Tuesday 2 April 2024

Medieval papal seal discovered in Poland

A fragment of a papal seal from the 14th century has been discovered buried in Poland. Such finds are extremely rare, with only a dozen or so ever uncovered in Poland.

The item was found near the village of Wysoka Kamieńska in northwest Poland by Jacek Ukowski, president of the Saint Cordula Association, which brings together history enthusiasts who search the region with metal detectors.

They had been hoping to find military equipment from World War Two, which is common to the area. Papal seals, by contrast, are usually found closer to large cities.

The item in question was part of a lead seal – known as a bulla, from which the term papal bull derives – used to secure papal decrees. This one survived only partially, making it difficult to determine the precise date of its origin.

However, the letters and iconography that are visible can be attributed to Pope Benedict XI (1303-1304), Clement V (1305-1314), Benedict XII (1334-1342) or Clement VI (1342-1352), meaning the seal can be dated between 1303 and 1352.

Grzegorz Kurka, director of the Kamień Land History Museum in which the seal is now housed, told the Polish Press Agency (PAP) that the find was “exceptional”.

Regarding the “surreal” location of the find, Kurka speculated that it could have ended up there after material was moved from elsewhere during construction of a road. 

Another possibility is that it was lost by someone for whom “it had been a kind of souvenir”.

“The most spectacular version assumes that the bulla was damaged on the way to the addressee and abandoned at the edge of the road,” said Kurka, noting that the place where it was found is 11 kilometres from a castle in Golczewo where local bishops resided in the 14th century

The new find joins two other medieval papal seals in the collection of Kurka’s museum. One, which survived in its entirety, comes from the time of the so-called Avignon Papacy of Pope Benedict XII (1334-1342) and was discovered in 2020 in a field near Kamień Pomorski.

The other, from the title of Pope Innocent VIII, was found in 2023 by Ukowski and his association. 

Only the Wawel Castle Museum in Kraków has a larger collection of such seals discovered in Poland.