HistoryUniversity Seal

1386 - today

An advanced seminar on sigillography held at the Department of History in the winter semester of 2008/09 unearthed new information about the Great Seal of Heidelberg University; the following is a brief overview of the findings.

The Great University Seal was commissioned directly after the inauguration of the University in 1386. It was used to authenticate important University documents until the 18th century. The original silver seal is now on display at the National Museum (Germanisches Nationalmuseum) in Nuremberg. Heidelberg University still owns three bronze seals (a broken seal in the Rectorate and two seals in the University Archives, one of which was purchased from an antiques dealer a few years ago); there is, however, considerable doubt as to their authenticity.

For the past 40 years, the University has been using a paper embossing seal that is fashioned after the mediaeval original. This seal is still the distinctive symbol of the University; it is used on letterheads, the University's websites and numerous other publications.

A comparison between this new "old" seal and the original wax impressions shows a number of differences that are probably due to faulty examinations of the mediaeval seal:

  • The two kneeling figures holding the escutcheons are both bearded; there is no apparent age difference, which would support the widespread but unfounded assumption [1] that these figures represent Ruprecht I and his nephew Ruprecht II.
  • The kneeling figures are not armour-clad. This fault is likely due to a medal showing the same image that was created in 1686 to commemorate the University's 300th anniversary. [2]
  • The three niches in which the persons are located are supported by consoles decorated with quatrefoils. They are not crosses or crowns of different sizes that would be used to express a difference in rank.
University Seal Heidelberg
  • The central figure, identified as Saint Peter, holds a small square book in his left hand and a key in his right, both typical attributes of this saint.

By Gabriel Meyer

[1] Cf. Johann Friedrich HAUTZ: Die Geschichte der Universität Heidelberg. Nach handschriftlichen Quellen nebst den wichtigsten Urkunden, 2 volumes, Mannheim 1862/1864, p. 154; Paul ZINSMAIER: Die älteren Siegel der Universität Heidelberg, in: ZGO, NF 50 (1937), p. 5.; Franz KIRCHHEIMER: Die Jubiläumsmedaillen der Universität Heidelberg 1686 und 1786, in: Wilhelm Doerr (Ed.): Semper Apertus. Sechshundert Jahre Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg 1386–1986, volume 1, Berlin i. a. 1985, p. 485. [2] Franz KIRCHHEIMER a. a. O., p. 486 et seq.