Pope Gregory the Great, Register of Letters 1.30 ('Bona vestrae', JE 1099/JH 2106)
Extract from the very end of the letter:
Praeterea sacratissimam clavem a beati Petri apostolorum principis corpore vobis transmisi, quae super aegros multis solet miraculis coruscare; nam etiam de eius catenis interius habet. Eaedem igitur catenae quae illa sancta colla tenuerunt suspensae vestra colla sanctificent.
'Moreover, I have sent you a most sacred key from the body of the blessed Peter the first among the Apostles, which is wont to shine forth with many miracles over sick persons; for it also has within it fragments of his chains. Thus the same chains that held fast those holy necks, will bless you when suspended around your necks.'
Text: Norberg 1982, vol. 1, 37. Translation: M. Pignot.
Saint NamePeter the Apostle : S00036
Saint Name in SourcePetrus
Type of EvidenceLiterary - Letters
Evidence not before591
Evidence not after591
Activity not before591
Activity not after591
Place of Evidence - RegionRome and region
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcRome
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Rome
Major author/Major anonymous workGregory the Great (pope)
Cult Activities - MiraclesHealing diseases and disabilities
Miraculous behaviour of relics/images
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesEcclesiastics - bishops
Cult Activities - RelicsContact relic - instrument of saint’s martyrdom
Transfer, translation and deposition of relics
Privately owned relics
Reliquary – privately owned
Division of relics
Making contact relics
Other activities with relics
SourceA letter transmitted as part of Gregory the Great’s Register of Letters. This letter collection, organised into fourteen books, is large and contains letters to a variety of recipients, including prominent aristocrats, members of the clergy and royalty. The issues touched on in the letters are equally varied, ranging from theological considerations to mundane administrative matters. This collection of letters, which was possibly curated by Gregory, was originally much larger. The surviving Register comprises several groups of letters which were extracted at several later moments in history, the largest of which took place in the papacy of Hadrian I (772-795).
DiscussionGregory sent relics, containing filings from the chains that had bound Peter, to a substantial number of his most distinguished correspondents: two were within reliquaries in the form of a cross: E06436 and E06343; most within reliquaries in the form of keys, an obvious echo of Peter's role as the keeper of the keys of heaven: E02814, E02825, E06345, E06363, E06383, E06410, E06422, E06427. Several letters tell us that they were designed to be worn round the neck of the recipient, and would offer protection against various evils. They are sometimes described as a 'most sacred key from the body' of Peter, suggesting that, as well as containing a relic of the chains, they had lain for a period in close proximity to Peter's grave.
From a letter of Gregory to Theoctista, the sister of the emperor Maurice (E06375), we learn that at least one such key was made of gold, and that the practice of distributing them began before Gregory's pontificate, since a story told in this letter has a gold key being returned to Gregory's predecessor, Pelagius II (pope 579-590).
Rome also claimed chains that had bound the Apostle Paul, from which Gregory also sent out fragments: E06351 and E06436. In a letter to the empress Constantina, offering her fragments of the chains of Paul (E06351), Gregory explains how these were obtained: by a priest applying a file to them; he is, however, careful to state that this did not always work, implying that divine sanction was also required.
Norberg, D., S. Gregorii Magni, Registrum epistularum. 2 volumes (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 140; Turnhout, 1982).
Martyn, J.R.C., The Letters of Gregory the Great, 3 volumes (Toronto, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2004).