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E06422: A letter of Pope Gregory the Great (Register 11.43) of 601, to Asclepiodatus, a patrician of Gaul, is accompanied by a key containing a fragment of the chains that once bound *Peter (the Apostle, S00036); worn round the neck, the key will protect the recipient from every adversity. Written in Latin in Rome.

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posted on 11.09.2018, 00:00 by frances
Pope Gregory the Great, Register of Letters 11.43


Extract from the end of the letter:

Clauem uero a sacratissimo beati Petri corpore, in qua de catenis eius benedictio continetur, transmisimus, quae collo uestro suspensa contra omnia aduersa uos muniat.

‘Indeed, we have sent over a key from the most sacred body of Saint Peter, in which a relic from his chains is contained. Hang this around your neck, and it should protect you against every adversity.’


Text: Norberg 1982, vol. 2, 941. Translation: Martyn 2004, vol. 3, 790.

History

Evidence ID

E06422

Saint Name

Peter the Apostle : S00036

Saint Name in Source

Petrus

Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters

Language

Latin

Evidence not before

601

Evidence not after

601

Activity not before

601

Activity not after

601

Place of Evidence - Region

Rome and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Rome

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Rome Rome Rome Roma Ῥώμη Rhōmē

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory the Great (pope)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Aristocrats

Cult Activities - Relics

Contact relic - instrument of saint’s martyrdom Transfer, translation and deposition of relics Division of relics Reliquary – privately owned Making contact relics Privately owned relics Other activities with relics

Source

A 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).

Discussion

Gregory 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.

Bibliography

Edition: Norberg, D., S. Gregorii Magni, Registrum epistularum. 2 vols. (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 140-140A; Turnhout: Brepols, 1982). English translation: Martyn, J.R.C., The Letters of Gregory the Great, 3 vols. (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2004). Further Reading: Dal Santo, M., Debating the Saints' Cult in the Age of Gregory the Great (Oxford: OUP, 2012). McCulloch, J., "The Cult of Relics in the Letters and Dialogues of Gregory the Great," Traditio 32 (1976), 145-184. Neil, B., and Dal Santo, M. (eds.), A Companion to Gregory the Great (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

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Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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