The following commentary is from the EWTN series, The Papacy: A Living History, The Papal Artifacts Collection of Father Richard Kunst. The Conclave Seals were featured on the first episode of the series, Popes Benedict XVI and Bl John Paul II. These lead seals are some of the finest items in Father Kunst’s Collection. There is only one pair used per set of doors making them an exceedingly rare item.
Here is Father’s Commentary:
The item presented here is a set of four conclave seals that actually blocked the doors from the second conclave of 1978 that elected Pope John Paul II. They’re made of lead and are the same type of material that is actually used for Papal Bulls. These would have been used to actually seal each of the four doors at the Sistine Chapel. And so we have here the full set of the conclave seals.
In 1978, of course, because there were two elections, there were two sets of seals. They differ from one another. The first seals would just have said ‘conclave’ on one side and 1978 on the other side. But for the second Conclave,
on the reverse side is the date, 1978, with two dash marks. Interestingly, the Vatican noted the second conclave of 1978 by the simple addition of the two dashes.
The other set of seals, which I also happen to have, from the election of John Paul I, had no dash marks. They certainly would not have expected to have two Conclaves in the same year.
This makes for a very interesting item for two reasons. First, because the second set is marked with the two dashes. But also, because it ushered in the greatest papacy, certainly of our time, and maybe of all history.
Acquiring Items for the Collection
I’m always asked how I acquire items such as these seals. There are all sorts of ways of acquiring artifacts, but in regard to these seals, there was a priest that had been working in the Vatican from at least the 1960s through the latter part of the 1970s who had died. A relative of his had taken a lot of his items and put them at auction. These seals were in a box full of a whole bunch of other items that were really of little importance. But these shone as amazing items. And the guy that was selling them really didn’t know what he had. And so, I was able to get them, not really knowing for sure if they were authentic until I had them in hand. And then I had some people who work in the Vatican take a look at them and they certainly authenticated them.
They are exceedingly rare. As ordinary as they look, they played a very important role in the election of Pope John Paul II.