contact with the founder of modern Christian archaeology Giovanni Battista de Rossi († 1894) and his international circle of friends, created in the priests’ college and thus in the Institute a meeting and research place for this discipline.

The systematic development of a specialised historical-archaeological library and an early Christian collection began (St. Heid, Wohnen wie in Katakomben. Kleine Museumsgeschichte des Campo Santo Teutonico [Regensburg 2016]; Catalogue: Early Christian Art from Rome [Essen 1962]). In 1887, de Waal founded the "Römische Quartalschrift für christliche Altertumskunde und Kirchengeschichte" (Roman Quarterly for Christian Antiquities and Church History), which has been published jointly by the priests’ college at the Campo Santo Teutonico and the Roman Institute of the Görres Society since 1953.

Research on the Papal Curia and Councils

Johann Peter Kirsch had begun researching the curial financial administration in the 13th and 14th centuries, but then turned to hagiography, early Christian liturgy and Roman church building. The members of the first Directory were distinguished scholars, but did not live in Rome, where Kirsch sat as a moderately paid director. The latter jumped at the chance in 1890 when he was offered a chair of church history and Christian archaeology in Fribourg.

Joseph Wilpert (1856-1944)

It was not until 1895 that Stephan Ehses, a priest from Trier, came to Rome as the new head. In his long scholarly life, he concentrated on the Cologne nunciature and on publishing sources on the history of the Council of Trent. The Institute thus remained strongly oriented towards church history.

Archaeological Department

However, as the priests' college had meanwhile become a centre of Christian archaeological research, this was reflected in the Institute's work. In 1900, the Board of the Görres Society therefore decided to found a Section for Christian Archaeology and Art History at the Institute. It was entirely tailored to the former College member and Silesian priest Joseph Wilpert and came into being in 1901. The overall direction of the Institute, however, remained with Ehses. The new section never achieved the activity of the historical section and could not be revived permanently after the First World War.

After the First World War

After practically all Germans had been forced to leave Rome during the First World War, the Institute's work did not get going again until 1921. Because of the financial constraints, the Institute relied mainly on scholars who came to Rome only for short visits. In 1926, Johann Peter Kirsch returned to head the Institute. In the meantime, he had become the founding rector of the Pontifical Institute for Christian Archaeology (1925). The Institute's publications concentrated on church-historical topics, including above all the large edition on the Tridentine. In the late 1930s, the foreign exchange laws of the Nazi government and, from 1939, the war had a negative impact.

Karl Heinrich Schäfer in a concentration camp

Karl Heinrich Schäfer (1871-1945)

In 1941, the Görres Society was suppressed by the Nazi regime because it could not be brought into line and, as a Catholic association, was a thorn in the flesh anyway. Nevertheless, the Roman Institute was able to continue to exist, even though it could not in fact develop any external activity. At that time, one of the main tradition bearers was the Silesian priest Hubert Jedin, who continued to work on the edition of the Trent files. On 29 January 1945, Karl Heinrich Schäfer, who had been an assistant at the Roman Institute from 1903 to 1914 and had been one of the most productive members of the Institute, died in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp - probably after being tortured. He had been deported to the concentration camp because of his Catholic convictions, as had his wife.

After the Second World War

Prälat Voelkl mit einer Gruppe bei der Wallfahrtskirche Sant’Elia
Prelate Voelkl with a group at the Sant'Elia pilgrimage church

Unlike the other academic institutions in Rome, the Institute of the Görres Society, which had been located on extraterritorial territory since the founding of the Vatican State (1929), was neither confiscated nor closed at the end of the war. The "Römische Quartalschrift", on the other hand, had to cease publication in 1942, as it had during the First World War, for reasons of war economy. After the re-establishment of the Görres Society in Germany in 1949, the Roman Institute was reactivated and the art historian and Jesuit Engelbert Kirschbaum, who taught at the Gregorian University and had played a decisive role in the uncovering of St Peter's tomb during the Second World War, was appointed director. Since then, new scholars came to Rome. In addition to the research, there were now public monthly lectures, guided tours and scientific excursions. Since 1953 the "Römische Quartalschrift" was published again, now on behalf of the priests’ college and the RIGG. The bi-weekly Rome seminars for religion teachers organised by the College Rector August Schuchert and conducted together with Kirschbaum and Ludwig Völkl were very successful.

Under Kirschbaum, as under his successors, the Passau priest Ludwig Voelkl, the Dominican Ambrosius Eszer from Euskirchen and the Aachen priest Erwin Gatz, the main emphasis was on the field of church history. The edition of the sources on the Council of Trent has been completed, and the edition of the Cologne nunciature is nearing completion. While a phototheque of early Christian basilicas run by Voelkl was not completed, the Institute participated through Albrecht Weiland together with the Pontifical Institute for Christian Archaeology, the German Archaeological Institute in Rome and the Mainz Academy of Sciences in the processing of Roman catacomb painting. New activities of the Institute since 1980 have been annual symposia on questions of church history and Christian archaeology. Their papers are mostly published in the "Römische Quartalschrift".


  • H. Jedin, Die Erforschung der kirchlichen Reformationsgeschichte seit 1876 (Münster 1931).
  • E. Gatz, Hubert Jedin als Kandidat für das Rektorat des Campo Santo Teutonico, in Jahrbuch des italienisch-deutschen historischen Instituts in Trient 6 (1980) 225-233.
  • E. Gatz, Das Römische Institut der Görres-Gesellschaft 1888-1988, in Römische Quartalschrift 83 (1988) 3-18.
  • E. Gatz, L'Istituto Romano della Società di Görres, in P. Vian (Hg.), Speculum Mundi (Roma [1992]) 468-486.
  • E. Gatz, Das Römische Institut der Görres-Gesellschaft, in Der Neue Pauly 15,1 (2001) 684-689.
  • S. Heid, Der christliche Archäologe Joseph Wilpert und das Römische Institut der Görres-Gesellschaft, in Römische Quartalschrift 101 (2006) 4-49.
  • E. Gatz, Das Römische Institut der Görres-Gesellschaft von der Auflösung der Gesellschaft durch das NS-Regime (1941) bis zu seiner Reaktivierung nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg (1949), in M. Mattheus (Hg.), Deutsche Forschungs- und Kulturinstitute in Rom in der Nachkriegszeit (Tübingen 2007) 181-192.
  • S. Heid, Dalla Germania con le matite appuntite. Alle origini dell'Istituto romano della Görres-Gesellschaft nel Camposanto Teutonico, in L'Osservatore Romano 153. Jg., Nr. 90 vom 18.4.2013, S. 4.
  • S. Heid, Prägende Zeiten - das Römische Institut der Görres-Gesellschaft 1925-1955, in: M. Matheus / St. Heid (Hg.), Orte der Zuflucht und personeller Netzwerke. Der Campo Santo Teutonico und der Vatikan 1933-1955 (Freiburg i.Br. 2015) 303-356.
  • J. Bürkle, "Rom ist uns allen Heimat und Rom macht jeden reich". Studienkurse für Religionslehrer höherer Schulen zu Themen der Kirchengeschichte - eine Initiative des Campo Santo Teutonico 1959-1970, in: C. Brodkorb / D. Burkard (Hg.), Neue Aspekte einer Geschichte des kirchlichen Lebens. Zum 10. Todestag von Erwin Gatz (Regensburg 2021) 51-92.
  • S. Heid, Das Römische Institut der Görres-Gesellschaft. Tätigkeitsbericht 2011 bis 2021 (Regensburg 2022).