Like every bishop, the pope was surrounded by a college of priests. The college met regularly to form councils to lead its diocese. Its function also extended a calling to the universal Church, and for matters relating to it, the Pope surrounded himself with other bishops around Rome to hear their advice. Gradually, these consistories took an almost permanent presence: the word "curia" is first used in the Church by a papal document in 1089, during the reign of Pope Urban II. Meetings were held three times a week under Pope Innocent III.
Outside the presbyteries, which dealt with general topics, the pope set up specialized committees of Cardinals on particular topics. These commissions, first in temporary mandate, became more and more important and stable. Gradually, consistories lost their effectiveness and started to look like meetings apparatus. The real work was done within the congregations.
In 1542, the first congregation, the Holy Office was established by Pope Paul III to fight against Protestantism and other heresies. Then other congregations were created on this model: one after the Council for the Interpretation of the Decrees of the Council of Trent in 1561, and one for the Index in 1571.
After the Council of Trent, Pope Sixtus V reorganized the administration of the Holy See on 22 January 1588 with the Apostolic Constitution Immensa Aeterni Dei which established as standard practice the organization of groups of cardinal as standing committees to examine or review defined categories problems. Some of these congregations were created to assist in the administration of the Papal States rather than those of the Holy See or the Church. The congregations established by Sixtus V were: for Holy Inquisition, for the Apostolic Signatura, for the erection of churches, for "the abundance of supplies and prosperity of the Church's temporal dominions", for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, for equipping and maintaining the fleet for the defence of the Church's dominions, for an index of forbidden books, for the execution and interpretation of the Council of Trent, for relieving the ills of the States of the Church, for the University of the Rome, for regulating of religious orders, for regulating bishops and other prelates, for taking care of roads, bridges, and waters, for the Vatican printing-press, and for regulating the affairs of the Church's temporal dominions.
There was another general reorganization in 1908 under Pope Pius X, which reflected the focus on ecclesiastical matters alone following the loss of the Papal States.
While the Pope was sovereign of that region, the Curia had both religious and civil functions. The latter were lost when the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, expanding to include the greater part of Italy, seized most of the Papal States in 1860 and the city of Rome itself and its surrounding area in 1870, thus ending the Papacy's temporal power. The Curia was from then on dedicated in practice entirely to the Pope's ecclesiastical responsibilities. When the Holy See concluded the Lateran Pacts with the Italian State in 1929, the Holy See recognized the annexation by Italy of the Papal States, and Vatican City State was created. The Curia has continued to devote itself exclusively to ecclesiastical affairs, and a distinct body, not considered part of the Curia, was established for the governance of the minuscule state.