words Al Woods
Men and women alike are always in search of a way to step up their look. They tirelessly pick new fancy clothes and accessories and experiment with their style to stand out in the crowd. What if we tell you that there is an accessory, although old as hills, that is able to breathe a new life into your look? Be careful though, only bold and outrageous individuals can pull it off because it is a Bishop Ring.
Indeed, Catholic insignia is normally a no-no for fashion purposes. You can’t surprise anyone with a cross or crucifix as fashion-forward jewelry but other than that, church accessories had long been taboo. But not anymore. Today, we see the trend of turning religious attributes into fashion. More and more men feel comfortable to flaunt massive amethyst rings resembling those of Bishops. Not only men though, but women also take advantage of this audacious design, too. So what are Bishop rings? Where did they come from? Why do they look like that? Let’s see if we can find the answers.
The Canonical Look of Bishop Rings
In a nutshell, it is a pretty massive signet-slash-stone ring made of gold with an amethyst gem in the center. The tradition to wear gold jewelry is thousands of years old. It occurred long before Christianity. In the Roman Empire, priests wore rings made of gold to prove their devotion to the cult of Jupiter. Since then, gold rings acquired the meaning of religious insignia. As for bishops, the tradition of putting golden signets on their fingers established around 7th AD.
More often than not, Episcopal rings are embellished with a precious stone: sapphire, emerald or amethyst. The latter, which name literally means “preserves from intoxication” presumably warned its owner if someone tried to poison him. The first rings carried no engraving but later, as jewelry craft evolved, jewelers learned how to carve right onto a precious stone. Today, authentic Bishop rings are free from engraving as well, mostly because there is a shortage of skillful gemcutters.
The meaning of a Bishop ring is twofold: the alliance with the Church and Episcopal authority. The former meaning is specified in the Ceremonial of Bishops, which reads: “The bishop will always wear his ring as a sign of fidelity and union with the Church, his wife.” The former meaning evolves from honorary conceptions of pontifical power. For many years, bishops used their rings to seal important documents (hence they used to have engravings, which were basically a bishop’s sign).
Bishops are allowed to have two rings – one he wears in everyday life and the other, more ornate, is for special occasions. Today, however, most bishops opted out for a single ring. Despite that, the tradition to custom-craft a ring for each Bishop still remains. Each cleric chooses design on his own (it is popular to include initials and religious symbols to designs). That said, a ring doesn’t really belong to a bishop, it is Church property. When a Bishop dies or resigns, he must return his ring, which will later be destroyed, recycles, or sent to a depository.
Fashion Bishop Rings
Luxurious, larger-than-life, and eye-catching, bishop rings couldn’t stay off the fashionistas’ radars for too long. About 20-30 years ago, people of fashion turned them into an audacious accessory. That said, those are not yet mainstream as cross pendants, meaning they might become a head-turner when being sported on the hand of a fashion-forward person.
Although original Bishop signets are made exclusively for Catholic bishops, who are obviously all men, fashion bishop rings are available even for women. What lady would refuse from wearing a sumptuous yellow gold bishop ring adorned with a huge amethyst? Yeah, nobody is able to resist it.
Fashion is less stringent than the Catholic Church and it means we have so many variations of stylish bishop rings. You don’t like gold? That’s ok, you can pick from a variety of silver items. You want a different gem than amethyst? That’s not a problem either. Modern rings feature sapphires, garnets, rubies, emeralds, and basically any vibrant gems. It is also common to frame the centerpiece gemstone with smaller clear topaz, diamond, or CZ stones to add extra shine quality. Some models, instead of a large stone, use many colorful stones beautifully arranged like a cross, star, or a fancy pattern. A ring can be deprived of any stones at all. Instead, it would carry engraving, embossing, tooling, etc.
So, design-wise, fashion bishop rings made a step further in comparison with their Catholic counterparts. Only one thing remained the same – those are still massive, signet-shaped pieces of jewelry crafted from precious metals.
Can I Wear a Bishop Ring?
If you’re a religious person, you probably shouldn’t put on bishop rings. After all, the church disapproves of wearing crosses as fashion statements, so why would it appreciate ‘defamation’ of other religious attributes? However, if you enjoy fashion and daring accessories in particular, bishop rings hit the spot. The truth is that the church didn’t monopolize gold rings featuring imposing gemstones. Therefore, ‘Bishop’ is just the name of the jewelry trend; it doesn’t have any religious significance. If you look at it like that, there is nothing wrong with flaunting a Bishop ring.