Thursday, January 14, 2010

Papal Bull for Scotland's first University is restored

Conservation work has been completed on the Papal Bull which granted medieval Scotland its first university, the University of St Andrews.

The Bull of Foundation is one of a series of six letters from the Pope, sent in 1413, which together brought the University fully and formally into existence.

This document embodies the 1412 charter, issued by Bishop Henry Wardlaw, which granted the masters and students of St Andrews recognition as a properly constituted corporation. It marks the culmination of three years of academic development and the birth of the third oldest university in the English-speaking world.

Having been stored for years in a portfolio folder, this surviving piece of the history of Scottish education was showing its age, as it approached its 600th anniversary.

A team of experts at the University of Dundee Book and Paper Conservation Studio spent three weeks giving the Bull its 600 year service, at a total cost of £600 - just £1 for every year of its life.

Work included surface cleaning, the repair of vulnerable edge tears, the realignment of the document's silk tag, and the provision of a cutting-edge storage box and mount to allow safe storage and display.

With the Papal Bull preserved and protected, plans are now being developed for a `tour of goodwill' to allow people the opportunity to connect with Scottish history and the 600th anniversary of the University of St Andrews.

University of St Andrews Muniments Archivist Rachel Hart said: "We are the custodians of a vital piece of evidence not only of the University's history but also of its place as an international seat of learning within the history of Scotland. The Bull of Foundation is an amazing document to see and I hope that with the 600th anniversary approaching, many may have the opportunity."

In May 1410 a group of masters, mainly graduates of Paris, initiated a school of higher studies in St Andrews, the seat of the greatest bishopric in Scotland and location of a monastery noted as a centre for learning. By February 1412 the society had established itself sufficiently to obtain a charter of incorporation and privileges from the Bishop, Henry Wardlaw. This granted the masters and students recognition as a properly constituted corporation, duly privileged and safeguarded for the pursuit of learning. However, recognised university status and the authority to grant degrees could only be conferred by the Pope or the Emperor as heads of Christendom.

At time there was a schism in the Church and two rival papacies. Scotland believed that the Avignon Pope, now exiled in PeƱiscola, was the lawful Pope. Accordingly, confirmation was sought from Pope Benedict XIII and in August 1413 a series of Papal Bulls were issued. With their promulgation in St Andrews Priory on 4 February 1414, the University of St Andrews may be said to have come fully and formally into existence.

The University of St Andrews will be marking its 600th anniversary in 2013.