Pope Pius VII: Antique Wooden Reliquary with Wax Seals from the Early 19th Century

Pope Pius VII: Antique Wooden Reliquary with Wax Seals from the Early 19th Century

Antique Wooden Reliquary with Wax Seals from the Early 19th Century

With special thanks to Professor John Adams for his amazing expertise in assisting with the research of this relic of Saint Papia.

Information about the Antique Wooden Reliquary with Wax Seals from the Early 19th Century
Father Richard Kunst, Curator 

An object completely unique in the collection, this is the full remains of an early Christian martyr of the Roman era, a young girl by the name of St. Papia.  Though much is unknown about the object we can glean some information from the inscription on the reliquary box.  The inscription, “Sacrum Corpus S. Papiae puellae Mar. No, Prop. De mandato sa: me: Pii PP.VII extract. A Coem. S. Bibian. Ad Ursum Pileatum 1804. 18. Dec.”  This inscription roughly translates to, “The holy remains of the young girl, St. Papia, martyr.  Extracted by Pope Pius VII from the cemetery of St. Bibiana, at ad Ursum Pileatum, on December 18, 1804.”

ad Ursum Pileatum, (literally meaning “bear with a cap”) was a cemetery outside the Trastevere gate to the harbor (since you couldn’t bury inside the city as long as Roman law was applied). It apparently was in close proximity to a statue of a bear wearing a cap, and hence the name. 

ad Ursum Pileatum from ancient times started to be a Christian-used cemetery in 401 AD when Pope St. Anastasius I was buried there and Pope St. Innocent I (417 AD) after him.  After this the cemetery became a common burial ground for the martyrs such as the young girl, St. Papia. 

Later popes, such as Paschal I (817-824 AD), Surgius II (844-847 AD) and Honorius III (1220 AD) removed the remains of the martyrs from the cemetery. At some point a church was erected at the same location of ad Ursum Pileatum in honor of the early virgin martyr St. Bibiana.  This is not to be confused with the more famous church of the same name near the baths of Caracalla in Rome. 

The church of St. Bibiana in the Trastevere region became known as the church of 6000 martyrs because of its proximity to such an important and early cemetery. It was already in ruins when Pope Pius VII (1800 – 1823) intervened.  It seems that he rescued remains from the catacomb under (or next to) the dilapidated church.

Dimensions of the Reliquary

Height 10cm, Width 19cm, Depth 13cm with 24 ecclesial wax seals and red ribbons sealing the wooden box.

A Prayer of Gratitude to Saint Papia

Saint Papia, we invoke your presence, offering gratitude for the gift of your life to Our Lord & to our church only to become known to us and present to us in 2024!

In Jesus’ Name we offer this prayer of gratitude for you.


Some Examples of the Many Catacombs in Rome

The Catacombs of Rome are former underground burial grounds that date from the second to the fifth century and were principally used by Christians and Jews. 

 The Catacombs of Rome

The catacombs are subterranean passageways that were used as place of burial for a number of centuries. The burials of Jewish, pagan and early Christian Roman citizens in the catacombs began in the second century and ended in the fifth century.

The word catacomb, which means “next to the quarry”, comes from the fact that the first excavations to be used as a place of burial were carried out in the outskirts of Rome, next to the site of a quarry.

The reason for the catacombs

The Christians did not agree with the pagan custom of burning the bodies of their dead, for which reason to solve problems created from a lack of space and the high price of land they decided to create these vast underground cemeteries.

The catacombs possess a huge number of subterranean passageways that form real labyrinths that are several kilometres long, along which rows of rectangular niches were dug out.

The corpses were wrapped in a sheet and placed in the niches, which were then covered with gravestones made of marble or, more commonly, baked clay. Subsequently, the name of the deceased was carved on the cover accompanied by a Christian symbol.

Roman law at the time prohibited the burial of the deceased in the interior of the city, for which reason all of the catacombs were located outside of the walls. These separated and hidden places below ground constituted the perfect refuge in which the Christians could bury their own, freely using Christian symbols.


  • Date May 31, 2024
  • Tags Pius VII, Rare, Rare, Relics, Relics