Seal of the Chapter
Seal of the Chapter
Seal of the Chapter

3rd century and 1365

Precious stones

Dom Museum Wien
On loan from St. Stephen's Cathedral


Precious stones
Medieval art

On view

Reproduction request
Loan request

Photo: Leni Deinhardstein, Lisa Rastl, Dom Museum Wien
Next Object >

Seal of the Cathedral Chapter of St. Stephen's, Vienna

For 300 years the face of a Roman emperor adorned the seal of the cathedral chapter. The gem was a gift of Rudolf IV on occasion of its foundation.

Why did the provosts of a community of clergymen called collegiate chapter, which still exists at St. Stephen’s, seal their most important documents with an oval die showing a heathen third-century Roman emperor for more than three centuries?

Emperor Balbinus is rendered in profile with a short full beard and a small double chin. The use of the gemstone accounts for the fact that the forms of the subject are cut below its surface: pressed into soft wax, the impression created is an inverted relief portrait.

The extremely elaborately cut gem was in the possession of Rudolf IV of Austria. The Habsburg duke had founded a collegiate chapter comprising a provost, twenty-four canons, and twenty-six chaplains in the All Saints Chapel of the Hofburg in 1358. When the chapter moved to St. Stephen’s in 1365, the parish church of the diocese of Passau became a collegiate church which would also bear the name All Saints Church from then on. Rudolf IV donated the gem to the chapter to use it as its seal and had it remodeled and set: a priest’s stole with a cross was cut into Emperor Balbinus’ toga with the chapter’s coat-of-arms in the background next to it. The flat golden frame of the setting shows the (inverted) inscription “Seal of the Chapter at All Saints in Vienna” in Latin. The words are set between rows of tiny dots and a band of lilies. The handle is to be found lengthways on the back. Its open-work trefoil seems to have served as an eyelet for a chain: the provost carried the seal around his neck to prevent its abuse. Engraved in the base plate next to the handle we find the triband shield (Bindenschild) and the chapter’s coat-of arms.

Rudolf IV’s return to a motif from antiquity, a Roman cut gemstone, was a common political strategy of the time aimed at inventing a tradition. For a noble family tree that went back many generations validated a dynasty’s claim to the throne.