A lead seal used for authenticating documents, which for durability replaced the older wax seals. It is apparently of Byzantine origin and was used by the papal chancery from the 6th century. It was likewise employed by the royal chancelleries of Europe, with gold or silver replacing the lead on more important documents. Silken or hemp cord bindings, which became less common after the 12th century, held the document together. These cords were themselves immersed in the leaden globule, which was then impressed on the document with a circular stamping device that imprinted a double image. On one side was the signature of the pope (as this side remained empty before his coronation ceremony, such a bull was called a "half-bull"); on the other side was imprinted the papal motto and, since the end of the 11th century, the embossed facial features of the Apostles Peter and Paul, with the corresponding abbreviations S.PE and S.PA for St. Peter and St. Paul respectively.
After the 13th century the documents that were equipped with such seals were themselves called bulls. Although the expression was never officially adopted in the Papal Chancery, it gave rise to an inaccurate but common term for all documents stamped with a leaden seal.
One class of documents, called in earlier times bullae majores and later privilegia, concerned the bestowal or corroboration of rights without time limitation. In addition to the solemn preamble and conclusion ending with the monogrammed Benevalete as the salutation, these documents contained the signatures of the pope and cardinals. This type of bulla was discontinued in the 14th century.
A second class of documents, called litterae (or in earlier times bullae minores ), dealt with matters of lesser importance. After the 12th century these less important documents were classified as: rescripts, to grant favors and promulgate decisions; or executive documents, which contained precepts and ordinances. The string bindings of such bulls were of silk or of hemp.
The dating of the bulls included the locality and the date of issue according to Roman calculation. For papal letters, usually only the year of the pontificate was given. Since 1908 the reckoning of the year, month, and day has been given according to the civil calendar.
The material on which papal bulls were written was papyrus until the end of the 10th century, but since the 11th century parchment (vellum) has been used exclusively. The language of papal bulls is Latin, and the script up to the 12th century was the so-called "curiatype writing"; from the 12th to the 14th century, the Gothic cursive script, and from the 16th to the 19th century a variation of Gothic script was employed. In the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII modern Latin script was introduced.
The different types, such as consistorial, curial, cameral, common, and secret bulls and briefs, arise from the place of origin, the classification, or the style and form of composition.
Since 1878 the leaden seals for bulls have been discontinued except for the more solemn ones. For all the other bulls, letters, and papal documents a red ink stamp with the name of the pope encircling the heads of St. Peter and St. Paul is used. Bulls are quoted or cited with the first words of the text, as encyclicals, e.g., Pope Boniface VIII's bull Clericis laicos.
Golden Bull. Exceptional papal, royal, or imperial acts were authenticated by a seal impressed on gold (in Byzantium, Chrusoboullon ), in place of the usual wax or leaden seal. Thus Pope Sixtus IV attached a golden bull to his confirmation of mendicant privileges in 1479, and Clement VII when confirming the title Fidei Defensor to King Henry VIII in 1524; likewise two golden bulls sealed the perpetual peace between Henry VIII and Francis I of France at Amiens in 1527. The finest collection of golden bulls is that in the vatican archives, with 78 examples ranging from Frederick Barbarossa to Napoleon. Antonomastically the celebrated constitution of 1356 regulating the election of kings of Germany is known as "The Golden Bull." The first part of this "Bull" was enacted on Jan. 23, 1356; the second, with much solemnity on the following Christmas Day. The constitution provided for seven electors, three ecclesiastical (archbishops of Mainz, Trier, Cologne), and four lay (king of Bohemia, count of the Palatinate, duke of Saxony, margrave of Bradenburg), granting them regalian rights over mines and salt in their own territories and the use of royal titles. The procedure endured until the dissolution of the holy roman empire in 1806; the composition of the electoral college, until 1648.
Bibliography: j. p. kirsch, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. f. cabrol, h. leclercq, and h. i. marrou, 15 v. (Paris 1907–53) 2.1:1334–50. f. c. boÚÚaert, Dictionnaire de droit canonique, ed. r. naz, 7 v. (Paris 1935–65) 2:1126–32. w.m. plÖchl, Geschichte des Kirchenrechts, 3 v. (Vienna 1953–59) 2:65–66. k. zeumer, ed., Die Goldene Bulle Kaiser Karl IV, 2 v. (Quellen und Studien zur Verfassungsgeschichte des Deutschen Reiches 2; Weimar 1908). p. sella, Le Bolle d'oro dell' Archivio Vaticano (Vatican City 1934). g. tessier, Diplomatique royale française (Paris 1962) 197–198.
[a. h. skeabeck/
l. e. boyle]
Both rich and poor Roman parents hung a bulla around their newborn child's neck to protect him or her from misfortune or injury. A bulla could be as simple as a knotted string of cheap leather or as elaborate as a finely made chain necklace holding a golden locket containing a charm thought to have protective qualities. Girls wore their bullas until their wedding day and boys wore theirs until they became citizens (full members of society) at age sixteen. Some men, such as generals, would wear their bullas at ceremonies to protect them from the jealousy of others. Although bullae (plural of bulla) had spiritual and legal significance, during Roman times, the Etruscans, from modern-day central Italy, wore embossed bullae in groups of three as purely decorative ornaments for necklaces and bracelets or, for men, as symbols of military victories.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume: From Ancient Mesopotamia Through the Twentieth Century. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
1. a large blister, containing serous fluid.
2. (in anatomy) a rounded bony prominence.
3. a thin-walled air-filled space within the lung, arising congenitally or in emphysema.