Medieval Silver Gilt Finger Ring, Finningham

front and all four sides and top of ring

A silver gilt finger ring dating to the late Medieval period, c. 1400-1500.

This particular form of ring is iconographic, meaning that it displays artistic images strongly connected with religious belief. It is an ornate piece, manufactured in silver and then lavishly gilded so as to give the impression of being solid gold. The base of the ring hoop has cabled or ‘ropework’ style decoration consisting of a series of linear raised pellets contained within obliquely angled rectangular frames. The same motif is also used on the shoulders of the ring, both to border their upper and lower edges, as well as to divide each shoulder into two rectangular panels, each of the latter containing a wavy plant motif.

Set at the apex of the hoop and flanked by the shoulders is the bezel, which itself is triangular shaped in section so as to create two separate angled panels. It is here that the ‘iconography’ is depicted: on each panel, the figure of a saint has been engraved in miniature. It is impossible to identify exactly which saints the original artist intended to depict due to wear and their stylised nature; we can see that the example on one side (facing left) is haloed and holds some sort of object in his hand, whereas the opposing example (facing right) looks to be more female, wearing long mantled robes.

The internal surfaces retain the remains of filing from the manufacturing process, while the worn nature of the gilding and raised designs on the hoop and shoulders infer that this ring was worn over a long period of time by its owner. The size of the hoop makes it difficult to suggest whether this ring was worn by a man or woman, but the fact that one shoulder is worn far flatter than its partner could suggest that only one side of the ring was rubbing against a neighbouring finger, which may indicate that this example was worn on the little finger.

Where saints can be securely identified on other rings of this type, St John the Evangelist appears to be a popular choice for depiction, often appearing in the act of blessing a chalice. Other saints known to appear on iconographic rings include St Christopher and St Catherine, probably chosen for their being the patron saints respectively of both travellers and young unmarried girls. Alternatively, important events such as the Annunciation or the crucifixion of Jesus can also be depicted, though this is much rarer.

Taking the above into account, we can link these facts with Medieval socio-religious beliefs: though the imagery itself is a statement of devotion and the copious use of precious metal a clear message about status, the depiction of specific saints was probably intended to invoke their protection over the wearer. Some have suggested that these rings were worn by members of the clergy, although the sheer number discovered (the national Portable Antiquities Scheme has recorded almost 200, with many more in museums) suggests that these are part of a restricted wider market catering to people of at least some wealth. This would be supported by the fact that the vast majority of these rings occur in silver-gilt, with comparatively very few in copper-alloy known to exist.

View the full record on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database

Thank you to the finder for allowing this object to be featured.

This find was recorded by the Suffolk Finds Recording Team, supported by the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

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