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Jewellery, Rooms 91, The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery, case 5, shelf D, box 15
Rings are the most commonly surviving medieval jewels. They were worn by both sexes, across all levels of society, made of gold and silver and cheaper metals such as brass or bronze. Some portraits show wearers with multiple rings across all their fingers. This ring is made with a series of knobs around the hoop, to be used to count the 'Hail Mary' or 'Our Father' prayers of a rosary.
Rings engraved with religious figures or scenes are often known as ‘iconographic rings’. They were decorated with the popular saints of the middle ages: Catherine, Barbara, Christopher, George and Margaret as well as figures of the Virgin Mary, Christ or the Three Kings. These rings were worn as a sign of faith but were also believed to offer protection from both spiritual and earthly dangers. Pregnant women prayed to St Margaret for a safe delivery whilst travellers appealed to St Christopher. Dying without receiving the sacraments or preparing your soul was a great fear and it was believed that protection could be gained by looking at images of saints such as Christopher and Barbara.
This ring forms part of a collection of over 600 rings and engraved gems from the collection of Edmund Waterton (1830-81). Waterton was one of the foremost ring collectors of the nineteenth century and was the author of several articles on rings, a book on English devotion to the Virgin Mary and an unfinished catalogue of his collection (the manuscript is now the National Art Library). Waterton was noted for his extravagance and financial troubles caused him to place his collection in pawn with the London jeweller Robert Phillips. When he was unable to repay the loan, Phillips offered to sell the collection to the Museum and it was acquired in 1871. A small group of rings which Waterton had held back were acquired in 1899.
Gold 'decade ring' with an oval bezel engraved with an image of St. Christopher.
Place of Origin
Materials and Techniques
Height: 2.3 cm, Width: 2.2 cm, Depth: 0.7 cm
Object history note
Ex Waterton Collection.
This is probably one of the rings which Edmund Waterton showed to the Archaeological Institute in December 1862. He is quoted in Jones's 'Finger ring lore': 'On a former occasion I exhibited, at one of the meetings, some of the so-called- and wrongly called- rosary-rings, one of which had seven, the other eleven and the third, thirteen knobs or bosses. I stated my opinion that we ought to consider these examples as belonging to a form of ring prevalent in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and described in wills and inventories as rings with 'knoppes or bulionys'."
Gold 'decade ring' with an oval bezel engraved with St. Christopher, England, 1380-1400
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Campbell, Marian, Medieval Jewellery, London 2009, p.82, fig. 86
Oman, Charles, Catalogue of rings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1930, reprinted Ipswich, 1993, cat. 728, pl. XXX
Jewellery; Metalwork; Europeana Fashion Project