Fascinating insight into history revealed as centuries-old document is uncovered in archives

PUBLISHED: 08:16 01 February 2018 | UPDATED: 08:16 01 February 2018

Archivist Christopher Dawkins with pupils at Felsted and the papal bull

Archivist Christopher Dawkins with pupils at Felsted and the papal bull


A decree written by the pope in 1521 dismissing an abbot from his post for “being naughty” has been discovered at Felsted School.

The papal bull (or public statement) written on vellum, had been in the school archives for decades but has now been returned to the abbey, which is in Italy.

At first it was thought that the bull had been brought over to the school from Italy soon after it was written, possibly as a how-to guide for Henry VIII before he dissolved the monasteries in England.

However, the difficulty with that theory was that the school was not founded until 1564. By then, Henry had been dead for 18 years having dissolved the monasteries in the 1530s.

It has now been discovered that the document was brought to England much later, in 1918. The monastery, the Abbey of St Eustace near the river Piave, had fallen into disuse and was empty but it was used to house British troops during the First World War.

They were helping the Italians fight the Austrians in Italy in 1917 and 1918. When the monks left the abbey, they had abandoned the contents, including their library and when the soldiers left, they took souvenirs.

The soldier who took the papal bull, or possibly a member of his family, thought it might be worth something and in 1925 it was taken to a dealer in rare books and manuscripts, Bernard Quaritch, in London.

The managing director of the firm knew the bull had no value because thousands of them were issued by popes over the years. He was a parent of two boys at Felsted School and gave the document to the school as a curiosity.

Since it was discovered buried in the school archives in 2015, it has been the subject of history lessons before its provenance was ascertained.

Now, the abbey, founded in 854 and closed in 1865, is being restored as a tourist attraction and the papal bull has been returned for its museum.

School archivist, Chris Dawkins saw the restoration project in October.

Mr Dawkins said the bull from Pope Leo X had dismissed the abbot as “naughty” and because the abbey was in disarray, he replaced him with the Count of Collato.

“The count installed his son, the next count who did well, he rebuilt the abbey and the church in 1532.”

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