Rings, bracelets and gemstone jewelry have long played significant roles in Christian tradition. From The Bible to the twelve sacred gems of Aarons breastplate and from modern day engagement rings to wedding bands, jewelry has remained a positive symbol, bond and icon throughout Christianity.
Ecclesiastical Ring Tradition
In Western Christianity, ecclesiastical rings are commonly worn by bishops and clergymen. Traditional ecclesiastical rings typically encompass blue sapphires, because clergymen once believed that the vivid blue hues were direct reflections of Heaven. Modern style ecclesiastical rings are now designed much simpler and many no longer even use gemstones at all. Most modern ecclesiastical rings are now simple gold bands with engraved inscriptions or Christian symbols. Because of the simplification of ecclesiastical rings, scaled down modern styles now lack the original and traditional values that they once had. Precious stones were once a key component in design, giving each ring its own specific meanings and powers based on the gemstone used, all of which played a very important role during the process of gifting the rings.
Sapphire ecclesiastical rings bestowed purity. Sapphires were traditionally used to ward evil spirits and were even believed to be the stone of Saturn offering a magical portal to the heavenly realms. It was thought that sapphire had the ability to open ones thoughts, leaving them in state of clarity and enhancing their ability to absorb knowledge and decipher mysteries.
Ruby ecclesiastical rings represented glory. Ruby was thought to hold incredible powers, shielding those who wear it against destructive intentions and protect against psychic or physical attacks. Rubies were also believed to encourage wealth and good fortune, which would both aid in achieving continuous glory for the wearer.
Emerald ecclesiastical rings brought tranquility. Traditionally, emeralds are associated with romance; they can increase the love, faith and hope of their beholders. They were also believed to be able to 'ease the mind', calm troubled thoughts and to encourage wisdom. Emeralds were religiously hailed as the 'stone of prophecy' and it was believed that they allowed people of faith to achieve a greater sense of inner peace than those without.
The Ring of the Fisherman
Papal rings were believed to have been distributed as symbols of assurance and protection by the Pope. These religious rings were crafted from gilded bronze and paste stones. The most famous papal ring is the Fisherman's Ring, also known as 'Annulus Piscatoris' or 'the Ring of St. Peter'.
The Ring of the Fisherman is given to every new reining pope during their consecration. It is cast from pure gold and bears a large round or oval bezel and gemstone. The ring features a low-relief engraving of St. Peter pulling a net on his fishing boat, along with the newly appointed Pope's name inscribed around the top edge. The significance of the engraving was inspired by the words of Jesus Christ, who once told St. Peter, I will make you a fisher of men. Each new Fisherman's Ring is given by The Cardinal Bishop, along with a promise to have it destroyed upon their death or resignation. Only the reining Pope can possess a Fisherman's Ring, because all other previous rings have been crushed.
Today, the Fisherman's Ring is no longer used as the Pope's seal like it once was (not to be confused with the Papal Seal, which is still used by The Popes to seal documents).
Episcopal Rings are worn by bishops and abbots. They are commonly seen embellished with amethyst, even though amethyst can only be polished and never cut. Rings worn by cardinals are typically seen with a sapphire. Episcopal Ceremonial Rings are made quite large in order for it to be worn on the exterior of a bishop's glove. When the ring is worn on an ungloved hand, a smaller ring will be fixed just above it to prevent it from slipping off.
Other stones have been used in Episcopal rings over the years, including emeralds, rubies, turquoise, chalcedony and opals. Pearls and garnet have also been used on occasion, but never with great popularity. Many non-clergy rings worn by the laity have designs of skulls or crossbones, used as a reminder of one's mortality. 'Momento mori' was a popular Latin phrase used in France during the reign of Henry II; it was spoken as a constant reminder of inevitable death, or more poetically, the limited time to live and serve on this earth.
Other Religeous Rings
Other notable rings from Christianity included the Reliquary Ring and Decade Ring. Reliquary Rings were believed to hold the relic of a martyr or saint. Decade Rings were used in the 14th century and were designed to have ten projecting 'prayer-counting' bumps around the shank. In England and Scotland, you may come across Iconographic Rings, which were also worn by laity. These rings are typically engraved with either an image of a saint or 'The Virgin Mary with Child'.