The Chirograph was a legal document held between two parties and authenticated. Written on a piece of vellum or parchment, a chirograph would be used for various medieval, papal or notarial document which was then irregularly cut apart and divided among the parties.
History and Use
“The chirograph supposedly had its origins in Anglo-Saxon England, where the practice of using notaries to ratify legal documents was not continued generally after the Roman era.”
The text on the chirograph was copied twice on the same sheet of vellum or parchment and written between the two sections was the word “cirographum.” The copies were then cut through this lettering, usually in a wavy or irregular manner in order to avoid forged copies. When the two copies were brought together, it would prove the document authentic and free for ratification between the two parties. It would be hard to fake these documents, as the lettering itself was unique as well: "Written in round court-hand, with heavy main-strokes; the strokes below the line drawn out into a point or a hair-line; those above, looped or turned over to the right. In line 2 a transposition of words is indicated by double oblique strokes" (Bond).
Whether they were drawn up by courts or by two willing participants, the chirograph was effective and sealed in front of a jury of witnesses. Not only would the halves serve as authentication, but the witnesses would varify by testimony as well; there were no signatures on a chirograph. The authentication process was intricate. "The critical examination of any record. whether literary or documentary, and whether in an authentic form or in a copy, or as reported, must take a full and firm account of the substance of the document and of all tee circumstances surrounding that document. Only when a document has been examined with all thoroughness, externally as well as internally, can its witness be evaluated properly, circumstantially, and fully" (Powell).
The roots of chirography “really only means a hand-written document – from the Greek, xeiro=hand, and graphos-writing” (Stoller).
The chirograph dealt with a variety of issues (including legal and notarial matters) in a variety of situations.
In modern times, the chirograph refers to a specific document that is issued by the Pope. According to the website of the Secret Apostolic Archives of the Vatican, "It is written in Latin or vernacular on plain paper and lacking of any solemn character. Contrary to what one may deduce from this noun, this document is not entirely written by the pope himself; the pope intervenes directly (at least in the first period) only with his signature, consisting of the pope’s name followed by the ordinal number."
Taking Care of Business
The language of a chirograph was very specific.
- Bond, Edward Agustus, Edward Maunde Thompson, and George Frederic Warner, THE PALÆORAPHICAL SOCIETY. Facsimiles of Manuscripts and Inscriptions. Second Series, Volume II, (London : William Clowes and Sons, Limited, 1884-1894).
- [[ ]], Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts and their Heritage"
- Powell, James M., Medieval Studies. An Introduction. Second Edition, (New York : Syracuse University Press, 1992).