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E02814: A letter of Pope Gregory the Great (Register 1.29) of 591, to Andreas, bishop of Constantinople, is accompanied by a key containing a fragment of the chains of *Peter (the Apostle, S00036), able to miraculously cure the sick; the key, worn round the neck, will bless the wearer. Written in Latin in Rome.

online resource
posted on 2017-05-16, 00:00 authored by mpignot
Pope Gregory the Great, Register of Letters 1.29

Extract from the very end of the letter:

Praeterea sacratissimam clauem a sancti Petri apostoli corpore uobis transmisi, quae super aegros multis solet miraculis coruscare; nam etiam de eius catenis interius habet. Eaedem igitur catenae quae illa sancta colla tenuerunt suspensae uestra colla sanctificent.

'Moreover, I have sent you a most sacred key from the body of saint Peter the Apostle, which is wont to shine forth with many miracles over sick persons; for it also has within it fragments of his chains. Thus the same chains that held fast those holy necks, will bless you when suspended around your necks.'

Text: Norberg 1982, 37. Translation: M. Pignot.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Peter the Apostle : S00036

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Rome and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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 - Miracles

Healing diseases and disabilities Miraculous behaviour of relics/images

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

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


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).


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.


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).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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