The history goes back 55 years, and then on to the English Reformation.
The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is in Rome for various interfaith initiatives that have happened in the last few days, including joint appeals on education and on the environment, and the October 7th International Meeting for Peace.
At the end of an interview with Vatican News, the leader of the Anglican Communion pointed out an interesting detail: the pastoral ring he is wearing.
The ring was given by Pope Paul VI to the then Anglican Primate, Michael Ramsey, on March 23, 1966, during his historic visit to Rome. That was the first visit by a head of the Anglican Communion to a pope since the beginning of the English Reformation, four centuries earlier. On that day the Italian Pontiff, now a Saint, took off his pastoral ring and put it on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s finger.
Vatican News explained that:
Before making this extraordinary gesture, Paul VI got his personal secretary, Father Pasquale Macchi, to ask Ramsey’s chaplain, Reverend John Andrew, whether the archbishop would accept the gift.
While the answer was in the affirmative, Ramsey did not expect a public gesture.
The gift of the ring happened outside St. Paul’s Basilica, where Paul VI and Archbishop Ramsey had prayed together and signed a historic joint declaration between the two communities.
Approaching Ramsey, Paul VI asked him to take off his ring and after he did so, the Pontiff took off his own pastoral ring and put it on the finger of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
While this was a surprise gesture for Ramsey, the Anglican leader had himself surprised Pope Montini by kneeling spontaneously and unexpectedly before him during a private audience on the previous day.
Ramsey kept that ring on his finger as “a sign of esteem, friendship and of unity” – as Don Macchi said – and, today, his successor Archbishop Welby is wearing it during his visit in Rome. The gold gemstone ring bears the coat of arms of Pope Paul VI.