Information about the Papal Ring from Father Richard Kunst, Curator
There is a bit of mystery to this type of papal ring, but most tend to believe they were not actually worn by the pope, given the quantities produced and the inexpensive materials used. Actual “Fishermans’ rings” would have been much more lavish with the use of real gold and embedded precious minerals.
These rings are thought to have been given by the pope to a representative at functions, or to papal couriers who were delivering messages from him to other church figures or sovereigns. They were meant to be large, so as to act as a noticeable credential, and purposefully were made of gold gilt bronze so as not to have such intrinsic value they would be a temptation to thieves. They are decorated with the coats of arms of popes, the “triple crown” papal symbol and various other papal symbols identifying the reigning pope: this one bears the name of Pope Paul II. Because of their noticeable size they probably were not intended to be worn for any extended period.
The rings are exclusive to the 16th century & Pope Paul II was pope from 1464 – 1471
From what I have read, there are about 100 of these rings known to exist, most of which are to be found in museums. Currently three are on display in the Vatican Museum and are featured below.
Almost all of these rings date back to the 15th century.
This particular one contains a lapis lazuli stone, a semi-precious stone used by important artists of the Renaissance and Baroque periods, which, when ground, produced the vivid blue hues in paintings of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
NOTE: These are not the fishermans’ rings, worn by popes, which are destroyed upon their deaths.
The Stone Used in the Papal Ring
Lapis lazuli or lapis for short, is a deep blue metamorphic rock used as a semi-precious stone that has been prized since antiquity for its intense color.
As early as the 7th millennium BC, lapis lazuli was mined in the Sar-i Sang mines, in Shortugai, and in other mines in Badakhshan province in northeast Afghanistan.
Lapis was highly valued by the Indus Valley Civilization (3300–1900 BC). Lapis beads have been found at Neolithic burials in Mehrgarh, the Caucasus, and even as far from Afghanistan as Mauritania.
It was used in the funeral mask of Tutankhamun (1341–1323 BC).
At the end of the Middle Ages, lapis lazuli began to be exported to Europe, where it was ground into powder and made into ultramarine, the finest and most expensive of all blue pigments. It was used by some of the most important artists of the Renaissance and Baroque artists, including Masaccio, Perugino, Titian and Vermeer, and was often reserved for the clothing of the central figures of their paintings, especially the Virgin Mary.
Today, mines in northeast Afghanistan are still the major source of lapis lazuli. Important amounts are also produced from mines west of Lake Baikal in Russia, and in the Andes mountains in Chile. Smaller quantities are mined in Italy, Mongolia, the United States, and Canada.