Union Académique Internationale

Epistolae Pontificum Romanorum

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Project nº75, adopted in 2007

In 1896 Paul Fridolin Kehr created the Göttinger Papsturkundenwerk to open a new phase in the study of pontifical acts. Kehr and his present-day collaborators have systematically mined archives and libraries from Italy to Portugal, from Germany to England in order to collect and publish all the papers of the Bishop of Rome from before 1198. From this date on, the records kept in Rome are satisfactory for research purposes. As for the twelve centuries from Saint Peter to Celestine III, however, the sources can only be found with the recipients of these letters, mandates, or privileges across the whole of Europe. Traces of these lost documents are quite often hidden in copies of cartularies, in later mentions, or in local chronicles. It is the widest store of written sources in Europe. No one, not even the pope himself, knows how many of these documents there are, either kept or sent, until the height of the Middle Ages, but their number is over 30, 000. Portraits of Saint Peter and Saint Paul were disseminated everywhere in the Latin world by papal bull. With its legendary origins, the authority of the successor of the head apostle spread through exchanges with his counterparts in Alexandria, Constantinople and Jerusalem. Starting in the eleventh century, the curia placed itself at the head of pan-European discourse. By the might of the pen, it became one of the most important forces for unity on the continent. Its letters and charters cover the systematic modernization of theological and judicial standards and even the entire cultural momentum of the period. It is only in accessing all the sources, the comparative analyses of ways and means of communication, that we can understand the extraordinary success implemented in the papal chancellery. But the entirety of what is known today does not include all the treasures of libraries and archives, as proven by the publication of recent discoveries. This project intends to gather the fruits of a hundred different research projects, break new methodological ground, and mine this most important collection of European history. The pope dealt with the administration of estates in Italy as well as parish conflicts in Ireland. He organized the hierarchy of the prelates of Spain and fought the dissident theologians of Constantinople. His dispensation for a marriage could mean the fortune or downfall of dynasties. And then the throne of Saint Peter was itself the object of impious struggles between churchmen and princes. Although the documents came out of the pontifical chancellery, their content also covers the needs of the recipients, their disputes, their way of life, and their privileges. By correspondence or by sending legates, the Bishop of Rome devoted himself to creating a homogenous Christian republic. Since 1906, over a hundred publications – editions, chronological repertories, and studies – have proven the success of the Göttinger Papsturkundenwerk. The scrupulous studies of Kehr and his successors developed the series Regesta Pontificum Romanorum. This work inventoried all the contacts the pope had with Christendom, including manuscript sources, scientific editions, and research. In 1931 the Pius-Stiftung für Papsturkundenforschung (foundation established by Pius XI) reinforced the international network of specialists as did the cooperation with institutes in France and Spain once the war was over. In Göttingen specialists rely on this unique research system made up of photos, drawings, microfilm, editions of books and articles, some of which are unpublished. Since 2007 the Papsturkunden des frühen und hohen Mittelalters project, which also has its roots in the Academy of Göttingen, has expanded and deepened the Göttinger Papsturkundenwerk’s field of research. Its principle goals include :

  • Widening the initial focus on the countries of Central Europe to the ‘peripheries’ of Spain, Portugal, Poland, Bohemia, Hungary and Dalmatia-Croatia, where archives have barely been touched even today. The material that is published in the new volumes of the series ‘Pontificia’ offers a wealth of heretofore unknown contacts and allows access to comparative research on a European scale. This research has benefitted enormously from the collaboration of Iberian institutes and opens the way toward studies whose focus would be the contact zones between Islam and the Orthodox Church.
  • Establishing a current list of papal letters, charters, and acts up to the year 1198. The second edition of the chronological repertories of Philipp Jaffé dating from 1885/1888 will be replaced by a re-edition corresponding to the current state of knowledge, including the discoveries of the last century, modern editions, and references to the series ‘Pontificia’. This systematic inventory doubles the material available for research and eases access to a collection that is unique in its kind.
  • Publishing the materials of the Göttinger Papsturkundenwerk, which includes photos and transcriptions of the originals as well as thousands of manuscript pages brought together by archival researchers (especially in Spain) from about 1920 and particularly in the 1970s. Contributors to the project and Iberian partners benefit enormously from the accessibility of these notices. Göttingen’s diplomatic and photographic materials (which are growing thanks to the project’s archival studies) will be published online.

Since 2009 many results have been published: Bohemia and Polonia Pontificia plus four volumes of Iberia Pontificia. The new and third edition of Jaffé has been released in three volumes up through the year 1024 with over 8000 chronological repertories. Pope Francis was given these volumes in an audience in November of 2018.