Ring of the Fisherman

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Annulus piscatoris of pope Leo XIII.

The Ring of the Fisherman (Latin: Annulus Piscatoris; Italian: Anello Piscatorio), also known as the Piscatory Ring, is an official part of the regalia worn by the Pope, who is head of the Catholic Church and successor of Saint Peter, who was a fisherman by trade. It used to feature a bas-relief of Peter fishing from a boat, a symbolism derived from the tradition that the apostles were "fishers of men" (Mark 1:17). The Fisherman's Ring is a signet used until 1842 to seal official documents signed by the Pope.[1]


A letter written by Pope Clement IV to his nephew Pietro Grossi in 1265 includes the earliest known mention of the Ring of the Fisherman, which was used for sealing all the pope's private correspondence. Public documents, by contrast, were sealed by stamping a different papal seal onto lead which was attached to the document. Such documents were historically called papal bulls, named after the stamped bulla of lead.[2]

Use of the Fisherman's Ring changed during the 15th century when it was used to seal official documents called papal briefs. That practice ended in 1842, when the sealing wax was replaced by a stamp which affixed the same device in red ink.

Through the centuries, the Fisherman's Ring came to be known for its feudal symbolism. Borrowing from the traditions developed by medieval monarchs, followers showed respect to the reigning Pope, who was considered "the emperor of the world", by kneeling at his feet and kissing the Fisherman's Ring.


A new ring is cast for each Pope as a general practice in tradition. Around the relief image is the reigning Pope's Latin name. During the ceremony of a Papal coronation or Papal inauguration, the Cardinal camerlengo slips the ring on the ring finger of the new Pope's right hand.[3]

In breaking with this tradition: "At the official introduction to his office, the classic ring [remained] in [its] case. It was passed to Pope Benedict XVI by the dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Cardinal Sodano. [The ring was designed by jeweller Claudio Franchi, who watched as Benedict placed the ring on himself.]"[4] Pope Francis, far from following Benedict's lead, was bestowed his ring by Cardinal Sodano at his installation.[5]

In former times, a special coronation ring was placed on the pope's finger, designed very large since it was worn over the pope's glove. That custom and the use of a coronation ring ended with Pope Paul VI. Upon a papal death, the ring used to be ceremonially destroyed using a hammer in the presence of other Cardinals by the Camerlengo. This was done to prevent issuance of forged documents during the interregnum, or sede vacante.[6]

Today, the destruction (by deep scratching) of the ring's device is a symbol of the end of rule of the pope who used to wear that ring. This custom was followed after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI by applying two deep cuts, in the shape of a cross, on the signet with a chisel.[7]

Although Pope Benedict XVI wore his Fisherman's Ring daily, it is no longer the custom for popes to wear it at all. Generally, a new pope will either inherit the daily-wear ring of his predecessor, keep an old ring of his own preference, or will choose a new daily-wear style. Pope John Paul I usually wore a wide gold band similar in design to the mitre-shaped Second Vatican Council ring; in imitation of this, Pope John Paul II wore a wide gold crucifix shaped into a ring that had belonged to Pope Paul VI.

Generally, popes of the past wore episcopal rings in keeping with the fashions of the time. Pope Pius XII, for example, often wore a heavily ornate ring set with a stone. Pope Pius IX most often wore a cameo of himself, made entirely of tiny diamonds, whilst Pope Pius X wore a simple, smaller stone-set ring. In keeping with the modern spirit suggested by Pope John XXIII and actually practiced in his later years by Pope Paul VI, Pope Francis wears a simple gold-plate silver ring only for papal ceremonies, preferring his small, silver ring from his days as a cardinal.[8]

It is also within the pope's power to give the ring to anyone he wishes, as Pope Paul VI did with Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey in 1966. The ring, which Paul wore regularly, was given as a surprise to the archbishop who immediately placed it on his finger after having removed his own ring. Since then, the ring has been passed down from one Archbishop of Canterbury to the next and has become protocol for the Archbishop to wear it whenever he visits the pope. The gesture was a profound, important move by Paul to show the close ties of the Catholic Church with the Church of England. Interestingly, later Archbishops of Canterbury, fellow bishops, and the reigning pope still kiss this particular ring in veneration, as Pope John Paul II did on the occasion of Archbishop Rowan Williams' visit.[9]


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