Restoration of 16th-century notarial volume

The volume sheds light on the first years of Hospitaller rule.

DOI / CLodagh Farrugia O' Neill

The Notarial Archives Foundation has announced that, thanks to its Adopt a Notary/Item Scheme, a 16th century volume by notary Placido Abela – one of the earliest and most important notaries found in Maltese history- is being restored.

The Notarial Archives Foundation falls within the Ministry for Culture.

“Thanks to this scheme we are recognising the private sector’s efforts to further raise awareness on the importance of our heritage and its conservation and restoration,” said Minister for Culture Owen Bonnici during the presentation on the volume’s ongoing restoration.

“We saw to the strengthening of the Office of the Notary to government’s resources, through the introduction of a new building which is currently being restored, as well as an allocation increase of 25 percent in relation to scholarships in Book and Paper Conservation to ensure that more manuscripts and volumes depicting our past are made available,” he continued.

A well-established man in 16th century Maltese society

The original notarial manuscript MS 514, which dates to 1557-1560 sheds light on the first years of Hospitaller rule, even before the Siege of Malta of 1565, during which the Maltese Islands were undergoing a gradual and continuous process of change. Notary Abela was sought out by notable individuals: his clientele included several Knights, such as Grand Master de Valette, the famous knight and corsair Romegas and Knight Commander Couppier. Apart from these, Notary Abela was also called upon by members of the higher clergy, such as Bishop Cubelles. This variety of notarial deeds reflects the records of a well-established man in 16th century Maltese society.

One of the main interventions being undertaken by the paper conservators has been the removal of this acidic 20th century rebinding, which was causing discolouration and the degradation of the original leaves; in some cases, the ‘original’ cover was already detached from the text block, such as with the first volume. A conservation-grade classical calf-skin parchment, in the style of sixteenth-century manuscripts, was prepared as a cover for the text block. This type of cover is a standard style adopted by the Notarial Archives for its collection.

The volumes all required extensive cleaning and repairs

Apart from the cover, the volumes all required surface cleaning, due to the overall dirt and grime from use and handling. Extensive paper repairs were also carried out, as well as the flattening of deformations. The ink on some of the corroded leaves was consolidated and strengthened. Protective enclosures were created to house the volumes safely and securely.

This conservation was made possible thanks to Gasan Mamo Insurance who are taking part in the Adopt a Notary/Item Scheme. This scheme encourages institutions, companies and individuals to either adopt a notary’s collection of deeds, which may consist of several volumes; adopt a single volume, which may be of particular historical significance; or adopt a single historic document by way of offering sponsorship for their conservation and future preservation. 

Apart from an initial sponsorship in 2013 which sought to provide protective covers for the collection, GasanMamo Insurance has also ‘adopted’ the important 16th century notary Placido Abela.