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E06427: A letter of Pope Gregory the Great (Register 12.2) of 601, to Sabinella, Columba and Galla, three noblewomen of north Africa, is accompanied by a key containing a fragment of the chains of *Peter (the Apostle, S00036); hung round the neck, it will them grant the grace of absolution. Written in Latin in Rome.

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posted on 2018-09-11, 00:00 authored by frances
Pope Gregory the Great, Register of Letters 12.2

The closing sentences of the letter:

Praeterea gloriam uestram paterno salutantes affectu, indicamus per latorem praesentium Hilarum cartularium nostrum clauem nos a sacratissimo corpore beati Petri apostolorum principis transmisisse, in qua de catenis quoque ipsius benedictio continetur. Quae collo uestro suspensa, hoc uobis eo intercedente gratia absolutionis fiat, quod illi fuit causa martyrii. Omnipotens Deus in suo uos timore custodiat atque sic cor uestrum ad bonam semper operationem accendat, ut et hic uobis, suam gratiam tribuat et ad gaudia uos postmodum aeterna perducat.

‘Furthermore, greeting your Glorious selves with fatherly affection, we indicate through the bearer of this letter, our cartularius Hilary, that we have sent over a key from the most sacred body of Saint Peter, prince of the apostles, in which a relic is also contained from Peter’s chains. Hung around your neck, let this relic become a means of absolution for the three of you with his intercession, as it was a cause of his martyrdom. May almighty God protect you through fear of him, and may he so inspire your hearts always to do good deeds that he may pour his grace on you here and lead you afterwards to eternal joys.’

Text: Norberg 1982, vol. 2, 970. Translation: Martyn 2004, vol. 3, 808, lightly modified.


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 - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Women Aristocrats

Cult Activities - Relics

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


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). 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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