The Broken Seal of a Pope’s 14th-Century Decree Has Been Found in Poland

The metal fragment was once part of a papal bull, an official communication distributed by the Catholic Church

Three Bulls
In recent years, three papal bulls have been found near the Polish village of Wysoka Kamieńska. Museum of the History of the Kamień Land

A 650-year-old fragment of an engraved lead seal used on a pope’s official communications has been unearthed in Poland. The artifact is the third of its kind to be found in the region.

Jacek Ukowski, a metal detectorist, stumbled upon the small object during a routine search for historic artifacts near railroad tracks in the village of Wysoka Kamieńska, according to a translated announcement from the nearby Museum of the History of the Kamień Land. Researchers have determined that his discovery is part of a 14th-century papal bull: an official decree issued by the head of the Roman Catholic church, traditionally featuring a metal seal.

Ukowski wasn’t expecting to find something so old—especially so far from a city or church.

Jacek Ukowski
Jacek Ukowski poses with the papal bull fragment at the site of its discovery. Museum of the History of the Kamień Land

“We were more focused on finding military items [from World War II],” he tells Science in Poland’s Małgorzata Miszczuk, per Google Translate. “We don’t know where the bull came from [or how it ended up] near this road. Maybe it was transported with soil from another area … during the construction of a new road surface, or was lost.”

The bull’s inscription has provided little insight into its origins. Featuring a few Roman numerals and “a partial name,” the jagged object can’t definitively be connected to a specific pope, according to CBS News’ Kerry Breen.

“Originally, below the name, there was an abbreviation of the title PP (Pastor Pastorum) and a Roman numeral with the subsequent name of the pope,” archaeologist Grzegorz Kurka, the museum’s director, tells Science in Poland.

Papal bull
The papal bull is engraved with Roman numerals and letters thought to be part of a pope's name. Museum of the History of the Kamień Land

Based on its letters and iconography, researchers say the artifact could plausibly be linked to Benedict XI, Clement V, Benedict XII or Clement VI. These popes reigned in the first half of the 14th century, which “means that the bull can be dated between 1303 and 1352,” writes the museum.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the term “papal bull” was employed to describe the pope’s most important messages, such as “canonizations of saints” and “dogmatic pronouncements.”

1537 Bull
A papal bull issued by Pope Paul III in 1537 discussed practices of evangelization and conversion to Catholicism. Library of Congress

“Only a dozen or so [objects] of this type have been discovered in the country, and they are considered unique,” Kurka tells Science in Poland. Three bulls have now been found in this Polish province; Ukowski, who identified a second bull earlier this year, is responsible for two of them, as CBS News reports.

The first, a complete seal found in 2020, dates to the era of Pope Benedict XII, who served between 1334 and 1342. The second specimen, a fragment, may have been created during the time of Pope Innocent VIII, between 1484 and 1492. All three are now housed in the museum.

Thanks to the newly discovered fragment, the museum now boasts Poland’s second-largest papal bull collection, per the announcement. Still, many questions about the artifact’s origins remain unanswered.

“This will probably be another unsolved mystery for us,” writes the museum. “It’s likely that we won’t find an answer to it.”

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