WMID-82FF84: Medieval: Reused papal bulla of Pope Boniface VIII

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Unique ID: WMID-82FF84

Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Published Find published

A complete, but reused cast lead alloy papal bulla of Pope Boniface VIII, pope from AD 1294 to AD 1303). The obverse bears an inscription of BONI FA[ ]VS PP:VIII, split into three lines, identifying it as a bulla of Pope Boniface VIII. Like the obverse, the pelleted border around the outside has mostly been erased by the edge being hammered out and folded over.

The reverse depicts St. Paul, on the left of the seal looking right, depicted with a long pointed beard. St. Peter is on the right facing left and has a rounded face with beard and hair formed of pellets. Both faces are contained within beaded borders and separated from one another by a crozier. Across the top of the reverse, the inscription reads SPA SPE (an abbreviation of St Paul and St Peter. The pellet border around the outside of the obverse has been mostly erased by the edge being hammered and folded over it.

A sub-circular perforation (hole) is present slightly off centre, with an internal diameter of 4.3 mm. A ridge is present around the outside of the perforation, on both the obverse and reverse, suggesting that a drill was used to perforate the bulla.

The reverse exhibits several vertical and diagonal scratches, across the faces of St Peter & St Paul, probably as part of a deliberate defacement. Four vertical scratches are present on St Peter's face, and two vertical and two diagonal across St Paul's face.

The edge of the bulla is plain and undecorated. A short horizontal slit is present at the base of the bulla, measuring 4.11 mm and a small hole is present at the top of the bulla. These holes are where the original cord, either silk or hemp, was placed to seal it to the papal decree that the bulla authenticated.

The bulla has a diameter 35.68 mm and is 5.33 mm thick. It weighs 39.7 g. It is a mid grey colour, with an even surface patina.

The papal bulla is a formal seal of office used by the Popes to stamp and authenticate documents produced by the papal curia. Dr Tim Pestell has commented: "Papal bulls came as two basic types, according to the contents of the document: Tituli, or "Letters of Grace", essentially granted or confirmed rights, conferred benefices or promulgated statutes. They generally had their lead bullae attached with cords of silk. Mandamenta, or "Letters of Justice" were mandates that conveyed papal orders, prohibitions or injunctions, and had their bullae attached by hemp threads".

Several other examples of papal bulla with a central perforation have been recorded on the PAS database, e.g. LIN-E39DF1, SWYOR-F52016 and HESH-1517A7.

The perforation in these cases is too small for use as a spindle whorl (compare WREX-55AF7A, with a larger and more practical central perforation). A more likely reason would be to suspend it either to wear or more likely to display.

Tim Pestell comments: The use of a central perforation is quite enigmatic but is a recurring feature found on at least eight other papal bullae I know of. Others have piercings at the top, apparently for them to be suspended. Quite why so many should be pierced is unclear but they may have been used as apotropaic pieces and affixed through the centre.

Find of note status

This is a find of note and has been designated: Regional importance

Class: Boniface VIII
Inscription: SPA SPE / BONI FA[ ]VS PP:VIII
Evidence of reuse: pierced

Subsequent actions

Subsequent action after recording: Returned to finder


Broad period: MEDIEVAL
Period from: MEDIEVAL
Period to: MEDIEVAL
Date from: Circa AD 1294
Date to: Circa AD 1303
Period of reuse: MEDIEVAL

Dimensions and weight

Quantity: 1
Thickness: 5.33 mm
Weight: 39.7 g
Diameter: 35.68 mm

Discovery dates

Date(s) of discovery: Friday 1st January 1999 - Friday 31st December 1999

Personal details

Found by: This information is restricted for your login.
Recorded by: Miss Teresa Gilmore
Identified by: Miss Teresa Gilmore
Secondary identifier: Dr Tim Pestell

Materials and construction

Primary material: Lead
Completeness: Incomplete

Spatial metadata

Region: West Midlands (European Region)
County or Unitary authority: Staffordshire (County)
District: Lichfield (District)
Parish or ward: Lichfield (Civil Parish)

References cited

No references cited so far.

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Timeline of associated dates

Audit data

Recording Institution: WMID
Created: 6 years ago
Updated: 5 months ago

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