This article appeared in the Summer 1976 (Issue #44) edition of the Kent Archaeological Review.
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Papal Seal Discovered at Dover.
During the course of excavations for the foundations of an office block at 3 Market Square Dover, sometime before 1967, a lead seal was found in a disturbed context. It was recovered by Mr G P Turner of Dover who has now made it available for publication. Mr Turner sent details to the Coins and Medals Department of the British Museum together with a sketch of the seal. In reply Mr R A G Carson identified the object as a Papal bulla of Pope Innocent III, 1198-1216.
A bull (bulla in Latin) was the name given in the Middle Ages to the personal metal seals used by Popes and royalty to authenticate their documents. The word bull finally came to mean the document itself. These seals were usually of lead, though occasionally of gold and were attached to the document by red or yellow silk ribbon or uncoloured hemp according to the nature of its contents.
These bulls were used until 1878 when Leo XIII ordained that the old leaden seal should be employed henceforth only in bulls of major importance and be replaced ordinarily by a stamp on the parchment itself.
The one found in Market Square, Dover bears the usual design of the heads of two Apostles separated by a cross and surmounted by the letters SPA (Sanctus Paulus) and SPE (Sanctus Petrus). The other side bears the name of the Pope. This design, with the heads of the Apostles Peter and Paul on one side and the Pope's name on the other first appeared under Paschal II (reigned 1099-1118). Although this style of portrayal of the heads was changing in the Renaissance, the design has not been altered.