Patrimonium Petri (also known as Patrimonium Sancti Petri or Patrimony of Saint Peter) refers to the land holdings of the Holy Sea in the Italian Peninsula, the surrounding islands, and some portions of North Africa. According to the Bible Timeline Chart with World History, this was begun around 600 AD. Its legal basis was Constantine’s edict issued back in 321 AD wherein he allowed Christians to own and transfer properties—a right denied to them by previous Roman emperors during the early years of Christianity. Constantine himself gave large portions of his estate to the church which was soon followed by donations from Rome’s wealthy families. What remained of the persecutions were abolished when Christianity became Rome’s state religion in 380 AD under Emperor Theodosius I, but most of these donations stopped by 600 AD.
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Most of these land holdings were located within the vicinity of Rome. They gradually spread throughout Italy into the Tuscan Region, Ancona, Osimo, Gaeta, and the areas near Ravenna. The pope also had power over the islands of Sardinia, Corsica, and Sicily which were included in the Patrimonium Petri. The pope had temporal powers over these regions and as Rome’s ruler during the sixth century, the pope was in charge of the distribution of the revenues which were usually used to fund for church repairs, improvement of church decorations, as well as for disaster relief programs. The hard task of keeping the city’s less fortunate citizens and the incoming refugees fed fell on the shoulders of the pope, and the funds used to buy food came from the Patrimonium Petri estates. The highest revenues came from the island of Sicily, but this was later confiscated by Emperor Leo III in favor of the Byzantine Empire.
The pope’s land holdings increased over the years when Italy’s noble families died out or had fled to take refuge in the Byzantine territories during the invasion of the Lombards. These estates grew until the middle of the eighth century and were sometimes sandwiched between Byzantine territories and Lombard duchies. When Italy completely disintegrated in the late eighth century, the Patrimonium Petri consisted only of the Papal States which became the future popes’ own little kingdom.
Picture By Jacques-Louis David – Web Gallery of Art, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1421343
Bunson, Matthew, Margaret Bunson, and Matthew Bunson. OSV’s Encyclopedia of Catholic History. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Pub. Division, 2004.
“States of the Church – Catholic Encyclopedia – Catholic Online.” Catholic Online. Accessed August 02, 2016. http://www.catholic.org/encyclopedia/view.php?id=11048.
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