Papal legate

A papal legate or Apostolic legate (from the Ancient Roman title legatus) is a personal representative of the pope to foreign nations, or to some part of the Catholic Church. He is empowered on matters of Catholic Faith and for the settlement of ecclesiastical matters.

The legate is appointed directly by the pope (the bishop of Rome, head of the Catholic Church and (historically) head of state of the papal states). Hence a legate is usually sent to a government, a sovereign or to a large body of believers (such as a national church) or to take charge of a major religious effort, such as an (ecumenical) council, a crusade to the Holy Land, or even against a heresy such as the Cathars.

The term legation is applied both to a legate's mandate and to the territory concerned (such as a state, or an ecclesiastical province). The relevant adjective is legatine.

K. Henry 2. Kissing the knee of the Popes Legate comming into England
A woodcut showing Henry II of England greeting the pope's legate.


Cardinal Thomas Wolsey
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, papal legate to England during the reign of Henry VIII

In the High Middle Ages, papal legates were often used to strengthen the links between Rome and the many parts of Christendom. More often than not, legates were learned men and skilled diplomats who were not from the country they were accredited to. The Italian-born Guala Bicchieri served as papal legate to England in the early 13th century and played a major role in both the English government and church at the time. By the Late Middle Ages it had become more common to appoint native clerics to the position of legate within their own country, such as Cardinal Wolsey acting as legate to the court of Henry VIII of England. The reason for this switch in policy could be attributed to a change in attitude on the eve of The Reformation; by this point, foreign men representing the papacy would be more likely to reinforce dissent than bring Christendom closer together.[1]

Papal legates often summoned legatine councils, which dealt with church government and other ecclesiastical issues.[2] According to Pope Gregory VII, writing in the Dictatus papae, a papal legate "presides over all bishops in a council, even if he is inferior in rank, and he can pronounce sentence of deposition against them".[3] During the Middle Ages, a legatine council was the usual means that a papal legate imposed his directives.[3]

Diplomatic ranks

There are several ranks of papal legates in diplomacy, some of which are no longer used.

Apostolic nuncio

Giovanni Francesco Commendone
Cardinal Giovanni Francesco Commendone, sometime papal nuncio to Urbino, Ferrara, Venice, Parma, and England.

The most common form of papal legate today is the apostolic nuncio, whose task it is to strengthen relations between the Holy See and the Roman Catholic Church in a particular country and at the same time to act as the diplomatic representative of the Holy See to the government of that country.[4] An apostolic nuncio is generally equivalent in rank to that of ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary, although in Catholic countries the nuncio often ranks above ambassadors in diplomatic protocol. A nuncio performs the same functions as an ambassador and has the same diplomatic privileges. Under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, to which the Holy See is a party, a nuncio is an ambassador like those from any other country. The Vienna Convention allows the host state to grant seniority of precedence to the nuncio over others of ambassadorial rank accredited to the same country, and may grant the deanship of that country's diplomatic corps to the nuncio regardless of seniority.[5]


Pro-nuncio was a term used from 1965 to 1991 for a papal diplomatic representative of full ambassadorial rank accredited to a country that did not accord him precedence over other ambassadors and ex officio deanship of the diplomatic corps. In those countries, the papal representative's precedence within the corps is exactly on a par with that of the other members of ambassadorial rank, so that he becomes dean only on becoming the senior member of the corps.[6]

Apostolic delegate

For countries with which the Holy See has no diplomatic relations, an apostolic delegate is sent to serve as a liaison with the Catholic Church in that country, though not accredited to its government.[4]


Legatus a latere

This highest rank (literally "from the (Pope's) side", i.e. "intimately" trusted) is normally awarded to a priest of cardinal rank. It is an exceptional investiture and can either be focused or broad in scope. The legate a latere is the alter ego of the Pope, and as such, possesses full plenipotentiary powers.[7][8]

Legatus natus

Literally "born legate", i.e. not nominated individually but ex officio, namely a bishop holding this rank as a privilege of his see, e.g. archbishops of Canterbury (pre-Reformation), Prague, Esztergom, Udine, Salzburg, Gniezno and Cologne.[7][8] The legatus natus would act as the pope's representative in his province, with a legatus a latere only being sent in extraordinary circumstances. Although limited in their jurisdiction compared to legati a latere, a legatus natus were not subordinate to them.[9]

Legatus missus

Literally "sent legate", possessing limited powers for the purpose of completing a specific mission. This commission is normally focused in scope and of short duration.[7][8]

Gubernatorial legates

Some administrative (temporal) provinces of the Papal states in (mostly central) Italy were governed by a Papal Legate. This has been the case in Benevento, in Pontecorvo (of Campagna e Marittima/ of Frosinone) and in Viterbo. In four cases, including Bologna, this post was awarded exclusively to Cardinals; the Velletri post was created for Bartolommeo Pacca.

The title could be changed to Apostolic Delegate, as happened in Frosinone (for Pontecorvo) in 1827.


  1. ^ Pagden, Anthony (2010) [2002]. The Idea of Europe: From Antiquity to the European Union. 13. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521795524.
  2. ^ Robinson, I. S. (1990). The Papacy 1073–1198: Continuity and Innovation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 150. ISBN 0-521-31922-6.
  3. ^ a b Robinson, I. S. (1990). The Papacy 1073–1198: Continuity and Innovation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 150. ISBN 0521319226.
  4. ^ a b Collinge, William (2012). Historical Dictionary of Catholicism (2 ed.). Maryland, USA: Scarecrow Press Inc. p. 251. ISBN 9780810857551.
  5. ^ United Nations Conference on Diplomatic Intercourse and Immunities (1961). "Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Article 16". United Nations.
  6. ^ Beal, John P.; Coriden, James A.; Green, Thomas J., eds. (2000). New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (Study ed.). NJ, USA: Paulist Press. p. 462. ISBN 9780809140664.
  7. ^ a b c Bellenger, Dominic Aidan; Fletcher, Stella (2001). Princes of the Church: A History of the English Cardinals. Stroud, UK: Sutton. p. 2. ISBN 0-7509-2630-9.
  8. ^ a b c Livingstone, E. A. (2013) [1977]. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. p. 331. ISBN 9780199659623.
  9. ^ Tayler, Thomas (1866). The Law Glossary. NY, USA: Baker, Voorhis & Co. p. 300.

See also

Papal diplomacy


1143 papal election

The papal election of 1143 followed the death of Pope Innocent II and resulted in the election of Pope Celestine II.

1154 papal election

The papal election of 1154 followed the death of Pope Anastasius IV and resulted in the election of Pope Adrian IV, the only Englishman to become pope.

Canonical coronation

A canonical coronation (Latin: coronatio canonica) is a pious institutional act of the Pope, duly expressed in a Papal bull in which oftentimes a Papal legate or Papal nuncio, or at rare occasions the Pontiff himself designates a crown, tiara, or stellar halo to a Christological, Marian, or Josephian image with a specific devotional title that is prominently venerated in a particular diocese or locality.Previously, the Holy Office issued the authorization of a canonical coronation through a dicastery called the "Vatican Chapter", and later the Sacred Congregation of Rites was assigned this duty. Since 1989, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments executes the act that the decree authorizes.


Ernald (or Ærnald) († 1163) was the second Abbot of Kelso before becoming Bishop of Cell Rígmonaid (St Andrews), the highest ranking Scottish see in the period. He was elected to the see on Sunday, St. Brice's Day (13 November) 1160, and was consecrated at Dunfermline in the presence of King Máel Coluim IV the following Sunday by William, Bishop of Moray, the Papal legate. He is alleged by John Fordun to have founded the "Great Church" of St. Andrews. His short episcopate ended when he died, according to Andrew of Wyntoun, in 1163. He was buried in the church of St Regulus (Riagail).

Eucharistic congress

In the Catholic Church, a eucharistic congress is a gathering of clergy, religious, and laity to bear witness to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, which is an important Roman Catholic doctrine. Congresses bring together people from a wide area, and typically involve large open-air Masses, Eucharistic adoration (Blessed Sacrament), and other devotional ceremonies held over several days. Congresses may both refer to National (varies by country) and International Eucharistic Congresses.

Paschal Baylon is considered the patron saint of such eucharistic congresses.

Fatima Mata National College

Fatima Mata National College is a college in the Indian state of Kerala, named after Our Lady of Fatima, a Catholic title of Virgin Mary as seen in apparition at Fatima, Portugal in 1917.

Fatima Mata National College was founded by Jerome M. Fernandez, then Catholic bishop of Quilon, with a view to expand the facilities for higher education in the diocese. It was formally inaugurated on 29 December 1952 by Norman Thomas Cardinal Gilroy, the Papal Legate to the first Plenary Council of India. In 1953 it became a first grade college with the introduction of degree courses in Economics, Commerce and Zoology. Construction of the auditorium and the eastern wing and the introduction of degree course in Botany, Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics followed in quick succession.

It was conferred autonomous status in 2014, thus becoming one of the first autonomous colleges in Kerala.

Felix of Moray

Felix was a 12th-century prelate based in Scotland. His career is rather obscure, and he himself is little more than a name of a Bishop of Moray. Felix appears to have been the successor to Bishop William, Papal legate, who died in 1162. We know that the diocese of Moray was still vacant in 1164, and Felix does not occur in the records until some point between 1166 and 1171. Felix must have died or, less likely, resigned the bishopric in either 1170 or 1171, for in the latter year his successor Simon de Tosny received election.

Galhard de Carceribus

Galhard de Carceribus (died 30 May 1348) was a papal legate, bishop of Veszprém (appointed on 2 March 1345), archbishop of Brindisi (from 19 July 1346 to his death in 1348).

He was born in Diocese of Cahors. In years 1335-1343 he visited Poland as a papal legate, to solve the conflict between Poland and State of the Teutonic Order. He also collected Peter's Pence payment and composed a list of Polish parishes. He died on 30 May 1348 in Nîmes, France.

Ghibbelin of Arles

Ghibbelin of Sabran (also spelled Gibelin) (c. 1045 – 1112) was Archbishop of Arles (1080–1112), papal legate (1107–1108), and Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem (1108–1112).

Ghibbelin was named Archbishop of Arles at the Council of Avignon in 1080, at which Archbishop Aicard was deposed. He was consecrated by Pope Gregory VII. However, the clergy and people of Arles preferred Aicard, a relative of the viscounts of Marseilles who had taken the side of Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor against Gregory VII. Although Ghibbelin was supported by Bertrand I, Count of Provence, he was unable to take possession of his archdiocese. He was threatened by the citizens of Arles when he approached he city, and had to renounce his claim.

Ghibbelin waited many years to take his post. In 1096, when Pope Urban II toured southern France before preaching the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont, he neglected to visit Arles. After 1096 Ghibbelin was able to occupy the archdiocese during the periodic absences of Aicard; meanwhile he also directed the diocese of Avignon. He finally succeeded Aicard around 1098, when Urban II overturned the renouncement he had made under duress from the citizens of Arles in 1080. In 1105, the will of Raymond IV of Toulouse ordered his heirs to restore everything he had usurped from Ghibbelin in Arles, Argence, Fourques, Albaron, and Fos.

At the end of 1107, Ghibbelin left Arles for Palestine, as papal legate for Pope Paschal II. He was sent to settle a dispute over the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Dagobert of Pisa had been deposed as Patriarch in 1102 and replaced by Ehremar. The pope reinstated Dagobert, who then died before he could return to Palestine. The pope was now inclined to reinstate Ehremar, but King of Jerusalem, Baldwin I, objected as he regarded him as incompetent, and Ghibbelin was chosen to decide the matter. He deposed Ehremar, and at the invitation of Baldwin himself accepted the office. He died there in December, 1112, and was succeeded by Arnulf of Chocques as Patriarch, while the archdiocese of Arles remained vacant until 1115.

Giovanni Paparoni

Giovanni Cardinal Paparoni (sometimes known in English as John Cardinal Paparo; died ca. 1153/1154) was an Italian Cardinal and prominent papal legate in dealings with Ireland and Scotland.

He was created Cardinal by Pope Celestine II in 1143. He presided at the Synod of Kells in 1152, which decided the system of four archbishops (Armagh, Dublin, Cashel, and Tuam) for Ireland. He argued for a reduction in the number of bishops.

Giovanni Salviati

Giovanni Salviati (24 March 1490 – 28 October 1553) was a Florentine diplomat and cardinal. He was papal legate in France, and conducted negotiations with the Emperor Charles V.

Guala Bicchieri

Guala Bicchieri (c. 1150 – 1227) was an Italian diplomat, papal official and cardinal. He was the papal legate in England from 1216 to 1218, and took a prominent role in the politics of England during King John’s last years and Henry III’s early minority.

Guala Bicchieri arrived in England in the midst of the baronial rebellion, when rebel barons were attempting to force John from the throne and when the suspension and exile of archbishop Stephen Langton had left the English church without a leader. Bicchieri was a supporter of King John in the struggle against the barons and their candidate for the English crown, Louis of France. As the Pope’s nuncio, Guala Bicchieri played an important role in stabilizing the English church in the aftermath of this civil war now known as the First Barons’ War. He was instrumental in the reissuing of the Magna Carta.

Guala Bicchieri was from a prominent family in Vercelli in northern Italy, in what is now the Italian region of Piedmont; his father, Manfredo de Bicheriis, was a consul of the city .

He was trained for the law but entered the clergy; he is first mentioned in 1187 as a canon in the cathedral of Vercelli. By 1205 he had become a cardinal and had served as a papal legate in northern Italy before being appointed legate to France in 1208. Innocent III named him legate to England in January 1216. His mission was to make peace between the English and the French; the civil war and the threatened invasion by the French—in support of the rebellion—in order to depose John from the English throne, were threatening Innocent’s plan for a crusade. Guala’s position as legate in England was especially influential since the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, was absent from the kingdom from September 1215 to May 1218, during which absence Guala Bicchieri, as papal legate, was practically in charge of the English church. Vincent (below) points out six areas in which Bicchieri made an impact upon England: establishing peace between the monarchy and rebels; overseeing Episcopal elections; supervising monastic houses; punishing and replacing rebel clergy; judicial activity, including the appointment of legatine judges delegate; and implementing the legislation of the Fourth Lateran Council.

Guala was mercilessly attacked in a long satirical poem by Gilles de Corbeil.

Guala’s role is of interest to students of English history: he supported John Lackland and then became the protector of John’s minor successor, Henry III; he punished English clerics who supported the French invader, Louis, and removed many of them from their positions. He was also instrumental in convincing Pope Honorius III to grant an indulgence to the dean and chapter of Old Salisbury Cathedral permitting them to leave Old Sarum and start building New Salisbury Cathedral.

Guala Bicchieri returned to Italy in 1219 after the final defeat of the English rebel barons and the Treaty of Lambeth. Soon after his return to Italy, he founded the Abbey of St Andrew in Vercelli, his home town. It is named for—and its architecture was imitative of the Abbey of Saint Andrew in Chesterton, which Bicchieri had been given for his services to the church during the difficult period of the civil war. In 1224, also in Vercelli, he founded Saint Andrew’s hospital.

Of great interest to students of English literature is the fact that the premises of Vercelli Cathedral Museum hold the famed Vercelli Book, one of the few extant manuscripts of early English (Anglo-Saxon) writings. Although there is still much debate as to how the manuscript wound up in Italy, at least some sources (discussed in Krapp, below) give credence to the theory that Guala Bicchieri brought it back with him when he returned from England. Bicchieri died in 1227 and is entombed in St Andrew's Abbey in Vercelli.

Henry de Cornhill (priest)

Henry de Cornhill was a medieval English priest.

Cornhill was appointed chancellor of the Diocese of London in 1217 by the papal legate Guala Bicchieri. He also held the prebends of Finsbury and Weldland in the same diocese. He remained in the chancellorship until June 1242. By 21 May 1243 he had been appointed to the office of Dean of St Paul's Cathedral, the cathedral church of the London diocese. He remained in that office until at least 28 October 1253, his last appearance in a document. He likely continued to hold the office until his death, which occurred before 26 August 1254. His death was commemorated by the cathedral on 9 April, which implies that he died in April 1254.

John Halgren of Abbeville

John Halgren of Abbeville (died 1237) was a French scholastic philosopher and writer of sermons, papal legate and Cardinal.

In theology he was a follower of Peter the Chanter and Stephen Langton. After studying with Hugolino of Ostia at the University of Paris, he became dean of the chapter at Amiens in 1218; later he was archbishop of Besançon. He became Cardinal Bishop of Sabina in 1227. He visited Portugal and the extant kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula as papal legate between 1227 and 1229, possibly 30 (H. Fernandes, 2006, pp. 168–169). He may have become dean of the Sacred College in January 1230, as the most senior Cardinal-Bishop after the death of Pelagio Galvani

Legatine council

A legatine council or legatine synod is an ecclesiastical council or synod that is presided over by a papal legate.According to Pope Gregory VII, writing in the Dictatus papae, a papal legate "presides over all bishops in a council, even if he is inferior in rank, and he can pronounce sentence of deposition against them". During the Middle Ages, a legatine council was the usual means that a papal legate imposed his directives.Many councils in the Middle Ages were legatine councils, including the council held by Hugh of Die at Autun in 1077. Another was a series of councils held by Cuno of Praeneste in 1114 and 1115, held respectively at Beauvais, Rheims and Chalon, which excommunicated Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor, although Pope Paschal II eventually refused to ratify Cuno's actions. In 1116 Cuno demanded that Paschal either confirm or reject the legate's actions, but Paschal did neither. Early in the history of the Crusader states, a number of legatine councils were held in the Kingdom of Jerusalem that not only appointed and deposed ecclesiastics, but also regulated the church government. Legatine councils were also held in the German Empire during the 12th-century.Legatine councils were also held in Medieval England, including the Council of Westminster in 1125, and a series of legatine councils held from 1139 to 1151, which unlike the 1125 council, were summoned by English ecclesiastics appointed as legates by the pope, rather than legates who had been sent to England by the papacy.

Pelagio Galvani

Pelagio Galvani (b. ca. 1165, Gusendos, León — d. 30 January 1230, Montecassino) was a Leonese Cardinal, and canon lawyer. He became a papal legate and leader of the Fifth Crusade.

His early life is little known. It is repeatedly claimed that he entered the Order of Benedictines but this is not proven. Pope Innocent III created him Cardinal-Deacon of S. Lucia in Septisolio around 1206. Later, he was promoted to the rank of Cardinal-Priest of S. Cecilia (probably on 2 April 1211), and finally opted for the suburbicarian see of Albano in the spring of 1213. He subscribed the papal bulls between 4 May 1207 and 26 January 1230. He was sent on a diplomatic mission to Constantinople in 1213. During this two-year mission he attempted to close Orthodox churches and imprison the clergy, but this caused such domestic upset that Henry of Flanders, the Latin Emperor, reversed his actions which had caused the "tempest which held the city of Constantine in its grip", as noted a contemporary historian. Three years later he was elected Latin Patriarch of Antioch but his election was not ratified by the Holy See. Dispatched by Pope Honorius III to lead the Fifth Crusade at Damietta in Egypt, he made a poor strategic decision in turning down peace offers made by Al-Kamil. He became dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals at the election to the papacy of Cardinal Ugolino Conti (Pope Gregory IX) on 19 March 1227. He was one of the leader of the papal army in 1229/30 during the struggle with the Emperor Frederick II. He died at Montecassino and was buried there.

Peter of Anagni

Peter of Anagni was Benedictine, Bishop, and papal legate. Born in Salerno, Italy, he entered the Benedictines and so distinguished himself as a monk that Pope Gregory VII appointed him Bishop of Anagni. As bishop, he improved the spiritual welfare of the city, built a new cathedral, and promoted the First Crusade to the Holy Land, a venture in which he participated. Pope Urban II sent him to Constantinople as papal legate to the Byzantine Empire. He was canonized in 1109 by Pope Paschal II, a mere four years after his death.

Turlough O'Brien (bishop)

Turlough (some sources Terence) O'Brien (died 1569) was a bishop in Ireland during the second half of the sixteenth century.He was appointed Bishop of Killaloe on 25 June 1554 when they were temporarily reunited under Queen Mary I: in a letter of 12 October 1561, the papal legate Fr David Wolfe SJ described all the bishops in Munster as 'adherents of the Queen';

William (bishop of Moray)

William (died 1162) was a 12th-century prelate based in the Kingdom of Scotland. He occurs in the records for the first time, 1152 x 1153, late in the reign of King David I of Scotland (1124–53) witnessing a grant from that monarch of the church of Clackmannan to the Abbot of Cambuskenneth. By this point in time he is already Bishop of Moray. The date of his accession is not known; all that can be said is that he must have become bishop some time, perhaps some considerable time, after 1128, the last certain point in the floruit of his predecessor Gregoir.

William witnesses a charter of King Máel Coluim IV at some date after 19 December 1154, when Christian was consecrated as Bishop of Galloway. He witnessed several other charters of King Máel Coluim, as well a charter of Herbert, Bishop of Glasgow, and one of Ernald, Bishop of St Andrews. The last styles William "Bishop of Moray and Legate of the Apostolic See". Bishop William had gone to Rome in 1159 on behalf of King Máel Coluim in order to complain about the activities of the Archbishop of York. He had returned as a Papal legate. Bishop William had performed the consecration of Ernald of St Andrews on 20 November 1160, in his capacity as Papal legate. William died on 24 January 1162.

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