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The Fisherman’s Ring: Preparing for the New Pontiff’s Symbol of Authority


Chiara Santomiero - published on 03/13/13

The ring is a papal insignia the new Pontiff receives during the solemn papal inauguration Mass

John Paul II gave it symbolically to St. Joseph. Then it was placed by the Archbishop of Krakow, Franciszek Macharski, in the Church of the Discalced Carmelites in Wadowice – the city where the Polish Pontiff was born.  He donated it while he was still alive, on October 16, 2003, for the 25th anniversary of his Pontificate. And truth be told, Pope John Paul II never wore the Fisherman’s Ring. Instead, he continued to use his personal ring, which had been given to him by Paul VI in 1967.
The Fisherman’s Ring – also known as the Piscatory Ring from the Latin annulus piscatoris – is one of the papal insignia that the new Pontiff receives during the solemn papal inauguration Mass.  The Fisherman’s Ring is customarily worn on the Pope’s right hand. 
Interestingly, it was Blessed John Paul II who reinstated the rite whereby the Fisherman’s Ring is given to the new pontiff. The rite was reinserted into the Ordo that the Pontiff promulgated in 2000. 
The Fisherman’s Ring originally served the double role of both sign and seal. In modern times, however, this role has been separated – the ancient rings, which served as seals, were therefore engraved by carving into the face intaglio. 
The image carved into the ring has evolved throughout history; the present-day image depicts St. Peter casting his nets. Goldsmiths have always looked upon the crafting of the Fisherman’s Ring as a singular honor. 
Benedict XVI was presented with two rings crafted by Claudio Franchi and his family of goldsmiths. Their design was based on long and careful historical research. One of the rings had a more contemporary, stylized cut.  The other was crafted in a more classic style. The Pope chose the latter model, which is extremely rich in symbolism. (As a side note: Claudio Franchi explained the ring’s symbolic value in an essay included in a book published by the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff in 2006 on Pope Benedict XVI’s Petrine ministry. The volume was edited by the Vatican Publishing House.)
With Ratzinger’s resignation, this ring has been “scratched”; i.e., two deep cuts were made in the design so that it can no longer be used as a seal. It was not destroyed “with a silver hammer” as ancient norms prescribe.
Two stamps (one larger and one smaller) used for official papal documents, and the lead seal with which major papal documents are dispatched were also destroyed along with the ring.
What will the Fisherman’s Ring of the new Pope be like? Like the others; only the name etched around Peter’s net will change. And for now, the goldsmith’s name is top secret.

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