The definitions included in this glossary are associated with the objects contained in this Collection. They are not necessarily the only definitions but are indicative of the information contained in the Papal Artifacts web site.

Ad limina Visit

A decree issued by Pius X in 1909 (that was put into effect in 1911) requiring all bishops to report on the state of their dioceses to the pope once every five years.

Age of Enlightenment

The eighteenth-century movement that embraced rationalism, progressive thought, and advancement of human knowledge and freedom. It is closely identified with such figures as Rousseau, Voltaire, and Thomas Jefferson.

Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) Pieces

An Agnus Dei is a round or oval wax disk impressed with a lamb on one side and figures of saints or the pope on the other side.

They were created by melting the wax of the previous year’s Easter candles from the churches in Rome. Chrism oil was then added to the cauldron of melting wax. The pope blessed the disks that were then given to people to be used as sacramentals.

Although the origin is not certain, it is thought this practice began around the 5th century.


The alb is the oldest liturgical vestment, a simple white, ankle length garment sometimes cinctured at the waist.


A garment of clothing worn by the priest as part of his Mass vestments

The amice is an oblong linen cloth worn about the neck and shoulders of a priest at Mass. It is worn under the alb primarily for the purpose of preventing damage to other vestments due to perspiration.

Annual Medal

These are medals produced by the Vatican on a yearly basis having different themes from one year to the next. They may be gold, silver or bronze and are of various sizes.


A papal letter that is less formal than a papal bull.


The word, bull comes from the Latin, bubble. It is the lead seal that was appended to the end of a document acting as the signature of the pope. On one side, it contains the pope’s name and on the other, images of Saints Peter and Paul from whom he is given his authority.

The bull is generally an official document of the Holy Father. We know by the choice of threading used, either silk or twine, the importance of any particular bull.


An ecclesiastical title of honor that refers to the college of priests whose duties are to celebrate solemn liturgical functions in a cathedral, college church or basilica. Canons continue in major basilicas throughout Rome and gather daily for the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours. Many popes included in the papal histories spent part of their careers as canons in the major basilicas.


The ankle length garment worn by clergy with a close fitting waist and sleeves and a fascia (sash) around the waist.

The pope’s cassock is always white. Cardinals’ cassocks are black but may be trimmed in scarlet piping or have scarlet buttons with a scarlet fascia. Bishops’ cassocks are also black but trimmed in purple. Cassocks worn by priests are black with a black fascia.

Catholic Encyclopedia

The Robert Appleton Company published the first Catholic Encyclopedia in fifteen volumes between 1905 and 1912.


The vessel used to hold the sacramental wine during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Chalices are made of precious metals and sometimes are richly imbued with jewels or ornate symbols.


The outermost garment worn by the priest at the Mass. It is worn over the alb and stole. Like the stole it is normally of the liturgical color of the Mass being celebrated.


A vessel that was originally a drinking cup but later used to refer to a receptacle for the Blessed Sacrament. It is used at Mass to contain the hosts that are consecrated and then distributed to the faithful during Holy Communion.

Coat of Arms

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

A design on a shield giving the official symbols or emblems of a family or state.

The Vatican has its own coat of arms. As the papacy is not hereditary, its occupants display their personal arms combined with those of their office.

Some popes came from noble families; others adopted coats of arms during their career in the church.

Additionally every Catholic diocese is assigned a coat of arms. A Basilica also gets a coat of arms, which is usually displayed on the building. These may be used in countries which otherwise do not use heraldic devices.

For at least 800 years, each pope has had his own personal coat of arms that served as a symbol of his papacy. The first pope whose arms are known with certainty is Pope Innocent IV (1243-1254).

All recent popes’ coats of arms contained the image of the papal tiara. Benedict XVI has altered heraldic custom and used instead the mitre and pallium.

The papal coat of arms traditionally features a gold and silver key, representing the power to bind and to loose on earth (silver) and in heaven (gold). These are a reference to St. Matthew’s Gospel, 16: 18-19:

“You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Coin Weight

Coin weights were the standard used to measure the weight of coins in order to assure their quality.


The meeting of the College of Cardinals convened to elect a new pope after the death of a pope.


A formal meeting of the Sacred College of Cardinals.

One of its functions is the creation, by the pope, of new cardinals in the presence of the College of Cardinals. The consistory is where this takes place.

Cross Keys

Many items in the Collection connected to different popes mention both the cross keys and the tiara, both symbols of popes.

The papal coat of arms traditionally features a gold and silver key representing the power to bind and to loose on earth (silver) and in heaven (gold). These are a reference to St. Matthew’s Gospel, 16: 18-19:

“You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”


The Catholic Encyclopedia calls excommunication a medicinal, spiritual penalty depriving the guilty Christian of participation in the common blessings of ecclesiastical (church) society, namely the Mass and the sacraments.

Volumes have been written on this subject. While not used often as a means of censure, several prominent members of society have been excommunicated including Fidel Castro in 1962.


A first day cover (FDC) is an envelope whereupon postage stamps have been cancelled upon their first day of issue.


The name is derived from the pseudonym of Justinus Febronius adopted by Johann von Hontheim, the coadjutor bishop of Trier. In his book of 1763, he roused a vast amount of controversy by stating that the pope’s role in affairs of government had no basis in law, scripture or history, and that all bishops stood equal to the bishop of Rome. This idea led to major challenges to the pope’s authority in parts of Europe.


A papal fiat designates a written document granting permission to a diocese or a religious order or an individual for whatever is being requested. The Holy Father writes in his own hand, Fiat et Petut, meaning “Let it be done according to Peter.”

The first initial of the pope is the most common form of signature on a papal fiat.


Galero is the Latin word for a large, broad-brimmed tasseled hat worn by clergy. Over the centuries the galero was limited in use to individual cardinals and served as a crown symbolizing the title of Prince of the Church.

The galero originated during the pontificate of Pope Innocent IV in 1245 at the First Council of Lyon. It was the wish of Pope Innocent that his chosen cardinals would be distinctly reconizable in the processions of the cardinals.

Holy Door

There are four major basilicas in Rome, each having a Holy Door. They are St. Peter’s, St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran and St. Paul Outside the Walls. These doors are normally sealed shut from the inside and cannot be opened until the Holy Year. Holy Doors are sealed shut with Holy Year Bricks. Upon opening the door at the start of the Holy Year, great ceremony is attached to the removal of these bricks.

Pilgrims flock to Rome during these Jubilees that occur every twenty-five years.

Holy Water Font

A vessel containing holy (blessed) water generally placed near the entrance of Catholic churches. It is used to make the sign of the cross upon entering and exiting the church.

Holy Year

In the Catholic tradition a holy year or Jubilee is a great religious event, a year of reconciliation and forgiveness. It dates to biblical times and was evident even in the Law of Moses where it was celebrated every fifty years.

Holy years are marked with much pomp and ceremony by the Vatican. There are specific Holy Doors at each of the four main basilicas, and they are marked by the Holy Year bricks which are ceremoniously removed before the pope can walk through the Holy Door to signify the start of the Holy Year.

Holy Year Bricks

The bricks used to seal the Holy Year Doors between Jubilees at the four major basilicas in Rome.

Great pomp and ceremony is connected to these bricks. In earlier times, the pope would literally take a hammer to smash through the bricks. Crowds gathered to watch this ceremony and to collect pieces of the bricks as souvenirs or relics of the Holy Year. This practice, however, became dangerous as people were killed attempting to grab the bricks.

Eventually that practice ended and the bricks are now removed in advance and distributed to people working at the Vatican.

Holy Year bricks are quite prized, ornate and large with symbols of the papacy on them.


A system set up by the Emperor, Joseph II (1765 –1790) who was influenced by Febronianism and the Enlightenment. Josephinism involved complete religious toleration, the restriction of papal intervention to the spiritual sphere and the subjection in all respects of church to state.

Lateran Treaty

This historic treaty, signed by the Italian government and the Vatican in 1929, restored full political and diplomatic power to the church, power which had been lost when Italy seized Vatican City, the last of the papal states, in 1870.

The Vatican never recognized the Italian state, nor did the Italian state recognize the Vatican. Consequently, between 1870 and 1929, the popes were referred to as the prisoners of the Vatican because, once elected pope, they never left this small enclave.

This treaty made the pope an independent, sovereign ruler of a papal state.

Lavabo Towel

The cloth used at the offertory of the Mass with a lavabo dish in a purification rite

The priest prays, Lord, wash away my iniquities and cleanse me from my sins.

Lead Seals

Nickel size seals holding the chains that block the doors of the conclave at any election of a pope

The year is noted on one side of the seal and the word Conclave on the other side.

Lech Walesa

Lech Walesa is a Polish politician, trade union organizer, human rights activist and charismatic leader who co-founded Solidarity, the Soviet Bloc’s first independent trade union. He is the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize winner. He served as president of Poland from 1990 to 1995.

Liturgy of the Hours

The Liturgy of the Hours, (also known as the Divine Office) is the richest single prayer resource of the Catholic Church. It provides prayers, psalms and meditations for every hour of the day from one liturgical season to the next. The purpose of this prayer is to sanctify the day and all human activity.

Priests take a vow to pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily. However, the Office is a prayer not only for priests but also of the whole people of God. (statement of Apostolic Constitution, Canticum Laudis)

The web site, Universalis has the daily readings of the liturgy of the hours and provides a way to view the format of this ancient prayer tradition.

Maniple and Fiddleback Chasuble

A maniple is an item of clothing, worn over the wrist of the priest at Mass with a specific type of vestment known as a fiddleback chasuble.

A chasuble is the outermost vestment worn by a priest during Mass.

Micro Mosaics

Mosaics are decorations made by inlaying small pieces of variously colored material to form pictures or patterns.

Micro mosaics are intricate portraitures in miniature. The artist is capable of creating designs in miniature mosaics.


The book which contains the prayers said by the priest at the altar as well as all that is officially read or sung in connection with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the ecclesiastical year.

The lay faithful of the church often use a missal of their own to follow along with the prayers.

Missal Page Turner

An item used at Mass to turn the pages of the missal so as not to damage the fragile parchment.

They were often very intricately made and very beautiful.


A tall, folding hat consisting of two similar parts rising to a peak and sewn together on the sides. Two short lappets always hang from the back of the mitre.

It is sometimes spelled miter.

Opus Dei

Opus Dei began in Spain in the 1920s as a pious association of clergy and laity dedicated to their sanctification and that of society. The founder of Opus Dei was St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer.

This pious association was made a personal prelature by Pope John Paul II in 1982. Members can be celibate (laity as well as clergy) and they participate in the spiritual life of the church as outlined in the writings of St. Josemaria and in the statutes governing the organization of the prelature.

Opus Dei has a bishop whose jurisdiction is not territorial, like that of a diocesan bishop, but includes all members no matter where they live.

Contrary to what Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code and other conspiracy enthusiasts have promoted, Opus Dei does not conduct clandestine criminal activity nor does it seek to undermine the authority of the bishop of any diocese in which it has a presence.

From The Northern Cross, diocesan paper of Duluth, Minnesota, Father Dale Nau, June 2006


Note: papacy is a noun from the Medieval Latin papatia, meaning papa.

The period of time during which a pope is in office.

The office and jurisdiction of a pope.

Papal States

A group of territories in central Italy ruled by the popes from 754 until 1870 when Italy seized control of them.

Between 1870 and the Lateran Treaty of 1929 (which restored full civil power to Vatican City State) the Vatican had no governing power of its own and the popes were prisoners in a small enclave of buildings. They never left the Vatican once elected pope.

Pectoral Cross

A relatively large cross suspended from the neck by a cord or chain reaching well down the chest. It is worn by the clergy as an indication of their position and is different from the small crosses worn by many Christians.

While many Christians wear crosses, the size and location distinguish the pectoral cross. It may be up to six inches across and is worn in the center of the chest below the heart (as opposed to just below the collarbones).


In the Catholic Church the bishop of Rome is called the pope or the pontiff. While this expresses his authority as the head of the Catholic Church, other names used to designate his place of honor among the people are the Holy Father and the Vicar of Christ.


A noun used in this Collection to denote the position or the period in office of the pope.

The office or governing body of the Catholic Church headed by the pope.

Presentation Frame

A type of framed object, often a photo where the frame is included as part of the gift. In the Collection it designates the often beautiful frame containing an autograph of a famous person, usually a pope.

Printer’s Block

A hand-engraved or carved block of wood used in printing.

Pro Ecclesia Honors

Papal honors given to people who have been nominated by their local bishops because they have been extremely helpful to their local church.


From the Latin reliquiae, meaning remains.

The actual remains or an object associated with a saint or martyr. These remains or objects are esteemed and venerated in many religious traditions because of their association with the person.

Relics are in classes. First class relics are the actual remains of the person being venerated.

Second class relics are objects (for example, clothing) that have touched the person being venerated.


A container or shrine in which sacred relics are kept.

Roman Collar

A stiff, narrow band that acts as a white collar fastened at the back of the neck and worn by Catholic (and some Protestant) clergy. It is a distinctive symbol of the clergy.

Roman Rota

The Roman Rota is the Supreme Court of the Catholic Church.


A sacramental is a sacred sign or object of ecclesiastical (church) origin that is meant to express or increase devotion to God.


A book usually written for bishops containing all the words spoken or sung by them while celebrating Mass.
Scrutiny Ballot (Vota Scrutiny)

The list of cardinals from any given conclave.

It is basically a tally sheet used while electing a new pope. The cardinals follow along, adding a mark by the name of the cardinal receiving votes toward the election of a pope. These ballots are burned, making the black or white smoke that signifies whether or not a new pope has been elected.


When a pope is elected he receives what is referred to as the Fisherman’s Ring. Traditionally this is what popes have worn and it has the seal from their papacy on it.

Whenever a pope wrote a document or proclamation,he sealed it with his ring. This is a practice that started with the pontificate of Clement IV in the 13th century. Clement IV reigned from 1265 – 1268.

As the church grew and the pope could no longer seal every document himself with his ring, other seals were produced that assistants and aids used.

Upon the death of the pope, his ring is buried with him and all the seals used to authenticate and to authorize his documents are also buried. The only seals that should exist at any time are those of the current pope.

Sede Vacante Coins

Sede Vacante is a Latin term meaning the seat is open.
It indicates the time between the death of one pope and the election of the next pope.

Shepherd I

When traveling abroad, the pope travels aboard a Boeing 777 dubbed Shepherd I. To view items in the Collection connected with the plane, search Shepherd I.

Silk Movement Mantle Clock

A type of time piece where the pendulum actually hangs from a silk thread.


An optical device that allows you to view a micro-photograph without using a microscope.

Stereoview Photos

Stereoview photos are composed of two nearly identical images mounted side by side on a cardboard backing that provide a viewing experience of the scene in 3-D. The card is viewed using a stereoviewer to bring out the 3-D effects of the photograph.


Bodily marks or sores or sensations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus.

Swiss Guard

The Swiss Guard was founded in 1506 and is a fully operational modern military force.


Many items in the Collection connected with different papacies mention the cross keys and the tiara, both symbols of the popes.

The tiara is the name of the triple headdress worn during the coronation of a pope. Paul VI was the last pope to use the tiara as part of his inauguration in 1963. He is the last pope to have been crowned in that type of a ceremony. He then sold the tiara to use the money for alms.

His tiara is now in the crypt of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D. C.

It is significant that Benedict XVI has replaced the tiara on his coat of arms with a mitre (but not on the coat of arms of Vatican City State).

Titular Bishop

A titular bishop is one who is not in charge of a diocese. A few examples of bishops in this category are coadjutor bishops, auxiliary bishops, apostolic nuncios and superiors in the Roman Curia. They hold the title to titular sees.

Assigning titular sees serves two purposes. Since part of being a bishop means being the head of a church, titular sees serve that purpose for bishops without a diocese. Additionally, the office memorializes ancient churches, most of which were suppressed because they fell into the hands of conquerors.

Vatican City State

A landlocked sovereign city-state whose territory consists of a walled enclave within the city of Rome.

It has a territory of 110 acres and a population of about 800.

Vatican City State was founded upon the signing of the Lateran Treaty of 1929 that restored full legal and civil power to the pope, the Bishop of Rome, governs it.

Vatican Grottoes

The Vatican grottoes are situated under the St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. It consists of basements and crypts, in which popes have been buried and valuable works of art belonging to the Holy See, are stored.

Grottoes are divided into two parts, the old and the new. Pope John Paul II was originally buried in the new one, and in the old part all the other popes’ graves are located.

Nowadays the basilica is situated around three meters higher than in the ancient times. There is a possibility to see the remnants of the ancient foundations. The grottoes contain not only papal graves but also one of the most valuable works of art. One can see there early Christian frescoes, ancient pieces of architecture and interior decorations from the previous centuries. Basing on the archeological examinations, it was established that it is a fact that the basilica was built exactly in the place where the body of Saint Peter was buried.


Fine-grained lambskin or other animal skin prepared for use in writings not just in antiquity but rather before paper became readily available.

The animal skin is washed, cleaned, soaked and stretched to produce a thin, translucent material strong enough to withstand hundreds of years.


A small skullcap worn by clerics of the church. It consists of eight panels sewn together with a stem on top.

It was first adopted to keep the tonsured (shaved) heads of clergy warm in damp, cold churches but it has survived to the present day.

All ordained clergy are entitled to wear a zucchetto. The color denotes the wearer’s rank: the pope’s is white; cardinals’ are scarlet and bishops’ are a shade of purple. Priests’ are black. Deacons are also entitled to wear zucchettos.

The zucchetto comes from the Italian word, zucchetti, meaning a small gourd or zucchini and is indicative of its shape.

Bishops wear the zucchetto throughout the Mass, removing it at designated times.

Vulgate Version of the Bible

The name popularly attributed to the Latin version of the Bible. St. Jerome translated it from Hebrew and Aramaic from 382 –405.

Vulgate is from the Latin, versio vulgata meaning commonly used translation. It should not be confused with a similar word, vulgar.