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The History and Significance of Bishop Rings

The bishop’s ring is an element of insignia of the highest clergy in the Catholic Church. When consecrating a bishop, the pope or archbishop hands him a gold ring along with other regalia. They are a sign of his belonging to the church. Although a bishop has the right to purchase or receive other rings as a gift, the Episcopal ring is of particular importance. The clergy does not have the right to part with it. These rings are passed from one bishop to another by inheritance, so none of the bishops could own it, only use it. The bishop rings belong to the church, therefore there are taken back after the death of a bishop or his abdication.

Brief History

The tradition of wearing a bishop’s ring was first described around 600 AD. Since it symbolizes the marriage of a bishop with the church, it was supposed to be worn on the ring finger of his right hand. In addition to the Episcopal ring, bishops and popes wore other types of Christian ecclesiastical rings. This tradition ceased at the end of the 19th century when the church banned the simultaneous wearing of several ceremonial rings.

Traditional Episcopal rings were large, massive, made of solid gold with an obligatory large gem in the middle (amethyst, as a rule), and often decorated with smaller stones as an auxiliary accent. Many modern bishops are moving away from the tradition of wearing such pompous ornaments. They prefer wide golden bands or signets with commonplace Christian symbols.

Bishop Ring Significance

As we have already said, Episcopal rings denote that a bishop is wedded to his eparchy. Besides that, they have other significant functions. Thus, rings that didn’t feature a gem inlay but rather had a signet design were used to make an imprint in the hot wax to seal important documents. An engraving with Bishop’s coat of arms or initials placed on a ring also served as a stamp.

The bishop ring meaning is not limited to identification functions. Some rings (especially those of the past) contain holy relics. They are passed from a predecessor to successor. Modern rings are sanctified but don’t feature relicts.

As a sign of respect for the Bishop’s authority, clerics and congregations are obliged to kiss the Bishop’s right hand. This eventually became a tradition to kiss the Episcopal ring. It is still appropriate to do it today although rings considered to be objects of piety may carry a partial indulgence.

Bishop Ring as a Fashion Item

Just as many people wear crosses and crucifixes without giving them any religious significance, Episcopal rings couldn’t catch the attention of fashion designers and influencers. It is not hard to understand why – their massive size, the design approved by the church, as well as the abundance of precious stones command respect and admiration. Some people wear rings with Bishop design to show their affiliation to the church, while others just want to show off an impressive accessory.

Jewelers adhere to the traditional image of the Bishop ring and try not to vulgarize it with cheap materials. So, the majority of jewelry Episcopal rings are made of precious metals – gold or silver with gilding. As a focal point, designers remain true to amethysts. Its clear purple color strikes the right note and has an undisputable gripping power. In addition, purple has long been associated with royal families, so a stone of a purple shade looks majestic and noble. If not amethyst, a ring can carry a red (ruby or garnet) or blue (sapphire) gem. Around the central jewel, you can often see encrusting with small clear stones. In upscale pieces, jewelers add diamonds or any other transparent gemstones, whereas more affordable models carry zirconia stones.

The Meaning of a Bishop Ring in Your Life

Bishop rings are often adapted by informal groups and subculture followers as their insignia. For example, these rings are common among bikers as a sign of loyalty to the biker movement in general and to a specific club in particular. For bikers, a bishop ring is more than an eye-catching trinket. It is treated with almost the same reverence as in the bosom of the church.

In addition, the bishop ring design is a great idea for family heirlooms. It is not necessary to wear such a ring every day – it is rather massive, heavy, certainly not very comfortable, and may attract attention you do not wish. However, such an ornament fits perfectly for family rituals and get-togethers. As an heirloom, it can be passed from the patriarch of the family to his heir. For example, daughters often inherit mother’s or grandmother’s wedding rings when they get married; in the same way, you can pass a Bishop ring from father to son.

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