Traditions: The Pope Liked It So He Put a Ring on It

Rings are not very subtle symbols. In a variety of cultures from the very beginning, the circle has represented infinity, wholeness, protection or unity. Interestingly, what the circle contains and what exists outside the circle have also always been part of the sacred meaning, containing and protecting the interior, guarding against the external. Our particular circle contains two mutts, an appreciation for hard cider, a mutual lack of bowling skills, and a love of the absurd. The whole cruel, ludicrous, and comical world lies beyond our little ring.

The ancient Egyptians highly prized adornment, jewelry denoting social class and standing for both men and women. The fourth finger of the left hand was considered to be directly connected to the heart by the vena amoris, the vein of love. To honor the gods of the Sun and Moon, the Egyptians would then wear symbolic rings on their love finger, a sign of respect, a symbol of belonging, and a connection to eternal. After Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 B.C., the Greeks not so slyly adopted the practice of making rings out of finer materials as until that point the Greeks previously  tended toward rings of hemp, leather, or bone. The majority of metal during this time period was iron, with gold and silver being rare and only available to the 1% of the Hellenistic era. #occupyMacedon

Alexander the Great, given that there is some question as to his enjoyment as dressing as the opposite gender, probably was a fan of the fancy Egyptian rings. Perhaps Liberace and Alexander the Great had way more in common than we all thought…

The engagement ring then made its way into Roman custom, wealthy Roman brides wearing a gold ring in public and a sturdier iron ring while at home. The ability to even wear a gold ring in public evolved over the years, moving from only senators, to officials, to the wealthy, to knights, to the freeborn.

Caligula, I assume, put 8 rings on his four wives…among other things.

Fast forward through the Middle Ages in which Visgothic code also required a symbolic ring for betrothal and puzzle rings began a way for Sultans in the east to keep track of their many wives, and we arrive to the age of the Popes Making Ring Decisions. Pope Nicolas I insisted on an engagement ring as part of the marriage process, making gold rings a requirement to prove than the groom could afford to care for a wife and family. Later, Pope Innocent III, bucking his innocuous name, claimed supremacy over all the Christian regimes of Europe (LA DE DA) and launched some little excursions called The Crusades. Innocent III also began the banns of marriage, prohibiting people from getting married without announcing their intentions in public, and decreed that engagement rings could be made of different metals as long as the engagement rings were worn for a significant period of time. Considering Innocent’s otherwise ferocious march upon the world, I imagine this concession came somewhat hesitantly.

“Yes, Your Holiness, but the common folk want to get married…”

“Yes, but do they have GOLD?”

“Well, no…”

“NO MARRIAGE.”

“But, think of all the possible future crusaders we will lose out on if they are born illegitimate…”

“IRON RINGS IT IS.”

In 1477, the Duke of Salisbury proposed to his intended Mary of Burgundy with a ring including a fancy M made out of diamonds. And, like that gemstones in rings takes off for the next 538 years…

On sale for the reasonable price of $7,228 off the original price of $16,992! Nothing like paying the equivalent of a used car for a ring that looks like it was made with super glue and plastic rhinestones!

Up until recently, the British commonly used gemstones such as rubies, sapphires, and emeralds in their engagement rings. The Puritans, such fun people, considered rings frivolous and therefore gifted the bride with a thimble instead (LA DE DA again). The Victorians, the ultimate scrap-bookers of history, made elaborate settings out of HUMAN HAIR, and applied letter games in how they set the gemstones. Emerald, Emerald, Emerald, Wascoite, Water Opal, Water Opal, Water Opal.

Should you ever find yourself in Independence, Missouri, swing by Leila’s Hair Museum for the utter glory/horror of human hair as artwork.

In the late 1800’s, British businessman Cecil Rhodes purchased the majority of the diamond mines in southern Africa and humbly named the territory (WHICH WAS OCCUPIED, a fact most colonialists tend to ignore) Rhodesia after himself. Rhodes led a fascinatingly terrible and bloody life, forming the De Beers Mining Company. Fittingly, I also did a history report on him in 8th grade in which I impersonated Catherine Radziwill, the semi-deranged Polish Princess, who essentially stalked Rhodes across the entirety of Africa trying to get him to marry her. She eventually forged his signature on a bank note and was sent to South African prison for forgery. Rhodes never did give her one of his price inflated diamonds as he shortly died after her trial.

The face of a crazed, diamond-baron-stalker Princess.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or slaving over making custom animal wedding cake toppers, you have probably read a bit about the artificial inflation of the diamond industry. Well, if not, here is some reading to do.

Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond? By Edward Epstein

Super Short Article Summary if You Are Feeling Lazy: The price of diamonds is (savvy) manufactured bullshit.

The Incredible Story Of How De Beers Created And Lost The Most Powerful Monopoly Ever by Eric Goldschein

Super Short Article Summary if You Are Feeling Lazy: Greed leads to revolt. Revolt tends to lead to losing control of a monopoly.

How a 1930s Ad Campaign Created the Tradition of Diamond Engagement Rings by Uri Friedman

Super Short Article Summary if You Are Feeling Lazy: You’ve been Don-Draper-ed this whole time.

The Bloody and War-Torn History of Diamonds by Matt Blitz

Super Short Article Summary if You Are Feeling Lazy: Questionable ethics, power and money almost inevitably lead to dead people.

So, rings are not a very subtle symbol and have include some very loaded issues from, well, the time humankind assigned value to things like metal, stones, property, love. From connecting directly to the eternal, to signifying connection, to promising intentions, to proving financial prosperity, to proving worth, to displaying industry dominance, rings have had a wild ride through human history. Now, here’s a info-graphic of the world’s most expensive engagement rings. I’ll let you decide it they are worth the cost.

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