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E06361: The decrees of a synod held by Pope Gregory the Great in 595, in St Peter's basilica, amongst other things discourages the practice of seizing, and dividing up as relics, cloths covering the bier of popes as they are taken for burial (Register 5.57a). Written in Latin in Rome.

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posted on 2018-09-11, 00:00 authored by CSLA Admin
Pope Gregory the Great, Register of Letters 5.57a

This is one clause from a long decree, covering a number of different topics, issued in St Peter's basilica and witnessed by a large number of clergy:

(4) Sicut indignos nos per beati Petri apostoli reverentiam mens fidelium veneratur, ita nostram infirmitatem decet semetipsam semper agnoscere et impensae sibi venerationis onera declinare. Ex amore quippe fidelium huius sedis rectoribus mos ultra meritum erupit, ut, cum eorum corpora humi mandanda deferuntur, haec dalmaticis contegant easdemque dalmaticas pro sanctitatis reverentia sibimet partiendas populus scindat: et cum adsint multa a sacris corporibus apostolorum martyrumque velamina, a peccatorum corpore sumitur, quod pro magna reverentia reservetur. De qua re praesenti decreto constituo, ut feretrum quo Romani pontificis corpus ad sepeliendum ducitur, nullo tegmine veletur. Quam decreti mei curam gerere sedis huius presbyteros ac diaconos censemus. Si quis vero ex eorum ordine haec curare neglexerit, anathema sit. Et responderunt omnes: Anathema sit.

‘(4) Just as the mind of the faithful venerates us through reverence for Saint Peter the apostle, even so we ourselves ought always to admit our own infirmity, and decline the burdens of veneration bestowed on is. For from the love of the faithful for the rulers of this see [Rome], an unmerited custom has broken out, that when their bodies are brought to be buried in the ground, they cover them with dalmatics, and the people cut up the same vestments, to divide them amongst themselves out of reverence for their holiness. And although there are many cloth coverings from the holy bodies of apostles and martyrs, things from the body of sinners are [thus] taken and kept for great reverence. On this matter, I decide with the present decree that the bier on which the body of the Roman pontiff is taken for burial, should be covered with no cloth. And we consider that the priests and deacons of this see should look after my decree. But if anyone from their order fails to take care of this, let him be anathema. And all responded "Let him be anathema".’

Text: Ewald and Hartmann, vol. I, 364. Translation: Martyn 2004, vol. 2, 389-90, modified.


Evidence ID


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 - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Condemnation/rejection of a specific cultic activity

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

Contact relic - saint’s possession and clothes Contact relic - other object closely associated with saint Division of relics Attempts to prevent the veneration of one's relics Privately owned relics


Gregory attempts to discourage a practice, well attested in Late Antiquity, of people seizing material, and taking it away as a personal relic, from the bier of person perceived to be particularly holy (see, for a spectacular example, E00727).


Edition: Ewald, P., and Hartmann, L., Gregorii I papae registrium epistolarum, 2 vols. (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Epistolae 1-2; Berlin, 1881-99). English translation: Martyn, J.R.C., The Letters of Gregory the Great, 3 vols. (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2004). Further Reading: Dal Santo, M., Debating the Saints' Cult in the Age of Gregory the Great (Oxford: OUP, 2012). McCulloch, J., "The Cult of Relics in the Letters and Dialogues of Gregory the Great," Traditio 32 (1976), 145-184. Neil, B., and Dal Santo, M. (eds.), A Companion to Gregory the Great (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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