Ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States, an exhibit at the Yale Law School aims to show that the job of the world’s most influential religious leader has not always been entirely spiritual.
The church and the state come together in the Lillian Goldman Law Library’s exhibit titled “The Pope’s Other Jobs: Judge and Lawgiver.” Located in the library’s rare books Room, the exhibit, curated by history professor Anders Winroth and Rare Books librarian Mike Widener, aims to shed light on papal influence in areas such as politics and law throughout medieval European history. Widener said the exhibit aims to discuss the importance of the Pope’s historical role as an influential legal figure.
“There was a time when the Pope was probably the single most important legal figure in the Western world,” Widener said.
The books in the exhibit cover a number of artifacts that showcase the extent of the Pope’s legal influence throughout history, an example of which is a 1567 decree against bullfighting issued by Pope Pius V that is still referenced by many modern animal rights movements. Other pieces displayed include a papal decree that criticized members of the clergy for drinking too much. Alex Garland ’17, who visited the exhibition, said he was particularly interested in a manuscript from the 1300s, which includes an image of the Pope handing the Clementines — a book of codified laws — to four scholars.
The exhibit also boasts Yale’s vast collection of valuable items in legal history, Widener said, noting that many pieces in the exhibition have been housed at Yale for years, while others have only been here for several months.
Widener explained that the exhibit focuses on two specific areas that have seen significant developments in recent years: marriage law and human rights. He noted that many of the rights that are considered to be fundamental in modern times have their roots in papal decrees and commentaries by medieval-era legal professionals.
“The freedom from self-incrimination, the presumption of innocence — all of these things come from canon law,” Widener said. “Most people don’t think of these things as coming from the Middle Ages. They think of the Founding Fathers … but the seeds actually go much further back.”
Book monitor Phil Liscio echoed Garland’s sentiment, adding that the exhibition allows viewers to examine historical treasures in great depth.
“The Pope’s Other Jobs: Judge and Lawgiver” will close on Dec. 11.
Correction: Sept. 16
A previous version of this article featured a photograph of a different exhibit currently on display at the Yale Law School.