FIND SPOTLIGHT: The Papal Bulla of Pope Innocent VI

Image credit: University of Leicester

This papal bulla was found during the excavation of St Peter’s church (the site today lies beneath the John Lewis store in Leicester’s Highcross shopping centre). It would originally have been attached by a cord to the bottom of a letter or charter issued by Pope Innocent VI (1352-1362) to authenticate it. In this case, the bulla was probably attached to a Papal Indulgence. This one was found beside the skeleton of a middle-aged woman who had been buried beneath the nave of the church.

The circular lead disc, measuring 42mm in diameter and 5mm thick, depicts the founders of Church of Rome, the apostles Peter and Paul. They can be identified by the letters SPASPE (Sanctus Paulus and Sanctus Petrus) above the two bearded faces. On the reverse is the name of the pope, in this instance INNO CETIVS PP VI or Pope Innocent VI, PP being the abbreviated Latin for Papa (father) meaning Pope.

Artist’s reconstruction of St Peter’s Church. Artwork: Mike Codd

The practice of being buried with a papal indulgence was fashionable in Britain during the 14th century. This was the time when the worst ravages of the plague were sweeping across England. People were becoming increasingly anxious about the possibility of a sudden death and concerned about their spiritual wellbeing. The practice appears to have been especially favoured by women and the location of their graves often suggests that they were important members of their communities.

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