Bull of Innocent IV, Lyons, 1245

Image of Papal Bull

This 770-year-old document was produced by the most powerful institution in thirteenth-century Europe: the papacy. During this period, the Roman pope was powerful enough that he could make and break kings and effectively protect ecclesiastical interests across Europe. In 1245, Pope Innocent IV (1243-54) was struggling with the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II (1220-50), and at stake was nothing less than control of northern Italy. Innocent convened an ecclesiastical council in Lyons to deal with the emperor, and the result was Frederick’s excommunication; and in the aftermath, the pope attempted to shore up his support in the region. Just three days after the excommunication on July 17, 1245, Innocent issued the bull you see here, which guaranteed the rights, privileges, and property of the monastery of San Michele in the northern Italian city of Trento. This document, formally known as a papal bull, is so named from the lead seal (Latin bulla) that was affixed to official documents issued by the pope. The script is known as papal minuscule, an adaptation of the much more extensively used Carolingian minuscule invented c. 800 during the time of Charlemagne. The symbols written near the bottom were personally signed by the pope and his cardinals, and the round monogram next to the papal signature, known as the rota (“wheel”), contains Innocent’s motto: Notas michi fac domine vias vite (“Lord, make known to me the ways of life”).

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