Abbey Principality of Seborga

From 954 A.D. to 1729

The fiefdom of Castrum Sepulchri is mentioned in a document dated 954, which concerns the donation of this territory by Count Guidone of Ventimiglia to the Cistercian Fathers of the island of Lerino, of a territory of about 14 km2 bordering San Remo to the north (Republic of Genoa) and Perinaldo to the south (Kingdom of Savoy), Ospedaletti to the east and Vallebona to the west (Republic of Genoa), as well as the Cappellania di San Michele a Ventimiglia (today the Church of San Michele of the Diocese of Ventimiglia-Sanremo).

This document, considered apocryphal, having probably lost the original in 1304, was redacted again by Father Sicard (source of the municipal administration of Seborga dated 1963) with the information in his possession and contained in the original document; but this redaction was considered authentic until 1757, when the archivists of Turin (not by chance…) demonstrated its falsity.

The only document ever contested and considered original from 1177, received to date, concerning a dispute between the monks of Lerino and the Counts of Ventimiglia over the boundaries of the corresponding properties between Vallebona and Seborga, confirms the existence of the ancient abbey principality of Seborga.

The territory of Seborga, following the deed of donation of 954 A.D., continued to depend administratively on the Abbey of Lerino, located in the county of Provence, which, after having been the property of the Angevins of Naples, was annexed to the Kingdom of France in 1481.

In 1261 the prior of the church of Saint Mickael of Ventimiglia, Father Giacomo Costa, wrote the statutes and regulations of the Principality in the name of the Abbot of Lerino.

The Provençal monks made little profit from the income of the property and were often forced to borrow money to relieve the miserable life of their subjects.

In December 1666, the Prince Abbot Cesare Barcillon, in order to obtain substantial income, opened a monetary workshop on the lower floor of the abbot’s palace in Place Saint Martino in Seborga: the Prime Minister was Bernardo Bareste de Mougins. Several cones were beaten and the activity lasted until October 1689. The Luigini coins, however, contained a low rate of silver and were therefore not appreciated even in the East, also due to competition from other mints, such as that of the county of Tassarolo.
Louis XIV, King of France ordered its closure.

As far as the princely rank and the right to mint coins were concerned, these were prerogatives due to the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope who could extend them to any of their vicars. In the case of Seborga, it is presumed that the source was not imperial, since, apart from the fact that there are no documents to prove it, the property of the County of Provence, which had died out, passed to the Kingdom of France, which was absolutely independent of the Empire.

Its origin was therefore to be exclusively papal: each abbot could attribute (and attribute to himself), with papal authorization, titles of nobility. This is what the Abbots of Lerino did, naming themselves “Princes” and attributing their aristocratic predicate to Seborga, as deputies of the Holy See’s authority over the monastery. The latter, as Prince Abbot, does not depend on the secular clergy but only on the Pope (“Diocese nullius”): he in fact directs the parishes of the territory and appoints the Provost of Seborga.

The Prince Abbot did not stay frequently in Seborga and this absence was negative for the inhabitants of the village. He appointed a vicar, called the Podestà, whose term of office lasted from six months to three years and who could be re-elected. Assisted by two mayors and two consuls, he administers the fief, under the attentive supervision of the absent abbot, to whom he must present continuous reports of his public activity.

From time to time, the Prince visits and stays in the abbey palace: he is entitled to the treatment of “His Most Reverend Lordship”, his office is ad vitam, as provided for in the regulations of the Cistercian Order, according to which every abbot is elected for life.

But the monks, tired of this delegated administration which did not earn much money because of the debts contracted, first with the Genoese in 1584, with a contract drawn up by the notary Nicolo’ Vigano, then with other monasteries and a French nobleman, decided to sell the Principality. The first sale was to the Republic of Genoa, due to the debt previously contracted, then to the Duke of Savoy, Vittorio Amedeo in 1697, both cancelled by the Sovereign Pontiff, and finally the sale took place on 30 January 1729 in favour of the King of Sardinia, Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy, who wanted to get closer and closer to the coveted sea.

The Savoy, not wanting to give up the coveted strategic territory, persuaded the abbot of Lerino to gather the congregation of the Fathers of Lerino on December 11, 1728 and confirm the much sought-after alienation to the king of the House of Savoy, and then proceed with the sale in Paris on January 30, 1729.

In an exchange of communications of January 12, 1729, between the lawyer Lea and the Archbishop Prince of Embrun, Pierre Guérin de Tencin, Apostolic Commissioner and Pope’s delegate for the approval of the sale, which among other things cites the already attempted sale of 1697, there is mention of a letter from Pope Benedict XIII of October 13, 1728 (Nostra Apostolica Petitum) authorizing the sale on condition that the debts of the Pricipato be paid. This letter says verbatim (source: Archivio di Stato di Torino): “…in exstravaganti ambitiosa contrabona Eccelsia alienantes statutis…”.
The Archbishop and Prince of the Metropolitan City of Embrun, Pierre Guérin de Tencin, was delegated by the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XIII to settle the dispute between the Republic of Genoa, which could count on the friendship of the Podestà of Seborga, Monsignor Giuseppe Biancheri, and the Abbot of Lerino, who was pushed by the Savoy family to alienate the old Abbey Principality of Seborga.

The Apostolic Commissioner carried out a thorough investigation, which began in Paris and ended in Versailles on July 8, 1728. This document provided for the observance of 9 points. It is considered essential to point out that for the definitive alienation, the authorisation of the Fathers of the Abbey of Montmajour of Arles was necessary, since in the original donation document of Count Guidone, dated 954, in the event of attempted alienation by the Cistercian Fathers and monks of the island of Lerino, of the aforementioned territory of Seborga, including the chaplaincy of Saint Mickael in Ventimiglia, the bequest would be automatically transferred to the Fathers of Monte Maggiore of Arles.

The delegate of the Sovereign Pontiff, Archbishop and Prince of Embrun, therefore asked the aforementioned Pardi of Arles, who quantified the amount of the compensation in 15,000 lire of Savoy money.

The amount of the sale, we remind you fixed at 147,000 Savoy Lira, was to be reduced by the sum of 15,000 Savoy Lira, fixed for the compensation of the Fathers of Montmajour of Arles. The remaining sum of 132,000 lire of Savoy money, according to the document available in the Archives of Turin, drawn up by the delegate, archbishop and prince of the metropolitan city of Embrun, should have been paid to the Republic of Genoa to repay the debts contracted in 1584, the corresponding receipt having to be attached to the deed of alienation.

It is not, however, understandable that the debts contracted with the monastery of Grasse and the French nobleman should have been forgotten.

In any case, the Archbishop and Prince of the Metropolitan City of Embrun, delegated by the Sovereign Pontiff Benedict XIII, authorized the conditional sale without further papal authorization.

The contract of sell was stipulated by the lawyer Francesco Lea, in the presence of a representative of the last Mitrat, the Prince abbot Fauste de Balon, the reverend bursar of the Abbey of Lerino, Father Benedict of Benedict. The sum was set at 147,000 lire of the Savoy currency. The sale was carried out in Paris in the presence of a notary who registered the effects.

A copy of the aforementioned deed of alienation in favour of Savoy is kept in the State Archives of Turin (I).